Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

When we last visited this topic about a week back I promised to create a visual—a chart of sorts—to encourage learning and instructional designers to consider how generational bias in training delivery. Just looking to start a conversation.

A Quick Review
You might want to pop back to the original article: http://tiny.cc/qpsrax

We know we’re engaging three distinct groups in today’s workplace, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millenials). Each has specific preferences for general communication and they carry over in training as well. Whether creating a training program when all three groups are in the room or accessing courses online demands the learning designer incorporate specific ways of delivering information with the appropriate assets, techniques, and technologies. Initially, we would hope learners, right from the first word or screen, slide or handout, would buy-in and see value; a predisposition that his will be a good experience. During the training, we build formative experiences to keep all groups interested and motivated to continue, committed that the investment in time is worthwhile. Finally we would want participants to exit the training experience appreciating it was translatable into their work life. If this is accomplished, the next training experience will be viewed much more favorably and meet with less resistance.

Acknowledging their generational age, and considering their technological age (how savvy are they to tech) as well as comfort with social media, influences how they will respond to courseware. Though there are three distinct groups, many learners exhibit the preferences for learning outside the generational ‘norm’. These people are to be commended for either learning new technology, appreciating other ways of ‘seeing’ learning or just curious enough to drop a toe in the fast flowing stream of change. We need to depend on these folks to help convert those who tend to be inflexible.

Caveats abound:

  • This is not a fully scientific approach nor based on academic, androgogical research
  • It is the product of crowdsourcing, anecdotal research and discussion with hundreds of learning/instructional designers and clients not to mention intuition
  • My professional experience over thousands of hours of course building across more than twenty verticals and five geos and over 25 years of design have informed these findings, too

I am fully prepared to hear from all quarters. It’s a living document—a work in progress— so send your ideas to rshadrin@wonderfulbrain.com. I’m hoping criticism will help improve this instrument not merely tell me where to get off or how narrow-minded, oblique or stupid this exercise is.

Anyway, someone had to put a stake in the ground. Apparently me. I hope it doesn’t end up in my heart.

Ultimately, the learning designer has to make everyone happy if information transfer is to take place. Elements that ‘favor’ one group more than another will always be necessary. If knowledge, skills and behaviors are to be transmitted, absorbed and used than instructional design should seek balance. Occasionally this compromise is not appreciated nor well tolerated across the generations. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to honor each aspect of the generation’s learning preferences and mitigate those that irritate others. Skillful designers know how to navigate these choppy waters and subtle mixtures of learning preferences can always be developed. Can the design ever be perfect. Well, no. But reasonable learners in all generations can recognize when attempts are made to entice them into a learning experience. And the organization expects each generation, besides tolerance, adapt as necessary to improve performance and solve problems through learning and training experiences.

GenCon

WHEN YOUR LEARNERS ARE ENGINEERS… BETTER KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

It can’t be a secret that stereotypes are often well proven by personal experience. And in my many years building learning, whether facilitated instruction or elearning it’s a cardinal rule that instructional designers need to know many aspects of their target learner’s personality traits. One, and maybe the most important metric, is their profession. The notion this alone determines both the techniques and design elements you should employ suggests the challenges you’ll face when the precepts of good learning are antagonistic to the personality characteristics of your audience. I don’t believe there is a more difficult group (I don’t mean they’re not nice people mind you) of learners—but whose typology seriously conflicts with story-based instruction than engineers.

If we’re going to create quality knowledge transfer, skills building and behavioral changes in our engineer audience then it pays to peel back their character traits that research and experience seem to bear out: Engineers are:

  • problem solvers
  • perfectionists
  • appreciate intelligence in others
  • creative within their field
  • argumentative when supporting their point of view
  • dogmatic
  • risk averse
  • emotionally detached
  • impersonal and reserved
  • not particularly diplomatic
  • uncomfortable with ambiguity and vagueness

Naturally, we can characterize any group of homogeneous learners who were drawn to their profession because these traits were naturally occurring. Also within any profession, practitioners lean into the traits most prevalent in the group and therefore further prove the stereotype. To be fair not every engineer exhibits all these traits, and the degree to which they are demonstrated or expressed vary considerably.

Regardless, given these traits engineers (it’s no stretch to hypothesize) prefer training or education delivered in a very practical way. It is an exhibition of their personalities. In other words:

  • Goals that are clearly presented
  • Results that are measurable/quantifiable
  • Material that is focused directly on achieving stated results
  • Visual elements included only if they directly illustrate a critical concept
  • Information presented in logical sequence and in order
  • Direct, to the point, facts with proofs
  • Concrete examples presented with no ambiguity; delete anything not directly aligned to training objectives

So what would a learning solution look like if it were built to an engineer’s specifications?

  • Clear unambiguous, quantifiable outcomes
  • Screens with material presented in logical order, point by point—like bullets for example
  • Literal, temporal and sequential presentation of information
  • Few if any checks for understanding (the assumption that if the material is correctly presented they’ll get it right; a certainty among engineers)
  • All facts, no emotive content need apply such as scenarios/stories
  • Tell, show, do; period

Many engineers would be just fine with a PowerPoint presentation or its equivalent with the addition of examples if necessary. The sample below is a screen from a course designed by engineers with no input from a learning designer.


Huh? As you can tell this even violates their preferred modalities.
Even an engineer would have problems understanding what this is trying to communication let alone teach.

Finally, let’s look at the considerations an instructional designer might regard as quality learning strategies, techniques and methods when building learning.

Content would have:

  • Objectives achieved through both cognitive learning and intuitive understandings
  • Preview and review experiences
  • Provisions for options, decision making risk taking
  • Employ checks for understanding, feedback and remediation
  • Images that both illustrate learning points, used to generate time, place, emotional content or as another modality for retention; and infographics that explain concepts visually w/o narrative content
  • Offer examples as scenarios/simulations and especially stories
  • Use emotions to help cement retention

By now you can tell I am arguing that the disconnect between the way engineers prefer their information delivered and the best practices in learning are estranged if not divorced from each other. That said; as the learning master how can you reconcile these differences. If your goal is to present information that yields a higher degree of knowledge transfer, what roads are open that will improve learning uptake and therefore performance while enticing engineers to see the learning design as interesting but compelling.

Two Methods for Designing Learning Engineers will Appreciate

  1. Leverage their primary mental framework and traits while chunking and organizing information with enrichment materials to enhance learning retention.

Let’s take the information in the sample screen and deconstruct it.

The objective seems to be an explanation of how automatic data synchronization takes place.

In the current screen learners are told after CM has been added as a Managed Element it is cued up for synchronization. This is followed by two qualifying conditions; one positive the other negative. To monitor the process, the learner is offered a navigation string to access software that illustrates a screen where the process is made evident. While this seems to have logic and order, it is a mashup of too many ideas in one space. Engineers, though we didn’t mention this earlier, really don’t like to waste space so they jam in as much content in one place as possible. This has a double negative effect; there is too much information to digest and it is often confusing and overwhelming, particularly in the screen above since there are two disparate operations.

Now look at this example. Without changing he content—there’s only one element chunked differently—the actual application moved to another screen—there’s much more clarity. There is a logical flow of information and the two options are more distinctive and differentiated. A screen like this meets more of the engineers’ preferences; even though the former seems to be more chocked full of information—it really is jammed up and more difficult to absorb. No doubt when the screen is composed with adequate white space, learners have a better visual experience.

More importantly on the next screen, using a tool like Captivate, the learner could manipulate the data and work through a ‘Show Me, Tell Me, Let Me Try’ option to enhance participation, add interest, and show proofs of fact.

So screen design, which is a function of the instructional design process leads to more clarity and more information presented in a direct and functional manner meeting the engineer’s preferences for ordered delivery of content.

2.       Organize courses to take advantage of engineers drive away from ambiguity

It’s too easy being deceived into building courseware that relies on one set of online screens to sustain the entire learning program. Often, engineers need to learn applications, new hardware, and software and apply their learning to initiate a new method of processing information or bringing new equipment online. When this type of knowledge AND skills must be transferred a blended approach works best.

Recently I designed a learning protocol that required engineers to work with an application in a lab setting with opportunities to use software to program hardware to work to specification. However, they needed to have fundamental information before the lab experience. Initially the client believed that once on site in the lab the facilitator could deliver the content and then lead the lab experiences. This would have proven to be overwhelming for both instructor and learner. The time on learning would stretch to five or more days. Lecturing from the platform while walking engineers through the content and then transitioning to the software application training was a model this company had used before. No wonder their ability to fill seats in the training facility was regularly less than 30%.

The solution was to develop an initial introduction to the course material online followed by a synopsis of each unit of learning into a guide distributed well ahead of the onsite lab experience. After each ‘chapter’ in the Learner’s Guide, a short check for understanding would be completed and forwarded to the facilitator. He would then review the responses, see the areas where there was most confusion, and later start the lab session with remediation of those areas. Only then would he begin to deliver the lab (software application) experiences.

The Instructor’s Manual would provide all the labs, screens, teaching scripts and software application directions. Each individual operation would be shared with the engineers in sequence after an explanation of where this experience aligned with content in the Learner’s Guide. Application operations would be selected to include those that posed the most challenges; others would be worked up by engineers on their own time, during or post training with an open invitation to query other participants or the facilitator. In total the amount of lab time would be reduced, learners would have all their deficits resolved during the remediation period and the need to explore over 700 potential individual application operations in the lab unnecessary.

Using pre-instruction, passing responsibility to learners to be ready for the lab, allowing the facilitator to quickly resolve areas of confusion and finally engage learners in the lab with the most critical and challenging aspects of the application made better use of time and left engineers with a sense of community and competence.

Going back and reviewing the way engineers prefer to learn you can see that in online or facilitated instructional design, awareness of their particular personality traits can be mitigated. Better yet—if you are able to design learning with their considerations in mind, engineers, though always a tough crowd, can be reached and taught in an effective way and one where their opinion of the education experience will more than likely be positive.

THE TEACHER-BUILT TEXTBOOK REVOLUTION IS HERE: A GIFT TO PROFESSIONALS OR A POX ON INSTRUCTION

In the modern era, the textbook is still the spine from which teachers deliver information. Despite the ubiquity of Wikipedia and the web, most teachers rely on a single source to reference the bulk of instructional material for knowledge transfer to their charges. Some texts are terrific; contemporary information well researched, written and compelling with story-based content attractive to the mass of students. However along with soaring prices, how up-to-date can they be—and how often will new editions replace dated volumes?

Textbooks are generally written by more than one primary author and reviewed by committees of content experts, practitioners in that field, and university educators. They are often generated as often by changes in information in the field as by publishers whose teams of researchers not only scan for the latest information but for the need to sell books.

Which text is selected is as much political as pedagogical; sometimes by fiat resulting from state or national tests to which the textual content must align, or on the local level by committees of educators who select from a narrow range of choices that must satisfy the same requirements. Texts compel teachers adhere to the proscribed curriculum so a higher percentage of students will pass their state’s test. Text selections can, unfortunately become an expression of political or cultural orientation. When school boards—think Texas or Kansas here—demand textbooks align to standardized or ‘high stakes’ tests that themselves are replete with prejudicial, politicized and questionable information the truth dies in the false rhetoric among the vehement and vocal critics of modernism . Darwin, the barometer of scientific objectivism and generally accepted fact, like climate change, Reagonomics, the Civil War, the canon of literature and other hot issues—might be revealed in a realistic and balanced manner in some texts, but meet fierce opposition in these municipalities. In such places you can be sure publishers will accede to the wishes of the textbook purchasers—customers—and modify their product to sell. Put succinctly, in some states, school districts and schools, dinosaurs died and became oil, yet in those same oil-producing states, dinosaurs were domesticated as transportation.

Into the fray steps the software, Apple’s iBooks Author:

“So, the big story is really about how this effects the billion(s) dollar industry of textbook publishing. Apples iBooks will sell for no more than $14.99. So, if the publishers are looking to keep their profits at current levels that most likely means someone is going to get cut out of the deal. It’s obvious that someone is the author. But the good news is that with a free authoring tool and the iTunes/iBook marketplace, I think the authors may end up getting the better end of this deal.
I’ve been it for several years now but I’ll say it again, “Teachers will be the next millionaires.” (Emphasis by the author) With today’s technologies, and the new technologies just around the corner, there is no reason why a great teacher couldn’t produce content for sale, and mentor students for a fee, and make a very good living.” (“Apple Announces Textbook Revolution.” www.elearndev.blogspot.com, 19 January 2012)

At first blush, this seems fantastic. Taken from a purely instructional perspective, the ability to create a multimedia text that will surely fascinate this generation of learners and incorporate disruptive technologies is profound. Kids live in this world every minute. Finally school catches up to real life. Wow! Couple this with online sharing and collaborative ventures and we are in reach of best in class teaching and reference materials. Note the author quoted above (Brent Schlenker in this case, a very sharp educator and aware blogger) grows misty over ‘great teachers’ producing ‘great textbooks.’ This presumes only great teachers will master the tools and build terrific texts–up to the minute, media rich and iconic.

What about the mediocre teacher who also has the technical chops to produce a compelling volume? Even if their books are clearly viewed as insipid, who is to say they won’t be adopted somewhere? The contrarian in me (a former teacher, administrator, university professor and state consultant—and textbook author) worries that we may be launching a confabulation of substandard information produced by competent software manipulators with substandard or politicized content. And where will teachers get the energy and time to organize and design and develop unique interactive texts. Even with the relative simplicity of the tools. It’s possible they’ll default to the lowest common denominator amongst content to push out material viz, rapid elearning, to speak to students in their ‘umwelt’ and that looks close to entertainment or at best edutainment.

Schools of education are totally in the Stone Age here so don’t expect teachers to experience development techniques to help them become instructional designers. Not all teachers are good writers, nor have they been trained in the profundities and nuances of graphic and interactive design. Besides the very real daily issues of keeping groups of students on task and in line are still job one in most classrooms.

Here’s a rubric that I believe tosses into the ring a way in which to examine what teacher-built texts could be.

It’s certainly not comprehensive, rather a point of departure. I’d like to start some dialogues here, look forward to a debate about the realities that will eventually present themselves as the tools roll out, and teachers commit to self-authoring. So I’ve drawn my line in the sand. I hope great teachers can not only master the technology but gain the time to produce first-rate contemporary texts—ones that can change as real facts become known. And students will be the real beneficiaries to the extant they can respond in kind by building their own materials questioning and inventing other realities. But it’s all too likely that without standards that had better evolve quickly, there’s an equal chance given the history of school progressivism, teacher built texts can be equal to the worst produced by publishers.

THE ACCIDENTAL LEARNER

There seems to be a revival of interest about informal learning. I suppose the definitions range from information gleaned from informal sources—everything from Wikipedia to People Magazine to storytelling, to disruptive media like tablets and smartphones. Some suggest it’s content discovered while looking for something else. Kind of like an accidental scavenger, a web surfer. No matter how the information is presented, gathered or used it appears the single best notion is that it was unintentional and/or secondary to the main thrust of what is or was to be learned.

Let me suggest we might think of informal learning as ‘Ad Hoc.’ This is not to say passive though it could be serendipitous – just because you ‘come across’ something worth spending time with doesn’t mean it won’t support formal content. If learning is as brain scientists tell us, empowered by the relationships of ideas, the gymnastics of making connections provides meaning and quite often enrichment; then hurrah for informal learning.

Here’s an example of, at least for me, the best kind of informal learning. My wife and I recently saw Woody Allen’s terrific film, “Midnight in Paris.” Aside from the story and plotline, the director paints the cityscape with a loving hand and inhabits it with characters from the Parisian heyday of the early to mid nineteen twenties. We get to meet Picasso and Dali, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds and Ernest Hemingway among others. And they are brought to life with dialogue they might have, and in some cases actually spoke. This is particularly true of actor Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway. Spurred on by his characterization I decided to read ‘A Moveable Feast’ the author’s description of his life in Paris as a young and struggling writer. Then too, the soundtrack with familiar tunes in some cases—and quite arguably—performed as in the case of Cole Porter just as he might at an evening soiree, that made the movie even more potent. So I purchased the soundtrack as well.

Let’s add up the ‘learning’ from a movie I intended to watch for entertainment only.

  1. A study of Parisian architecture from photographic angles and perspectives not seen in guidebooks, documentaries or even after a couple of visits.
  2. Information about art and artists, music and musicians, writers and their works.
  3. How the relationships all of these young and vibrant talents thrown together, that made what Stein coined the ‘lost generation’ such a roiling pot of creativity.
  4. Finally, the effect of this environment and people on the protagonist with whom we as an audience bond transported in a personal way.

Anyway, we went to see a movie for pleasure. However, I was encouraged to study the writing and music of the time and received enrichment and delight.

Is this informal learning? In a sense yes because the information I sought afterward was assembled organically and from curiosity. So is that a bad thing? Is the learning less important or salient? No, if you want to learn what you want to learn. When there is great enjoyment, the endorphins kick in and there is potential for exponential personal growth. Everything will have meaning to the learner.

Tablets and smartphones have made made information more readily available; time and space mean even less. If you’re intrigued about a topic then follow a thread until you are sated by a sense of completion or as has been known to happen, sensory overload.

Once we formalize the process of learning and form expectations, objectives, outcomes, KPIs, and other performance measures two things happen. The core information is delivered in a linear and focused way so it can be measured and the the opportunity to ‘drift,’ that is find casual connections is diminished. One might be told to look elsewhere for examples and so on, but nonetheless it’s scripted. There’s no denying we have to learn things we might not find particularly entertaining or mind expanding. There’s no adrenaline rush from studying topics of minimal interest even when they have career importance and possibly tied to an extrinsic reward. Nevertheless it must be done. Even if there is useful information on the periphery learners are not encouraged to seek it out.

In the field of education, one of the latest trends is that of open courses, called MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Such courses are based on the theory of connectivism and on a network where a lot of  people are doing independent but interrelated work. It’s collaboration on a global scale. Generally, everyone is working to assemble knowledge and learn about a particular topic but individuals are free to come at it from any angle. In this way, the subject is examined from multiples of different approaches. The content is infused and enriched. I wonder if MOOCs are the beginning of a hybrid of formal and informal learning.

Could this be a model for schools?
In most secondary schools, separate classes and courses compartmentalize instruction. Students have no one place to put their learning’s together to make a cogent whole. The relationship of one course’s content to another’s goes unexplored—there is neither opportunity nor invitation for reflection. Instead of individual courses we might allow for the type of learning…based on discovery… that will resonate with students, inform them factually and humanistically. Just like “Midnight in Paris,” was a nucleus from which students set off on explorations of culture, history, literature, art, and architecture, each strand could then be explored in depth, individually. In fact, what made Paris the center of creativity in the twenties was in some part the result of the First World War, so there’s another even more potent theme just waiting to be revealed. Of course, this mean school needs to be reinvented and there really is no interest in a meaningful reconstitution of education. But let’s not get into that.

The Corporate Venue
This might be tougher, especially if the topic is narrow, technical, and the skills learned must be applied in a direct and rigid way. In addition, this is often necessary. Learning to run an application, program a website, or design a manufacturing process to take costs from production offers few opportunities for exploration of happenstance. And yet, ask anyone who programs in code how they get into a zone and become fabulously productive for a given and fixed period of time. What sets this the ball in motion? Creativity is spurred on, we know, when there is a deep emotional response or a rich intellectual insight within the grasp of an individual. Could it be the distillation of informal and passive explorations can provide this jump-start? Moreover, if so, how will corporate educators adjust for that kind of opportunity, the kind that seeks to spur on creativity on a wholesale basis? I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn the greatest creators in the past few decades have emerged not from formalized training programs in education settings but rather from the fringes of experience earned by ‘messing around’ with ‘stuff’ that captivated and later drove them to explore more formally ways to capitalize on their ideas.

And so…
I’m afraid I’ve raised more questions than provided answers. I suppose that keeps in the spirit of informal learning though. We do know that both formal and informal education is important and each has utility. If I pose any argument it’s that in our rush to inject learners with information we leave out experiences that will not only make the learning more colorful and retentive but we perpetuate the perception that there are two kinds of learning; formal for school and work and informal for pleasure and personal growth. And that’s just unfortunate.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IS A SIMPLE PROCESS ONCE THE RHETORIC IS REMOVED

The benefits of knowledge management (KM) are a monster value-add to any organization. Nevertheless, the more I learn how companies capture and leverage their intellectual property, the more disheartened I become. How could such a straightforward process for transferring information and learning become bogged down in dense MBA rhetoric taking what is essentially a simple idea and obfuscating it in layers of process and jargon? Some might think large enterprises require significant resources to carry forward a KM initiative. I’m not one of them.

A Flash History of Knowledge Management
I can remember lecturing graduate educators that schooling started when one man stood beneath a tree and told stories to his Grecian disciples who sought to learn. Then each would become a teacher and spread knowledge throughout the empire. Why is the oral tradition so different in the 21st century.  Certainly technology has made it even easier to move ideas with an immediacy not easily imagined in the not too distant past. Is, KM , as some claim become the fiefdom of experts with metricians and quants creating a lexicon and modality to which only they hold the password? If knowledge transfer has grown into a complex system, it’s only because the nature of organizations to pile on layers of management seeking justify the effort and deflect external examination has become endemic.

I know there are nuances and specifics necessary in many systems and it’s no different in KM. Nevertheless, KM is about smart enterprises discovering and sharing winning strategies and techniques to improve performances of many kinds. Creating a method to discover useful information that is ultimately accepted as knowledge, then storing it for easy retrieval and communicating how to access it, is far from the challenge some would have us believe.\So, if you indulge me a bit, I can deconstruct this business practice and translate it into plain language, offer basic guidelines for creating an effective and direct KM system and then release it to perform. Consider this KM for Dummies—No offense intended.

What is Knowledge Management
The ‘knowledge’ that we have internalized by experience or education is our ‘tacit’ knowledge. When we externalize it by communicating with others, our knowledge is made explicit. Explicit knowledge is what counts in knowledge management.

Where does knowledge come from if not tacit? Knowledge is a product of innovation and exploration. Usually this comes about when a problem looks intractable. Yet, within each organization—and perhaps inside all of us—there is a spark of genius that, meeting a challenge for which learning and experience has prepared us, yields a viable solution. These insights, concepts and experiences, when polished and vetted, tested and found to resolve the problem has enough value to be circulated. How this new found knowledge is expressed by an individual, discovered by the organization; how it is brought into a system where its application will have far-reaching effects is the management part.

Strategies & Practices
Knowledge management is a formal range of strategies and practices used by an organization to identify, create, verify, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Once aggregated into a body of useful knowledge  the purpose of KM is to focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization. Naturally, this demands a company commitment since these activities and will need creation, invention, and management.

It works like this:
There is a problem…

  1. An individual or group has a solution…but it requires testing and such a mechanism must be emplaced
  2. The solution is tested and found to be of further value and an important addition to an enterprise
  3. The solution is made available for distribution or dissemination…a location and method of retrieval requires development
  4. For those who encounter the problem, a solution has been developed and is now available…presuming the access system offers multiple ways to locate the information

Let’s not forget the climate for innovation and the dissemination of knowledge will only thrive when there is a culture of collaboration. Though an enterprise might have a slick mission statement and therefore a common mission, goal, or objective, sometimes we have to be taught how to effectively collaborate. But sharing valuable information throughout an organization so knowledge may be leveraged and intellectual property maximized is an achievement that often distinguishes winning organizations. Here’s the part where leadership steps up and says we believe in knowledge management and expect this initiative to yield an improvement of business.

Two Interlocking Parts
Managing knowledge effectively starts by identifying critical information that makes a ‘big difference’. Capturing and synthesizing new learning and ideas, and applying knowledge to make the best decisions, requires great communication and collaboration. If KM is about anything it’s using learning strategies and processes; methods, tools and techniques.

To benefit from a rich archive of proprietary intellectual property, designing the means of transferring, sharing, and ultimately disseminating knowledge is step one. Step two, retaining knowledge for the future and providing easy access closes the loop. The best part of a well-choreographed KM system is a problem solved once never needs to be solved again no matter where in the enterprise it subsequently appears.

This, in toto, is ‘knowledge management’. Done well, KM also provides so much fertile information it often generates a critical mass of ideas that, exposed to a large body of users, leads to further innovations—new ways of doing things company wide.

Here’s a working rubric that is but one way to define and assign responsibilities for making knowledge management work. The emphasis is on simple, direct communications with the goal to make the process less difficult than it need be. One caveat; there is often a need to bring in a consultant as a change agent to not only develop the systems needed to make KM work smoothly but to side-step internal politics that often obscure a clean shot at a great implementation.

Example:
After the introduction of a new financial product in the U.S., it became evident advisors could neither understand how it could benefit their prospects or client base, nor create an adequate story from which to describe its value. Therefore, it was undersold. However, in Brazil, a small team of advisors was having great success. Management wondered, “Is a cultural bias that would predispose local investors to accept this type of product, or, did the advisors have a key plan, language, and technique that invited interest, opportunity, and sales that could be imported back to the states.

Managers traveled eight thousand miles to the geo to discover what was driving this success.  They discovered that a three person sales team had devised language and selling scripts that communicated benefits with clarity. They were careful to make the discussion of value and risk not to dissimilar to others with which clients were familiar. Drawing comparisons for their prospects and clients allowed an easy introduction to the new product, meeting with fewer objections and faster acceptance.

The managers captured the processes and language, codified and tagged the elements and upon returning to headquarters archived them in the database. Only then was a company-wide communiqué released superseding the original collateral in favor of a selling guide that leveraged lessons learned for selling this product. Additional information and access to the ‘inventors’ was also part of the knowledge management strategy. The result was an enterprise wide uptick in the sales of this product.

Conclusion
What it boils down to is first seek internal successes before reinventing the wheel. If a problem or challenge occurs, it most likely has a solution created by someone who has already met that situation and created a response. Accessing the answer and using it, even if modified, as is sometimes the case, saves hundreds of hours, enormous effort, and financial resources. Let’s keep knowledge management simple; for the straighter a line to the answer the more confident users become and the utility of the system ingrained within the corporate way of conducting business.

Revolution or Evolution?

I’m a big fan of “Learning Without Frontiers.”  I believe Graham Brown-Martin, et. al. is interested in a learning revolution not evolution.  And if that’s the case, count me in.  Disintermediation and disruption.  In fact his latest blog posting [See http://bit.ly/e154ef – I don’t think Graham really cares if you watch the whole excerpt from ‘The Matrix” – fast forward to the pill scene] lays out a case for this very position.

I believe we agree that changing corporate learning and school-based instruction will require more than pilot programs all based on some version of what currently passes for learning delivery methodology.

It’s only a revolution that will fundamentally redress the debilitating arthritis in learning.  But for such a massive change, many elements must come together at the right time and place.  Is this the time?  I believe this is our ‘Sputnick’ moment-and we’ll have to act quickly before it get’s weighted and watered down.

Let’s inventory what we have before us:

1. Leadership: Firstly, individuals who will ensure the philosophical foundation is solid.  They are followed by learning politicos who will carry the vision of what can be to the masses.  Then practitioners who will align the practical with the realistic by which the revolution will be carried out and perhaps most vitally, the mentors who will work with learners to maximize their capacity for individual growth while providing a baseline of knowledge, skills and behaviors we as a society require.

2. Attitudes: In “Learning Without Frontiers” (the blog, website, conferences) we know revolutionaries are gathering in places around the globe.  Realizing that mere adjustments to the learning process have yielded the usual results – with few exceptions – we are growing tired of tweaking the system rather than disrupting the system at its core.  Moreover, from acolytes like Guy Kawasaki to Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson to Daniel Pink’s anointing Karl Fisch’s teaching technique ‘Flip Thinking,”, there is a ready movement expressed in these attitudes of change.  And I would be remiss if did not call to the fore Steve Jobs recognized for his vision and creations – products that enabled a dissembling of information as well as recreation and have instigated changes everywhere.  Here is a fine tweak that for all its unassailability is only a riff on what is, in a limited way for a limited few) http://nyti.ms/fTFnSD

But that’s not this:

3. Tools: From YouTube videos to gaming, tablets to the simplicity of interconnection, the awakening won’t lack for methods of communication.  Students of history – and warfare – will agree that without the ability to deliver messages and receive replies in a timely way, all necessary actions are in either jeopardy or collapse.  Look at today’s young learners and then at the GenX and Millenials in the workforce.  They are linked by their amiability using technology – no anxiety there for they never knew a world without it.

4. Situation: This country and most of the world is approaching a tipping point where not only the educational status quo is unacceptable, but trying to massage it into something that passes for learning but with better tools (more computers) socialization structures (class size) or physical spaces (schools that reflect a new social/technology order) is only putting a shine over rust.  Because the conventional economics of learning – organizational or school – come with a growing price tag, a plummeting ROI and still sliding economy, they will cross each other on the graph.  It would be fair to ask, what now?  By then however, it’s too late.  Sort of like climate change.

My argument about schools is the same as when I was a 21-year old neophyte art teacher.  Schools are not working and cannot be fixed incrementally — tear them down.  Start fresh.  Same in corporate training; if we turn out even the most exciting learning using the most interactive and compelling technologies, it will pale before one :30 second television commercial.  No, let’s not make better commercials (not that we could afford the production costs), instead let’s do something completely different.

And that could be this:  Provide a technology toolkit and ensure users are capable of using their new ‘pencils’; set up the problems to be solved, provide a mentor to guide, probe and question and let kids and adults have at it.  Each learner will first attempt to resolve problems usually working within their own learning styles (thanks Howard “Well-Ahead-of-My-Time”) Gardner, individually or collaboratively, in or out of a place called a “school” or a “learning conference center.”  By the way, that’s not to say we abandon goals and objectives, nor vital content, just utilize different tools and walk through a different door. See #1.

And the term for this approach?  One I believe will cause less hand wringing.  I suggest “decentralized” learning. Each individual or collaboration is a producer of content, policies, rules, methods, devices, models, visuals, video, and audio in order to resolve, explain, and defend a solution from a problems designed to integrate both historical, present-day and future revelations of what might be.  When put that way it seems straightforward, almost simplistic.  Of course, it’s not and will challenge both students and adults to solve problems and learn on occasion to work as teams.

Welcome back to the 60’s – where the “The Whole Earth Catalog,” Stewart Brand, Marshall McLuhan, and his flock predicted this would come to be.  Moreover, they based their thinking on the technology of what today would be a joke; a Sony black and white camera with no monitor, a separate tape deck, and little ability to edit.  But when I loaned the two I had for kids to take home and experiment, magic started to happen.  I can only imagine what lies ahead if we have the courage to take on this challenge. It’s said that in architecture, every act of construction begins with an act of destruction.  Think about it – whether tearing down a seedy motel or digging up empty land for a new firehouse, it’s the same.  Why don’t we have the determination to carry that analogy into the realm of education—tear it down—and build it up?

Getting Closer to Bond, James Bond

I don’t believe it’s a secret that information design is gaining traction in the learning world. With so many form factors from smartphones to oversize touch screen computers – and now the iPad, revolution/revelation how we handle data, text and imagery, plus coherent manipulation of screen objects is becoming of paramount performance.

The latest Bond films depict a glance at this next next iteration. Confession—one ticket to geekdom for me: I was as much intrigued by the “desks” and how agents moved around data in a hologram-like environment as the action sequences (Well maybe not THAT much). Huge amounts of materials, available for comparison and evaluation.

From the hawkings of Edward Tufte, a right turn past Gary Hustwit and a stop at frogdesign and you’ll note the amount and placement of data is becoming a considerable factor in two and three-dimensional design.

It can’t be too long for a leap past the ‘pad’ family into another once imagined environment—now sitting on a someone’s drive are plans for total spatial manipulation; that is integrated, animated, user-manipulated, four dimensional access to information. Of course, any real adoption, even if the tech is ready, will occur only after manufacturers and developers have sucked dry holes from their current product margins.

Meanwhile, assuming I am correct or at least close, how will this affect learning; corporate, and public education? If you believe as I do the next few years will bring about a decentralization of the command and control that once was school – or the conference hall that “captivated” business learning had better stand by. Check out the work of Dr. Hans Rosling a professor in Sweden who has enjoyed 4 million YouTube hits about Statistics, the driest dry bed in academe takes on the conflation of data and – more importantly its meaning – and makes it fascinating. In our hands (well… his at the moment) is the power to draw meaningful conclusions brought forward through delivery of critical information by comparison, cause and effect, prognostication and even ‘black swans.’ And, most vitally, this give us a pretty good look in to the future.

So what started in the Middle Ages with movable type through the first Macs to the latest Xoom’s our communicative ability will be exponentially staggering.

The net effect is at least two-fold (it should be four-fold if a hologram I suppose, but I’m not capable of manipulating that amount of data in my head) immediate effect. One, as I mentioned would be the further disintegration of the single expert or limited sources of material accepted as gospel and at face value: e.g., courseware that teaches negotiation strategies for example. I look forward to anarchy with facts – though I am more conservative about too quickly abandoning what we know to be true—only how it can be presented. It’s a real respect or an accounting for learners who apprehend information differently. And the second is a requirement that information design and designers are elevated to central roles designing in the multiplicity of communication modes. This should not be a far-reaching serious profession with discourse stretching from type fonts to charting to engineering for holographic zoom effects.

If you haven’t read up on design lately or at all, I suggest you grab, “Universal Principles of Design” by Lidwell, Holden, & Butler; and “The Information Design Handbook” by Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady. These are the minimum of a fundamental intellectual and visual vocabulary, and, in addition to Tufte, Don Norman, and Henry Petroski form an intellectual foundation for clarity of design. Some information looks backward in order to tell us about the present and others about making the present more comprehensible. The same movement must be energized on the visual and interactive design side, too.

Not too long from now, we’ll be projecting a space on to which we can further project materials of all kinds – instantly snatching data to not only observe the present but inform what comes next.

I suppose ‘Q’ would have been thrilled – I’m still impressed that James is as comfortable manipulating his super-smartphone as he is a 9mm.

Instructional Techniques – Quick Takes – 1

During the days when I had occasion to work with adult learners face-to-face  I knew early on, even with corporate adults, I needed a hook or activity, (in education terms sometimes called an anticipatory set) to quickly address the temperature in the room, open minds to accept new concepts willingly, and maybe most critically relieve tension to prevent an alpha student from capturing the class with his (and it was always a man – sorry – and congrats to the ladies) negativity.

Here’s what I did. Oh and caveats. A good instructor/leader/teacher with a bit of theater or ham, will enjoy the best results. Yes, and this works with small (up to 10 or so) adult learners for beyond that it gets too cumbersome and potentially sucks up too much time. However, as a foundational activity – just like in construction – if the base is level what stands on the 30th floor will be plumb.

I asked each learner to bring in a child’s book, like the one they would read to their 3-year old (this can vary) that included a narrative (the storyteller), dialog and pictures. On their time, before the next session they were to write a synopsis of the book,  detailing the plot, a description of the characters and of course, the lesson or truth learned — in a paragraph or two. Setting up these parameters eliminates books that demand too much interpretation (so long Dr. Suess). Instead in virtually every case, the books that were brought in, and the synopsis’ were terrific. (Demonstrating great love for their children — or grandchildren, too).

Requesting a volunteer (or selecting an individual who would set the tone I desired), I asked s/he to read the book to the class, and then run through their synopsis.

Then I did a little tweaking. “So was Ralph the Gorilla a hero or a victim?  Why were his friends so quick to abandon him in the schoolyard. Why did the author — with so few word with which to work — describe the weather two times? At which point did the story pivot and turn towards the ‘lesson.’ Was it a completely happy tale, or something else – and if so, what?”  Finally pronounce the moral or lesson demonstrated by the authors manipulation of the material. Immediately the book owner had to make choices and assign roles – some, depending on the book were obvious, others exposed some hesitancy and were clearly guesswork. Now remember this is a book for an eight-year old, 3rd grader  (+ or – a year) who might be able to read the book unaided but choose an adult to read it aloud (sometimes my cohort was freely outspoken and agreed it was ritualistic).

At this point I’d invite anyone else to corroborate whether the reader’s interpretation seemed accurate , even perceptive, or share a different take on the readers interpretation.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. Before then, I  invite you to try this yourself with your significant other as the audience. A discussion will absolutely ensue.

Your Inner Critic – Cueing up What You Know

Reading an article from the Behance titled “Why Your Inner Critic is Your Best Friend” I was intrigued for a few reasons. As the author Mark McGuiness scribes, the inner critic has gotten a bad wrap – interrupting, interfering and disjointing our drive to move forward. We are always trying to silence it. To paraphrase liberally, that’s a mistake because that voice is the one that has us question our creative decisions against a standard. These can be values we have set for ourselves or from others whose work challenges us. And more so, it forces us to look at what is mediocre from what is great. The voice that whispers – sometimes shouts – drives us to take a look at our work and see if it passes the sniff test. As an evaluation tool, it might cause us discomfort when it arrives uninvited but in the creative domain we need a membrane that acts as a quality gateway. Still our first reaction is to try to ignore the critic, relegate it to some part of the cortex unreachable by conscious thought. Part of the reason we’d like to silence our inner critic is that it could very well demand change.  And no one likes change but a wet baby. Change implies degrees of failure and who wants to confront that?

We are creatives
Though not art directors nor filmmakers we make similar kinds of decisions. (Let’s not digress please). For those whose responsibility means creating learning in any of its forms we have an audience we must reach.The inner critic should always be at work. If you regard making learning ‘products’ that deliver knowledge, skills or behaviors that infuse performance change in others you had better question every decision. And the critic sets standards.

Building Learning is a Creative Act
How so? In fact making learning is very far from simple. Consider these fundamental tasks which demand creativity; writing content, guides, assessments or narratives; developing storyboards where words and actions converge, and then conceiving compelling interactions for learners. And that’s the easy stuff. What about strategy for example, a much larger decision that will shape the entire project. Strategy asks us to determine which road to take based on multiple factors many of which are subjective. Assuming time on learning, budget and resources are fixed, core decisions must be made. Is it a course, webinar, podcast? Do we ‘socialize’ the learning to instigate collaboration? Whom among the staff will deliver the best result?

This sounds like an easy sell. However those who know how the brain works are fully cognizant of how decisions are made. Decisions are messy and complex – even if you think (think?) not. And to make the best decisions you need the inner critic.  One other reason to consider the critic a vital component of the creative act: The experienced among us inevitably look backwards to solutions that have worked in the past; the temptation to modify rather than create from scratch relieves us from some anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with this process; it saves time, money, and resources – and learning from past miscues all combine to amortize prior work to drive out costs.

Where Does the New Stuff Come From?
That’s asking a question for which we have neither time nor space here. Suffice to say, each of us who believe ourselves a creative know how to jump-start new ideas. Sometimes we look for examples that are similar to the challenge we’ve been given. We do research, we search out the guru’s. We look, we seek out unrelated elements to stir it up. Most of us want to be better, learn in the process and push ourselves to achieve at higher levels. And in those efforts expect the critic. A sharp critical focus helps in all respects. I believe the louder it speaks the better the result. As both a bull%^#@ meter and a filter you couldn’t ask for a better tool. So make friends with your inner critic and learn to listen. In the same way intuition tries to be heard but doesn’t always get through, your inner critic is never in ‘out of service area’ zone.