The Wiki; Social media’s battered brother.

Everyone and their dog is getting onboard social media in a serious way (I say as a write in my blog which will auto tweet when published and appear in my facebook page…).  Innovative 2.0 technologies are raining down something new every day!

There is however, this poor older brother of the collaborative online spirit called the Wiki.  Misunderstood, mislabeled or disregarded by organizations looking to get into the social media “phenomena”, it is often cast aside in the face of others. (Blogging, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter…)

Wiki’s have some amazing application to the world of learning, are cheap and easy for organizations to put together, and can bring really huge impact, really fast if applied correctly.

In 2004 I was introduced to the Wiki.  Up until then, although the concept of collaborative work was certainly not new to me, the idea of everyone able to edit anyone’s else content flew in the face of my mild OCD.

I liked data well organized, numbered and versioned.  How else would you be able to ensure accuracy through proper reviews?  You might as well just throw it all out a window and let any Tom, Dick or Harry write whatever the hell they pleased into the repository.  It was abit insane.

 

 

 

 

The crazed visionary, who’s idea it was to put in place as a pilot, impacted my view of this technology in a way that I wish everyone could have been.   7 years later, it’s still the best way of helping folks understand.

“The Knowledge Incubator”

A ton of sites I’ve come across have leveraged wiki’s as web pages.  Information is posted there (links, images, etc) but the tool is a leveraged for it’s easy of posting features instead of the collaborative tool it is meant to be.

I learned from my experience back then that offering trust to participants, socializing the hell out of the tool so it became part of the culture to participate and guiding rather than pulling data allowed for real diamonds to pop out of the bottom when it was time to build learning programs.

The power of the wiki is the fact that content can be inputted and edited by anyone.   That’s basically it.  As soon as you constrain that capability, or when it becomes a singular voice, you should instead consider other tools (Web page, blogs, etc).

Opening access to all to add, edit and delete will allow information to grow and leverage the brilliance of many rather than the genius of one.

There are great applications for this from a learning perspective.

Collaborative Stories – Allow customer service reps to work together to create and mold customer personas.  What a great way to new hires to get introduced to the types of clients they will interact with.

Information Gathering – Charts on policies, best practices, cold call experiences/ideas or software test scenario ideas.  Providing a place for these to be entered, and live edited by others will allow teams to dynamically shift approach and provide direction of success/failure.

This is also a great tool for gathering info from SMEs.  Especially in the world of developing product, allowing them to work together to mould learning content while moderated by an ID who cleans it up and organizes flow can be a real time saver.

Drawing Tacit Knowledge – The bane of the corporate educator.  Information lives in the heads, emails, post-its and doodles of the tenured.  How do you get it out of their heads and in a durable format?  Provide them a tool, socialize it and start drawing this vital info into a repository.  Provide incentives, games and light competition to help.

My suggestion on a few elements to keep in mind when considering a wiki as a tool.

1. Start with a goal.  Make sure you clearly know the objective of the wiki, each section and the role of each individual invited to take part.  It can be hard to drive busy people to populate content.  Having a clear picture of the end result goes a long way to intriguing participants to jump on board

2. Develop loose standards.  I say loose, because the more rules you put in place, either the less folks will participate, or the less value in the end result.  Elements like who has access and acceptable language will lend to the credibility of the end result.

3. Moderating.  Really give this one thought.  The less you moderate, the more you need to trust in those who are participating (see element 2).  Even a 24 hour turnaround in reviewing edits will frustrate participants away from being involved.  It’s also a huge job.  Let thoughts flow and stay involved as a participant.  If it’s abused, deal with those individually.

4. Start with Artifacts.  Describing a great idea and providing blank canvas is not motivating.  Posting a video demo of the newest software, list of curricula/topics/learning objectives, images of competitor products, or pictures of an org chart are great ways to kickstart thinking and ideas.  Spend your time organizing pages and artifacts for new sections (instead of moderating!)

Wiki technology is super cheap and accessible, allows for tracking of who edits what and when (you’ll find natural champions), and you can go back to previous versions in any edits put in place.  The risks are very low!  As long as you hold to the idea of collaborative spirit and the knowledge incubator, the end results can be astounding and reduce your efforts.

Webinar Platforms – Basic Must-Haves!

It’s a fantastic feeling to face a big group of interested learners.  I guess because it was the start of my career, I don’t do it nearly as often now, but being a facilitator is a bit of a rush for me. Walking around a room, marker in hand, as I go on about something or other was my version of being on stage.

Going from post-secondary to corporate however, the learner’s logistics certainly change.  New elements need to be considered. Time available, other priorities, distance to session, parking costs, etc, etc.  Add to this growing technology (plus decreasing costs!) and a greater understanding in learning for less traditional approaches, and the webinar was born.

Fast forward, add social media, mobile infrastructure and devices and a greater basic understanding of technology and you have a pretty neat opportunity.  Your avenue to getting your message out there is easier than ever!  Interactive micro learning (1 hour, 30 minute, 5 minute) sessions can be greatly impactful to direct tool usage, support a customer, pitch a product/service, warm up a relationship is powerful and cheap!

But there are a ton of tools out there?  What to look for?

I narrowed down, for my needs, the top elements that brought the most impact to the table.

Sharing:  

This one is the no brainer.  It’s the basis of pretty much any tool out there.  But for me, sharing a powerpoint is just the beginning.  A tool needs to be able to show your desktop (and select which monitor), pick specific applications, allow me to upload files (any media, not just powerpoint!) so viewers can see them and show videos clearly.

Fuze and Adobe Connect did a fantastic job of videos.  Not streamed, but uploaded the looked great.  Webex felt clunky and choppy for videos, but shared most anything, was most versatile and was my fave on app sharing.

Audio Conference:

They all did it.  But with a tremendous variant of approaches.  They all could do the traditional VOIP using speaker/microphone or headset.  I didn’t see a tremendous difference between them, most of the issues/successes were on my side with quality of equipment, connection, etc.

Toll free, some like Webex and Fuze has it integrated, but with a wide difference in cost (Webex was .15/person/minute, Fuze was .06).  Adobe connect didn’t have it in the barebones package (you had to add another provider).  This one isn’t a huge issue due to VOIP, but it’s dependant on connection/equipment quality.  Fuze has an AMAZING feature where they’ve integrated Skype.  You can dial in from anywhere using skype to their skype line which will connect you.  Very neat.

Camera:

Nowadays, since it’s so cheap and everyone is getting a webcam or has a device with a camera, it’s a no brainer.  Give your learners the chance to see you (and you them!).  It makes it more personal, and helps keep them engaged.

Most of these tools did this.  Fuze has full HD capability (GoToMeeting has this in a beta).  HD is cool, but for me, alot of folks won’t have a super fast connection, so I wasn’t too concerned.  They all allowed multiple feeds.

Recording:

If you are going to the trouble of hosting a session, for the love of god record and keep it.  Why wouldn’t you? You have everything to gain (reuse, provide offline/intranet, refreshers, learn from errors/issues, IP, etc) and nothing to lose.

One IMPORTANT question to ask.  Can you download the file locally.  Some tools this is not an option (Fuze for example, you own the files, but they won’t provide to you.  They host and provide links only).  With Webex, you get the file as soon as you close the meeting, but you need their proprietary free viewer to watch it.  Adobe Connect Pro, you can now (yay!) get your file, but you need to actually re-watch the whole damn seminar across the net, and their tool will record it for you locally in flash format (not while the session is going on??)  I think it’s a crazy waste of my time.

Polls:

There are tons of great learning tools in many of these services, but this one is of of the biggest ROIs. Poll at the start on the topics to be presented allows you to gauge how deep to go, Polls allow you to engage a large group, without dealing with voice/chat conflict or floods, Polls allow you to gather information on each respondent (name, answer, etc) to get market info on them.  Most had it, Fuze did not.

Mobile Access:

1999 is gone.  Don’t force your learners to sit in their boring cubes, to find an internet cafe (are these even still around??) or have to lock their dogs in the bathroom.  A participant should have full capability to watch, listen and participate in a webinar from a laptop, tablet (Android, PlayBook, iPad) or smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android).

Webex did a passable job, nice integration of voice, great experience for camera feeds and navigation.  Terrible on streamed videos (movies, clips etc).  Tablets show video, smartphones, just presentations and voice.

Fuze has a beautiful video/camera experience.  I really liked it.  No polling (obviously).

Adobe Connect Pro – Pain in the butt to access the meeting (had to type in the URL, not meeting number or something easy),  hard time getting camera to stream to it, many presentation files not recognized.

InstantPresenter, not yet, coming.

Elluminate, only mobile access is to play back recordings after the fact.


Cost:

Webex was the best value, 25 people, full features for 49/month for unlimited usage.
Fuze was pricey, 70/month, if you wanted video and full features, but those features were limited.
Adobe Connect  about the same as webex at 49/month.
GotoWebinar was pricey at 100/month, but you got gotomeeting as a bonus (15 people max)

 

Personally, for features and value, I went with WebEx.  It has the best all around feature support.  Some of the others were sexy and slick, or optimized in one area or another, but there was a loss of some functionality that I liked.

Interestingly, there is a service called AnyMeeting, which is absolutely free but includes ads.  Up to 200 people, video, sharing, recording, voip, polling, and lots more.  How can you beat that?  Not for profits, you have no excuse!

 

With the features above, you can put together a great, dynamic learning OR a really robust remote meeting in a snap!

Drowning in learning projects… What do we do?

I’ve been thinking lately about a problem many of my peers are facing;  Drowning in too many formal learning projects.

I’ve grown quite abit over the years in regards to methodology, tools and concepts. The are many coping mechanisms organizations can choose to apply.  Rapid design philosophies, project management tools and organizational structure are basic and you are crazy to not research and apply them.  Doing things how you are, however, you really need to ask yourself one vital question:  “How will I cope with double the number of these projects?”

The answer is inevitable.  You won’t.

I’ve always been drawn to technology.  I love the innovative spirit inherent in it.  It’s fun when you can use the medium in the message too.  Creating learning for an organization’s products carries a sense of urgency, a wide range of topics and is just cool.  But pool that with all other new hire programs, leadership programs and procedural training and you sink into deep water.

The first thing a learning practitioner NEEDS to truly accept is there likely won’t be a lull.  For a successful company, there is rarely the mythical “breather”. There is a good reason for this, and it’s no accident.  There are innumerable articles on the GDP growth %, population growth, new businesses and economic competition.  You can refer to comments by Ray Kurzweil or look at articles around Moore’s Law.  We are growing, our products are growing, exponential innovation is seething around you.  Welcome to the 21st century.

If you hold to the sales pitch you made when justifying the need for a corporate learning department to the executive leadership, you committed to support that growth, those new employees and the product’s customers and do it economically.  Oh crap?

In reality, you are genetically in good shape.  We’re doing amazing things as a species because we are adaptable and inventive.  This has to be fostered in the learning processes and solutions as well.  Being mired in “the way we do things” creates behaviours that not only do not support that natural growth of our products and economy but are doomed to failure.  How can any of these organization, living in the world mentioned above compete?

I think it’s important for organizations to start to think lighter.  Rather than build based on tradition or comfort level,  take a good hard look at whether an ILT or eLearning is really required? Informal approaches like collaborative communities, virtual roundtables and moderated text or audio discussion forums can hit the mark just as well if not better, and take half the time to create.

For several years there have been active discussions around how employees today learn 90% of what they need on the job from informal sources.  Yet most organizations still allocate the great majority of training budgets to formal eLearning and ILTs.  Therefore segregating the learning teams to focus on the arguably least impactful elements of an employees growth.

There are several reasons organizations do this, all good battlefronts for you to fight on:

  • Evaluation – Adult learning education programs drill in the need to evaluate learners.   I myself leverage and find comfort in the Kirkpatrick model.  But evaluating informal material can be a challenge.  You might need to instead lean on performance shifts and trends rather than individual resource impact.  This can be tough to explain and sell to an executive team but is a worthwhile exercise to explore together.
  • Revenue – Some organizations sell their learning products.  Formal learning is an easier “package” than the informal.  Why not provide a formal/informal package that has both that easy to price ILT, but has templates  for customers to self manage wikis, blogs or discussion forums.  Or add a professional service to moderate it for them (a value add with expert advice FAQs?)  This can be both revenue generating and sellable.
  • Infrastructure – No tools to support informal learning?  Today, there are so many tools available free or at minimal cost.  Options that allow for a range of hardware, can be cloud based, integrated with enterprise or standalone and have a variety of security options.  Assess and plan your need and start digging.

With informal approaches time is spent on the knowledge areas and the engagement, not creating a ton of expensive, slow to produce “stuff”. You can still apply adult learning principles but its so much less overhead.

For example:
Consider having trainers do a webcast via tablet or smartphone rather than an ILT.  Make them agile, product experts rather than chain them to a room. You can then record and post it to your LMS and have an ID organize the discussion into a blog that is logically formatted, searchable and learners can comment on.


Creating an interactive structure, knowledge rich and engaging content that has the right technical depth doesn’t have to mean deployment of a formal package.  Instead linking together content with a logical structure (wikipedia?) can enhance or replace formal material to support an organizations growth with quick, accurate and impactful projects.

Projects that you will be able to manage easier and still be able to breath.

Breaking the rules in Learning Design

“Boring.”

In the grand melee of client feedback, this is the one comment that always cuts me to the quick.

The problem with it is it targets a single element that for the learner, drowned out any other value.  It makes hours of instructional design and SME reviews wasted.  It’s also one of the elements that drives me towards any innovative, creative or unusual solutions.  The term boring can really influence me to break the rules.

Unfortunately, content in itself can’t always be really interesting and carry the learner.  What’s interesting to some might not attract others by message alone.  With the availability of multimedia, colour, voice talent and a wide variety of eLearning, mLearning and Instructor led media, we can certainly impact the learner and keep them engaged.

I really believe in the power of brainstorming and wild ideas.  There is no better tool available to an Instructional Designer than their peers in a trusting environment.  I like to encourage anyone working with me to think up alternatives, try new things and use some lateral thinking.  Many interesting ideas can either add value to a more traditional solution, or replace it altogether.

Some great examples:
  • Duck Hunt QnA – Have a group of experts available for support teams to come over and ask direct questions.  Works for any topic and really allows for quick turnaround of solutions in an informal setting. (Works at conferences booths or in classrooms)
  • Training Sandbox – Setup product X stations all over a training room or conference room and allow trainees to wander and play.   You can direct the play by providing workflow/dataflow brochures that cover top 5 walkthroughs they can try (and take away).  Add extra value by peppering the crowd with bold-shirted experts (use you facilitation team!) who can do show and tell, QnA.  This is a nice addition at the end of a formal training session.
  • Skype Guest Star – Have an expert in the industry call into a live instructor led session from the field via Skype.  This is the easiest to set up, and often overlooked.  This can really drive your participants to be encouraged and motivated (especially new hires) when they see people working on site at a cool company/organization. (record it and post on your LMS)
  • Wiki Parking Lots – Don’t use the corner of the whiteboard, have a student post to a wiki or blog immediately (use a smartphone via email!).  Provide the wiki/blog address to the SMEs and the rest of the facilitation team.  You’ll not only have great answers very soon, you’ll have a growing repository of QnA you can export for the class on the last day.
Find a mashup of technology or media that will fit a need.  There are new things every day that are as of yet, pretty untapped opportunities (Can you say front/rear facing iphone cameras?)  Many of these reduce cost (client updated collateral?) and increase adoption and usage (social networking/media and learner involvement?).

How are you going to break a rule?

Project managing your learning projects with AGILE

For the first 7 or 8 years of my career, most learning projects were either (in the first few years) delivery of content someone else created or in the later few years, a vertical within some sort of product development cycle. In the latter case, there was usually some sort of project management methodology applied (small or grandiose) that I worked within alongside other services and teams like documentation, sales, development, etc.

It wasn’t until the latter half of my career, when I started broadening my scope, that my learning development projects were unfettered from other processes within an organization. Then I tackled competency programs like leadership, sales or customer support for example where the inception of the program stemmed from a current state issue or future state vision.

The value I took away from working within a properly project managed project focused mainly on the quality of output and structure for milestones and deadlines. When working towards a common end, it was important that all teams pass their gates and dependencies to ensure the deadlines were hit and that any due diligence (FDA, ISO, etc) tasks were done. I loved the structure of the roundtables where updates were made, discussion around obstacles were had and everyone was on the same page. The role of the project manager was so important and ultimately, could result in the success or failure of the project overall.

But what about those competency programs. Many organizations use tools like MS project or time/task trackers to drive these. Many more organizations rely on the discipline of the individual learning practitioners to apply their own varied PM skills to organize the other project participants and stakeholders and drive towards the goal.

One tool I was introduced to and came to really love was SCRUM. SCRUM is an AGILE project management methodology who’s intent in a nutshell is to drive quality and milestone hitting. It works in an AGILE way rather than a more waterfall based PM approach where it allows for scope to change throughout a project. Learning projects are notorious for being forced to shift and change. There are always stakeholders who demand additions or the organizations shift structure that you hadn’t anticipated on. SCRUM not only is able to cope with this, but thrives on it. For a learning project, it was adapted very little and was very easy to implement.

The project manager for a SCRUM project is called a Scrum Master. This person performs all SCRUM functions and helps facilitate the project for the team. I found for moderate sized projects this was about 15-20% effort tops for the resource once they had the steps down, so you could (and should) rotate the responsibility to people on the team (no need to hire a PM). That said, and to avoid getting rocks thrown at my house, some of the best Scrum Masters I’ve worked with were more traditional PMs but it’s not required. A very good Scrum Master I worked with was coached for a few months and facilitated a very large project alone, managing 4-500 hours of effort every 4 weeks. (Way to go Stephanie!)

Basically, SCRUM works in four steps:

SCOPING:
The scope phase of a SCRUM project entails capturing all the details of what needs to be done for the project. I love using Mindjet MindManager for this, It allowed for me to let a group of stakeholders or SMEs go pretty wild in the brainstorming phase. We’d capture the output of the needs assessment, and organize via dragging the items into themes. In SCRUM, you would used “User Stories” that capture the intended result of experience for the software user. For a learning project it was a super fantastic way to start discussing learning objective and intended behaviour change. Personally, I would gather both stories and learning topics into logical buckets. Don’t worry about duplicates or wild ideas yet, let it flow.

Once all items are captured and organized into pretty firm scope. The team will size each “bucket” or scope item relative to each other. Practically, I start with the first and rate it out of 5 (MindManager allows you to do this easily). When I get to the next item, I ask the team if it’s smaller, same or bigger than the last. The project team and SMEs often have me go back and forth between items until they are happy with the result.

Lastly is to prioritize. Each item is rated numerically in regards to what we have to do first. This is most important if you plan on releasing modules or courses before the whole program is ready. It can be a really nice way to show results quickly. SCRUM also understands that priority can change too.

Once this is all done, you have created a “Product Backlog”. I liked to review it periodically with the team to calibrate any changes in priority, scope items or sizing. (monthly, bi-monthly or whatever). It should be handed to a Product Owner. This is a stakeholder on the team who can make some decisions. Mainly, if scope has been added/subtracted to a project, and determine priority changes to Product Backlog Items. Product Managers, Architects and or audience specialists can make great Product Owners.

SPRINT:
In SCRUM each project is divided into smaller milestones called Sprints. This is typically from 1 to 4 weeks. At the start of each Sprint is a “Sprint Planning” session.
Sprint planning takes a couple hours tops at the start of a project and should get faster.

The outputs of this meeting are:

  1. How long is the Sprint in weeks?
  2. Each resource on the project (developers, IDs, SMEs) deciding how much time they will dedicate to the project (I like % per 40 hour work week)
  3. Based on the number of hours available, the Product Owner will decide which scope items (goals) to work on (Typically these are “courses or modules”)
  4. Each resource will provide all the tasks they need to do over the sprint (I like to get pretty granular, basically anything they need to do on the project in 8 hours or less blocks. (create graphic(s). create storyboards, gather content, etc). If a task takes longer than 8 hours, break it up into type, topic, etc. Trust me the effort is worth it to think about this for the first project for each role. After that, I tweaked and re-used tasks for successive sprints and projects so the time for this step was minimal.
  5. Lastly, define done for the Sprint. This could be a course reviewed and deployed to the LMS, this could be skeleton outlined and ready to add content, whatever. Take the time and think about it.

When ready to go, the Scrum Master should have a nice spreadsheet of goals, tasks/effort for everyone (including him or herself) for each goal.

Next is to just get started. Each sprint needs to have “Standups”. These are really short project meetings (10 to 15 minutes) where everyone on the project team gets together (virtually works well) and gives a status update. Personally, I liked twice or three times a week first thing in the AM. It’s not a discussion forum and should really be brisk.

The three questions the Scrum Master should ask are:

  • “Since last time we met, what did you complete?”
  • “what are you working on next?”
  • “Any challenges or obstacles?”

The whole team is responsible to always attend and participate, and everyone is responsible to help clear anyone else’s obstacles. This can be from helping with a task, finding a SME, to fixing a computer problem. The team has to work together.

DEMO:
At the end of each sprint, the team get together again for a “Demo”. This is simply a chance for the team to share the result of their labours. I would show a course, demo an eLearning module, walk through a storyboard, whatever. Each goal is presented. It should be short and sweet and is NOT intended as an opportunity for major feedback (it’s not a review). It should keep people motivated, ontrack and the juices flowing. It’s also very important the client is there if possible. Show them how you are proceeding and that the team is focused.

RETROSPECTIVE:
The “Retrospective” task is a chance for the team to have a lessons learned for the previous Sprint. As a timesaver, I often would have the Demo and Retrospective in the same meeting. (The client might not be appropriate to attend, depending on the project). The idea is that each sprint should get better. It’s not about the content or the scope items, so stay away from quality discussions, those shouldexist within tasks that ensure collateral review and feedback are occurring. This meeting is about the flow of the project and SCRUM activities. I recommend the Scrum Master send out an email to all team members before and ask they come prepared with any of the following:

  1. What went well (What we’ll keep doing)
  2. What did not go well (What we’ll stop doing)
  3. What are we going to do differently next time

Go around the table (or virtually), and gather the feedback. Put action items in place immediately. (for example, one of my “What did not go well”s: “I found the Sprint Planning took way too long, people should think about their typical tasks before and bring them rather than brainstorm in the Planning session.” This retrospective item turned our Sprint Planning sessions from 2-3 hours long to 30-45 minutes!!)

That’s it, then you do the next Sprint Planning session for Sprint 2 and continue through the steps until the project is complete. “Project completion” will vary based on a specific date targeted or scope completion and the same rules apply for SCRUM as any project management methodology in regards to the basic elements of Time, Resources and Scope (Where modifying one will impact the others).

This methodology can be done with very small teams, and is very nice for any project that will take more than a month. It will definitely keep the team focused and can capture tasks/participants from outside the learning team (invite your SMEs or for projects requiring technical integration, your IT resources!).

SCRUM is easy, can drive quality and milestones, has tons of online resources and really fosters a team environment.

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