Saturday, 8 December 2007

Learning 2.0 video

A quite inspiring video on the uses of technology for teaching - focused on students, but considering that they are the next generation of's also incredibly relevant for workforce learning and development.

Minority report style marketing is on the way...

If you've ever seen the film Minority Report and thought it would be so annoying to have advertising all around you, that knew your name, your shopping profile, everything you'd ever bought, and targeted you with specific products?'s not just fiction, it's going to happen...and sooner than you think.

Reinventing the way we write books...

A great video posted by Ben Scoble on the Best Practice for Learning community

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Blogs in plain english - another CommonCraft offering

I'm a real fan of these CommonCraft videos, so here's the latest on blogs...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

What can blogging contribute to the training and development of project managers

UPDATE - 2nd Jan
A very nice person has just commented that the link to the dissertation is no longer working. I've put it instead on a wiki - here's the new link to my dissertation

Right, I've set up a website so that I can actually put my dissertation online and link to it - what a faff! I just wish blogger allowed you to upload documents, instead of only linking to them. Hey ho.

Apologies for the rather, er, basic site, and all the's a free site, you get what you pay for (or don't pay for) I guess. Avoid the advert popup nightmare by just going to the dissertation (see link below).

This action research study examines the contribution a group blog can make to the training and development of project managers and indicates that blogging effectively supports knowledge sharing and learning.

Three cycles of research provided evidence that blogging has utility as a tool for informal learning, enabling the capture and dissemination of experience based knowledge. Project managers taking part in the study realised benefits such as access to previously unattainable knowledge and information, and increased exposure to alternative practice. The similarity of the context of the experiences, advice and guidance submitted to the blog and the project managers working context enabled effective learning transfer.

Postive reactions to anonymous posting indicated a culture which does not support the open sharing of mistakes and failures, preventing project managers to learn from and mitigate against these mistakes recurring. Anonymity provided a degree of protection to those concerned about possible repercussions from contributions but prevented the development of more productive collaborative relationships.

Participants were reluctant to post, a possible indication of an inability to identify good practice with value to others. Although interview responses indicated that the blog encouraged reflection on practice, further development of project manager’s skills in reflection may facilitate an increase in the sharing of tacit knowledge and good practice.

The need for management support was indicated throughout the study. The relative importance of learning must be raised to encourage the prioritisation of learning and managers need to show their support by allowing more time for participation on the blog. The management of the blog itself was received positively, indicating the need for facilitation and moderation, however the community responded negatively to over and under management indicating that a light touch is required when facilitating a group blog.

The study demonstrates therefore, that a group blog has considerable potential as a tool for informal learning and may be effectively used alongside formal training interventions. However, a well developed ability to reflect on practice along with an open, supportive culture of sharing are required to maximise the potential of blogging for learning and knowledge sharing.

Click here for the full dissertation

Friday, 23 November 2007

Disseration success!!! Academia doesn't hate me after all....

After all my ranting about academia (in this post and this post) they've actually been kind enough to grant me an MEd with Distinction...

Am really quite proud :-)

Will post the entire dissertation for those with insomnia...

Thanks to my fantastically grounded supervisor Andrea, and my hubby, without whose cooking efforts during the 3 months I lived in the office of an evening and only ate when it was put in front of me, I would have probably died of malnutrition.

Helen Nicol, BA, MA, MEd

Searching - it's all about individual differences

I'm still convinced that the skills of librarians are paramount to the success of utilising web 2.0. I'm starting also to think that individual and social psychology have a role too (I KNEW there was a point to studying Humanities...)

This video from Mike Wesch (via Stephen Dale) illustrates the power of searching, removing the need for a pre-organised filing system, but with the underlying need for effective tagging.

Folksonomies are powerful, in that they are driven by the searcher, it's filing by a democracy, but searching is anarchic...anyone can use the term they think of to look for whatever they are thinking of.

Understanding individual differences, different spelling, interprettation, ways of thinking and being, can all help us to understand what language different people might use to find something. Searching is only as effective as the tagging behind it. The more people rely on searching to find information, the greater the need to understand we're all very different beasts. Information management is becoming as much about how information can be made accessible, as it is about the information itself. If you want your information to be discovered, used and appreciated, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the people you want to find it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Second Life - how it really is...

Having totally failed to "get" second life, mostly because I can't move around in it very well (never was very good with games) this video tickled me so I thought I'd share....

Thanks to
Dennis Coxe for posting it on the Internet Time Community

Friday, 16 November 2007

Web 2.0 driving forward a different kind of customer relationship

As a Wiggly Wigglers wormery owner myself (I love my worms) I was interested to see this video of Wiggly Wigglers frontwoman Heather Gorridge, long term blogger and podcaster, on her creation and use of podcasts.

It's interesting that she emphasises the point that she only podcasts what she's interested in, that if people are interested in going with her, that's great, but if they're not, they should "listen to something else".

That's a brave attitude, and one that goes against marketing theory - the mantra "listen to your customers" is not one she's considering here. She's driving her own agenda, and people are following and not visa versa. That's what you can do with the internet - talk about what interests YOU and find that others share that interest. But a very different standpoint from a business I think...

Thanks to Rafa for commenting on my last post so that when I followed his link I found this video on
his blog (dontcha just love networks).

Friday, 9 November 2007

Facebook more popular than football and porn

I know it's sad, but I really love stats and graphs...and have been having some fun tonight playing with the fabulous Google Trends.

Having mucked about with it a bit, I realised you can do comparison trends, and obviously after a glass of wine or two, I thought I'd see just how popular social networking sites really are, as everyone I meet now seems to have a presence on Facebook.
According to UK searches on Google, Facebook is now a more popular search item than football, holidays or porn! Here's proof...
In the US, Time magazine even agrees that Facebook is more popular than porn.

I'd love to see some stats on the level of usage of different available on Facebook, to more fully understand how people are actually using it, considering you can do anything from fling food at one another, to fighting vitual wars (which I know too well, being as I am, addicted to Warbook), to collaborating on group projects and sharing information. I'm sure someone somewhere will be starting a thesis on the use of Facebook but knowing what it is that has made Facebook so popular that as a search term, it's ranks more highly than porn and football will give us a real insight into how we might leverage online social networking for business advantage.

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy it for what it is, good fun, excellent for connecting with likeminded people and really very useful for keeping in touch with people I rarely see, even if it is just sending them virtual G&Ts.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Digital library...what about the technophobes

I was in the British Library yesterday - something I'd always wanted to do, and never seemed to have time. Staying at the Novotel (quite nice actually) next door, I thought, why not, I'll go and have a peruse...

Well, I wasn't allowed was I (grumble). I didn't have the right ID...something to do with my driving license still being in my maiden name and all my bank cards in my married name (whoops!) but what really struck me was the fact that EVERYTHING is now digital...well, almost.

Anyway, I was signing up, using the terminal to enter my data, and a lady next to me was visibly sweating. She was grumbling "bloody computers" and bashing keys, getting more and more flustered. The registration lady noticed that she was about to pop, and came over to help, saying "I can only do this if noone sees me helping you". I just thought about all the other people who must struggle with the computerised library facilities.

The British library is indeed, highly digital. The catalogue searches are all digital, online collections are available in all the reading rooms (which I wasn't allowed in I remind you), it was hell on earth for anyone with low level technical skills. So what about accessibility? Most of the under 30's are au fait with technology. What about the over 30's? Not everyone with an interest in knowledge and information can use a keyboard and mouse. We spend hours making sure our online contributions are DDA complient, but what about the huge number of people who get palpitations when they have to use a PC?

I know there's been a huge effort to raise the level of IT skills in the UK, but people are still techophobes, or people who just haven't had the need to use a computer, for many reasons. However much we tout the internet and digital services as the way to go, we are in danger of excluding people if we don't support them to be able to use the amazing services we are making available.

Technologically driven improvements are fantastic for those who are adept and interested, and I'm sure digital libraries will do very well in universities etc. But I really felt for the poor lady standing next to me, who I'm sure was having what should have been an inspiring and enlightening visit to the British library ruined because she hadn't learned how to use a computer.

Part of me wants to think - get with the programme Grandma (she was only about 40 though....), the other part worries that we're getting too eager to provide online and digital services without thinking enough about who is accessing them.

Everyone has had problems with new technologies as this video demonstrates (thanks to Karen Blakeman for pointing it out to me)...but maybe we need to think more about making support available to those who really need it, to make the inevitable transition to a world of predominately digital media.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The perils of too much knowledge...

On the perils of knowing too much...

Research Findings 1 – confidence and diversity in communities

I assumed, when I began my research, that having a balance of experts and novices was important to engender the sharing of knowledge and experience. What I found was that more confident community members would share more readily regardless of how long they had worked in their roles.

The apprenticeship model assumes that a “master” can and will teach an “apprentice” what they know. We generally assume that the length of time in a role dictates the level of ability – this may be the case, but the ability and willingness to pass on skills requires a degree of confidence.

In terms of an online community, attempts to ensure that membership includes those with differing levels of seniority alone may not be the best tactic for ensuring skills are past from master to novice – if the “master” is not confident, they may be less likely to share their knowledge. Confidence AND ability are required to ensure skills are passed on within an online community. Face to face sharing may be different, as the level of confidence required to share may well be less in such familiar situations, and many of us have techniques for encouraging participation in even the quietest individuals.

Confident people may share more readily, but that doesn’t mean what they are sharing is good practice. Encouraging the more reticent members of a community to take part is important for diversity of opinion. Those with less confidence may be less willing to share online and may need support to develop confidence and trust prior to sharing online.

Managing the diversity of a community then is more complex that merely having a balance of novices and experts. Just as we see in meetings, training, any group gathering, quieter less confident members have valuable contributions which balance debate and enhance the knowledge being shared. Where there are no face to face opportunities, then techniques such as encouraging individuals to contribute by contacting them personally, by a phone call or an email, recognising their value, may give them the incentive to take part.

Communities will out

A couple of things this week have reminded me just how quickly technology is adopted and begins to shape our lives. One of Russell Brand's Ponderland rants, this one on science and technology, reminded me of the days before mobile phones, when we had to arrange to meet our friends at pre arranged times and places - if they weren't there, we just had to go home! This was only about 10 years ago! According to the CIA World Factbook (cited in Wikipedia), several countries, including the UK, now have more mobile phones than people! The use of mobile phones has grown, not because they are clever, and have many functions, but because we are social animals who like to connect with others.

The internet was adopted in a similar fashion - it was only in the 90's that it really took hold, and companies and porn pushers took hold of it...but it wasn't always porn and the early days, there was a sense of freedom, connectivity, sharing and community, that was then missing from our lives. Web 2.0 has developed to enable us to return to this community centric internet of old. This fantastic video illustrates the point (thanks to
Laurel Papworth for this).

Interestingly, the guy being interviewed refers to people "feeling rooted through another person" in communicating via the internet. A great quote from an article on The Internet Society site,
a brief history of the internet says

The Internet is as much a collection of communities as a collection of technologies, and its success is largely attributable to both satisfying basic community needs as well as utilizing the community in an effective way to push the infrastructure forward.

The notion of community is at the core of how we use technology, and has always been the case. Many technological developments have enabled us to communicate (phone), to visit one another (cars, roads, bridges), they've all been about people getting together in some shape or form. Communities adopt technology for their own ends, they "find a way" to use what's available. What I'm really interested in is the word of mouth promotion of "tools" that lead us to make use of what is available to communicate, share and come together.

Communities will out...the technology with which this happens will change and develop, and communities which will do the changing. We need to think of communities like we do gardens - plants will grow if we do nothing, if we want particular types of plants to grow, we must nurture them. The same goes for communities - they will occur whatever we do, whatever technology is available, but if we want a particular type of community, then we must develop the skills to help them grow and flourish. Different technologies are like different types of soil, fertiliser, different degrees of heat, light, and different amounts of water. Different plants like different things, different communities like different things. We've developed skills in plant cultivation over many many years, it's time to learn how to grow our communities. Wenger, McDermott and Synder understand this - their book "Cultivating Communities of Practice" is a great start...but there's much more digging to be done.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Academia vs Wikipedia...again

I thought I'd share this rather fabulous rant by Thomas on Techyum with you. Thomas is incensed about this article that appeared in New Scientist about Wikipedia, particuarly noting that some professors are less accurate in what they say than Wikipedia, which in my experience, is fair comment.

There has been phenomenal debate around the worth of Wikipedia, and most of the key elements of the debate can be found on Wikipedia itself. Indeed, in one of its own articles, Wikipedia itself notes that

Wikipedia acknowledges that it should not be used as a primary source for serious research.

but its value as an encyclopedia for me is endless. There is no way I could have written a thesis on the use of social media had I not had access to the definitions therein. Current information on the the terminology used in the area of social software use just wasn't available to me in books, and relevant peer reviewed articles were few and far between, in obtuse articles not held by my university.

Barry Leiba reviews research papers, and has kindly cited some examples of where Wikipedia shouldn't be used in research papers. His greatest bugbear appears to be the fact that references cited may have changed by the time the reviewer checks the reference, which is fair comment. This is mitigated however by refering to the precise version. David Gerard's comment on the same post explains how -

Click on the "History" tab and you'll see every version inthe edit history. Whereas the version at may change, the version at (14:46
UTC, 3 October 2007) will not.

Wikipedia are attempting to get around the problem of peer review, with, suprise suprise, a peer review system...based on "trusted" sources. To earn this trusted status, users will have to show some commitment to Wikipedia, by, for instance, making 30 edits in 30 days.

This seems very much a quantity over quality strategy, but I'm sure its more robust than that (!). New software will also be used to give a "trust score" to contributors based on whether their edits are changed or not. This means that any topic in which there is healthy debate and disagreement will therefore be a no go as edits and changes will reduce trust scores.

In terms of academically accepted definitions, maybe the solution is for the Oxford English dictionary say, to produce a free online dictionary which takes contributions from us mere online mortals, to speed up the process of adding new words. As it is, you have to subscribe to even view the Oxford English dictionary, it takes an age for new words to be included, and right now, there's just no real substitue for Wikipedia.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Sharing the knowledge...about cutting down power use

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs - you know you need know they make sense, and if you weren't convinced, check out the latest Commoncraft video.

Reuse, recycle, reduce, reflect, reinvent, reconsider, and really think about the impact you make on the world...please?

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Pandering to ego - scam email for professionals

Just received this email and thought I should warn others that it is very probably a cunning way of getting details for a mailing list or to get you to buy the book because you're in it and it shows you've reached the pinnacle of professional excellence. Others have blogged that they've received this, so this is just a possibly cynical warning...they want everything but your sexual history to be alarm bells rang loud and clear.

Dear Helen Nicol:

On behalf of International WHO'S WHO of Professionals, I am pleased to inform you that you have been nominated as a candidate for inclusion in the 2007-2008 Edition. We congratulate you! Nomination into WHO'S WHO is an honor in itself. WHO'S WHO has over 20,000 members in 154 countries worldwide. It is the most elite professional network in the world. Our members assist each other daily with business and career opportunities. It is in times like these that such a network is most valuable and we are seeing members help other members expand their businesses, find new positions, even relocate to another country.

If selected into WHO'S WHO, you will also be listed in the 2007-2008 Edition of International WHO'S WHO of Professionals. This is the definitive work on the world's leaders in commerce, economics, policy, and trade.

We do require additional information to complete the selection process and we ask that you provide your biographical data by accessing the form on our website at:

Our editorial deadline is quickly approaching. I urge you to act today. If you delay, I cannot guarantee the committee will have ample time to review your submission.


Wayne Uehara
2020 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., PMB #504
Washington, D.C. 20006
P.S. There is no cost or obligation to be listed in the International WHO'S WHO of Professionals. To ensure your biographical data is received in time, please complete this online form by November 15, 2007. Upon review, our Membership Selection Committee will be in touch with you.

Members of our Board of Advisors include: Wallid Abdo, CEO, Eurobrokers-Greece; Michael Gondive, CEO, Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank-Kenya; Fehmi Sami, Senior VP, Citibank, N.A.-Great Britain; Yusuf Alami, COO, Abdu Dhabi Investment Company-UAE; Mikhail Zaitsev, Finance Director, Volvo Car-Russia; DR. Jung Kook Paeng, CIO, Hyundai Motor Company, Korea; John Sai Chi Mak, Managing Director, Bulova Watch International, Ltd.-Hong Kong; and Aldo Castelli, President, Shell Brasil, Ltda.-Brazil

Note: If you wish to unsubscribe from WHO’S WHO of Professionals please click on the link below:

You have received this message because you are registered to receive messages from Informa, One Research Drive, PO Box 5195, Westborough, MA 01581.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Networked knowledge and Connectivism

I came across an interesting post from Susie Vesper this morning. Having listened to George Siemen's presentation on Connectivism and Web 2.0 in Education, she considers what Siemen's says about our tendency to subscribe only to those sites which reflect our own positions. Although her online research reflects this, she finds that many of her colleagues do NOT share her fascination with technology for education.

This resonanted with me - I know how she feels. I am constantly debating the utility of trusting in networks as a strategy for creating and utilising knowledge with colleagues whose standpoint is that knowledge is created THEN disseminated. The notion that knowledge is continually created, refreshed, developed, through social interaction, action and evaluation, appears alien.

My greatest difficulty is not getting frustated - how can they not see this is the case! (I know, we're all different...). My second greatest difficulty is creating a lucid, valid argument which will enable us to reach a position from which we can move forward and make use of the knowledge we all have.

What I need is a way to articulate my argument in a persuasive manner using language which they can relate to, an analogy that demonstrates the evolving nature of networked knowledge, something more concrete? Resources I've found useful to date have been from David Skyrme, who believes
"...information and communications technology is a powerful enabler of prosperity and well-being at all levels - individuals, organisations and society as a whole."

A sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly. After all, without new technologies, we'd all still be banging rocks together.

His Knowledge Networking insight has a practical focus, and I'm reading his book Knowledge Networking: Creating the Collaborative Enterprise. The book has its own update website, which keeps the content bang up to date.

Hopefully, I'll get some tips on explaining and selling the principles of Connectivism to colleagues so we can really take advantage of the huge amount of knowledge there is walking around in my organisation.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Government use of social media - reporting what we already knew...

A friend at the very useful National Library for Health recently sent me the Government Review of Social Media Use, which reflects my research findings into the use of social media and which is, in reality, a fine description of the problem of electing individuals who crave power to represent us.

The Social Media Review was commissioned in March 2007 by the Permanent Secretary for Government Communication, to provide information on the current and planned use of social media in government. Its aims were to

  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of government communication activity in this area
  • identify examples of good practice within the wider communication network
  • identify barriers and opportunities
  • make recommendations on how government communicators can build their capability to
    engage more effectively with the public using social media
  • identify communication structures, processes and resources that may need to be
    enhanced or refocused to facilitate better working

A couple of things caught my attention when reading it...

It mentions the command and control culture prevents them civil servants from

"having access to the tools and networks they have come to expect in their private lives."

This I found in my own research, that my organisation was wary of losing control of its communications with "the masses", leading to negative media attention and public uproar. This is very clearly demonstrated in the review, where it states

"...the use of some social media – particularly blogs and social networking sites – could open up individuals, departments, the Civil Service and Ministers to extreme scrutiny, criticism and negative media comment."

Again, the media impacts negatively on the culture of the public sector, leading to the opposite of what is required, a culture of open and transparent debate and communication.

It amused me that this report stated that public servants are warey of social media due to the fact that it "puts communication into the hands of the many" and for every gain to the reputation of a department, there is the danger that policy differences be exposed or misinterpreted and "circulated widely". Funny...I always thought the government was based on on electing representatives of the "many" to voice their opinion? I thought that that was what representative meant? Is that wrong?

Maybe this is a chance to develop policy WITH the electorate? The reality of it all seems the wrong way around to me...but then I am only one of the "many".

The report also notes the lack of understanding of the skills and resources required to manage online communities, blogs etc, another misconception about online communities and social takes some very refined skills to make it work effectively.

Jeremy Gould. a civil servant running websites for a UK government department notes also, that government colleagues are blind to the value that could be gained from joining in with existing debate, and bemoans the fact that they are just

"... desperate to have a shiny blog/wiki/forum (delete as appropriate), not interested in examining interaction online with existing communities or partnering. They just WANT A BLOG, NOW!"

This to me is a complete failing to maximise on a potential collaboration between the people and the people elected to represent them and a misunderstanding of the true nature of social media. David Milliband may have a popular blog, have been interviewed on Second Life, and wax lyrical about the potential of Web 2.0, but his colleagues it seems, are still living in the dark ages (but we all knew that now didn't we).

Monday, 8 October 2007

It's NOT fluffy - misconceptions about knowledge management

If one more person says "you do the fluffy stuff" when talking about the human element of knowledge management I'm going to scream...

Why is it, that anything to do with people is termed "fluffy". It makes it sound all kittens, pink and soft. It's not. People are interesting, complex, and above all, very very difficult to fathom. They are multifacted self directed objects, with their own thoughts, motivations, likes, dislikes, habits and beliefs. How on earth can dealing with or understanding them be "fluffy".

Knowledge managers who do not think codification and storage of knowledge is the way to go are not the only people who have this ridiculous label. Anyone working in training and development, social work, psychology, will all have been told they "do that fluffy stuff".

In terms of knowledge management, when we talk about communities, and networks, we are talking about the way people really learn. Numerous studies have demonstrated that we learn most of what we know about how to do our jobs by talking to one another, by communicating our experiences with others. However, this is seen as "fluffy" - because it isn't quantifiable? Because we can't see the knowledge being shared? It doesn't mean it's not happening...and that we may be able to harness/cultivate it for positive gain.

There are still people who believe that collecting "knowledge" is the way to go in knowledge mangement, that a database full of documents, a spreadsheet of comments, is what is needed. I would argue that this is not knowledge, but information. Information devoid of context, knowledge reduced in complexity, is of little use in comparison with a conversation or story giving depth and clarity. As Jay Cross so succinctly put it in his book Informal Learning,
"You can no more capture true knowledge in a repository that you can trap lightening in a box". (p64)
So what is so "fluffy" about people sharing knowledge without storing it in a repository...maybe "fluffy" is a euphemism for "I don't understand what you are talking about so I'll give it a name which makes it seem easy and harmless".

Then again, if "fluffy" really means complex, difficult to understand, but vital if we're going to share knowledge effectively, then I'm happy.

Rant over...

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Seeing the bigger picture – the problem with focusing on technology

We understand everything from a position of prior knowledge, and make assumptions based on that knowledge. These two videos illustrate this point beautifully – one is the old Guardian advert from the 80’s, promoting the paper’s unbiased views, the other, a video cartoon using familiar images (!) as a starting point, and creating something completely different from them. In both cases, it’s the bigger picture that is important, not your initial assumptions.

We tend to jump to conclusions based on our existing knowledge and prior experiences, to focus on just one part of what we are seeing and experiencing to such an extent that we sometimes fail to see the bigger picture – this I feel is the case with social networking and our dependance on technology. I feel we are spending too much time thinking and talking about web 2.0, enterprise 2.0, library 2.0 etc etc, and not enough time understanding the human element of the changes that are occuring in work and business, and indeed, in our social lives at this time. We are concentrating on what we know, focusing in on just one part of the picture. I’m guilty of this as much as the next person, but it’s starting to concern me.

Yes, the internet helps us to connect and share and communicate and collaborate – but are we doing this to the deteriment of having quality, real life interactions? The bigger picture has technology as ELEMENT of what’s happening. It’s an enabler, not an end in itself. Email has reduced the number of telephone calls we make, texting is the communication tool of choice for millions of people – what about conversation? I spend more time on Facebook than I do meeting up with the people I’m communicating with!

The bigger picture – surely it’s about humanity and not technology? Maybe we should all get out more….

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Moroccan Adventure

Having finished my dissertation, my hubby and I decided to get away, and a cheap flight to Morocco was too much of an opportunity to turn down.

Little did I know that I'd be on a crash course in communication. I came back being able to speak a smattering of French, a smidgen of Berber and a wee bit of Moroccan Arabic. In fact, I realised more than ever, that we are all the same, wherever we live.

I managed to communicate despite having no idea what people were saying and picked up language without really knowing how. It was a real lesson in situated learning - without being immersed in the language, I don't think I'd ever have learned as much. The same goes for the culture of Morocco - staying in a Riad with a Moroccan housekeeper who was adamant that I'd learn how to pour mint tea in an acceptable way brought the culture to life and I'm now equipped to at least visit a Moroccan home without showing myself up and not pouring the first cup of tea back in the pot!

They say travel broadens the mind - I can certainly see why.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Dissertation complete!

Well, I've finished the dissertation - thanks to everyone who helped form my thinking by comments to this blog - you've been invaluable. Off to Morocco for 2 weeks now, will get straight back into the blog on my return. I've really missed blogging but had to focus on writing...

See you soon...

Helen x

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Informal learning - identifying bad practice

Being a huge advocate of organisations paying more attention to informal learning, I've been attempting to raise awareness with practitioners of project managers of possible ways of learning. Then I had a sudden crisis of confidence. What if they are learning not the most effective ways to do things, but are validating bad practice.

I'm not saying that this happens, just that it's a possibility. In any gathering where practice experiences are shared, it's surely possible that there are more novices than experienced practitioners. If the experienced practitioner is advocating a practice which is not necessarily the most effective way to do things, or indeed, advocating bad practice of some sort, how are the novices to know that they should not adopt that practice? How do they identify "good" practice, when they have nothing to compare it against? After all, we don't know what we don't know. And who has the authority to identify good practice.

I return then to the concept of communties and networks, as it seems that the more contact novices have with ways of working, the more likely they are to identify mulitple ways of acting, and so be able to make their own decisions about what is good and bad practice. Without multiple contacts with multiple ways of working, their options for choosing an effective approach are lessened, another argument for the concept of Connectivism and networked learning, as advocated by George Siemens. It also appears to indicate that any community of practice must have a mix of novices, experts and all those in between, which in itself has implications for the moderation or management of communities to gain the best result for organisations.

Is it then the role of the community facilitator or coordinator to maintain a mix of skills and abilities in any given group, and if so, how do they go about identifying these? Maybe a community coordinator can direct the make up of a community to some an extent, but the development of skills in critical reflection and relationship building is far more empowering, and may better enable novices to consider critically any practice they come across. In addition, skills in network development will help them identify more individuals from which they can learn multiple ways of working.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Community of practice activity

Those of you coordinating an online community will know how depressing it can be to see that your most active members sometime just disappear. This, according to Wenger, McDermott and Synder in their book, Cultivating Communities of Practice, is normal.

Active members may move away for a time, depending on time, life changes, lack of interest in current topics, all manner of reasons. Conversely, those who only read but don't take part in discussions, may suddenly become very active, posting and commenting when once they were invisible to all but those with access to site usage data.

My own community has been changeable in terms of participation, with people moving from very active to inactive and vica versa. The diagram below shows this movement across 2 months. The colour labels are to show the anonymised logons.

So it's comforting to know that people do naturally participate to a greater or lesser extent, however there is one important element that must be considered if this is to without the collapse of the community - that there is something to motivate people to move to a more active role.

Percentage wise, Wenger et al suggest that activity rates are as follows:

  • Core = 10-15% - participants who post, encourage activity, get involved often
  • Active = 15-20% - participants who are sometimes involved, ie commenting occasionally
  • Peripheral = 65-75% - people who read, sometimes known as "lurkers" - although this isnt a term I would encourage as these people are far more valuable than the term suggests.

Jakob Nielson's much referenced article on participant inequality indicates that this is a far higher level of participation than most sites experience. He suggests that the following is the case, and the following is more the case.

"User participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don't have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they're commenting on occurs. "

Those who read but don't contribute are important, as I have said before, but without the active and core members, there's nothing to read! This really is a problem if your community is tending towards the 90-9-1 percent rule, rather than the 75-15-10 rule that Wenger predicts.


although it's nice to know that your most prolific contributor leaving the group is not the end of the world, that others will change role and fill their shoes, without something to engage with, people won't move from their peripheral role to a more active level of participation.

The important thing then is to make sure your community is motivated by giving them a purpose.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Friday Photo

My favorite plant in the my garden right now if my Crocosmia "Lucifer" - it has beautiful flowers and an exotic look...and obviously the bees love it (not much else flowering at the mo, guess they can't be picky!)

Cos I couldnt decide on which picture to post, there's two for the price of one...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Wikipedia, community self-regulation and academic peer review

I've just been reading an interesting post by Seacat (Cass Nevada) demonstrating the machinations of the Wikipedia editing collective in relation to the entry on Enterprise 2.0, which has been through a long and intense process to ascertain whether the term really is "a dubious neologism".

Of Wikipedia, Seacat notes that
"The system works because it is incredibly porous. Input, output, the chorus of voices, the rag-tag team of determined editors, all keep the information and the channel incredibly vital and alive..."
Despite what I said about the term Enterprise 2.0 in a previous post, I feel for Andrew McAfee, who has experienced first hand the editing process for Wikipedia entries, which displays hugely energetic intellectual debate, and as he has recognised, isn't cuddly (see this Harvard Business School report for more on the whole episode).

George Siemans remarks on his blog that he has experienced a similar vetting process, this time by the academic community, who are making it difficult for students to reference his (in my opinion fabulous) book Knowing Knowledge.

He's been in conversation with Masters student who
"...stated that her panel felt that the theory of connectivism and the book Knowing Knowledge had not been subject to peer review."

No doubt I will suffer the same dilema as the aforementioned Masters student, as I have quoted widely from the book in my own dissertation, primarily in relation to the theory of Connectivism

I have no problem with this, as I feel I have a good case for including material not considered to have been peer reviewed, as I believe, as does George Siemans, that it is an outdated concept. I thoroughly agree the argument he makes in his post:

"Peer review plays an important role - it is intended to provide expert critical review of concepts and ideas to ensure quality and accuracy. I'm all for that. My primary concern rests with "privilege only" accepted view of peer review. The progressive advancement of educational attainment (see OECD's Education at a Glance 2006) indicates a society increasingly capable of engaging in complex dialogue. The throne of knowledge is now a seat available to many of society's members. As such, it's reasonable to assume that the opinions of even those peripherally engaged in a discipline can provide insight and value. I appreciate experts, excellence, and established processes. But I despair when the processes of validation inhibit, rather than advance, thinking and idea sharing in a discipline."

Referencing Knowing Knowledge and the theory of Connectivism might lose me marks but it's worth it to make the point. After all, I'm not studying to progress my academic career, but to improve practice in my chosen field.

I've also been warned against using definitions from Wikipedia, which is, as far as I'm concerned, a valid source for the current use of terminology around web 2.0 and associated concepts. Thanks again to George Siemans, who pointed out the rather wonderful Wikipedia page entitled Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia which says it all really...

As for the concept of peer review, maybe it's time the academic establishment recognised that communities of online users really do self regulate effectively and started to reconsider their "priviledged" stance...and if they could do it quickly, before my dissertation hand in date, that would be really great (I don't really wanted to be a martyr :-)

Knowledge sharing quote

Another knowledge sharing quote...quite an incentive!

"Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality."

Dalai Lama

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Knowledge sharing - what people really want

I held a workshop for Project Managers last to consult with them about a possible knowledge sharing process. It was a great success, with a fantastic buzz, and some interesting outcomes.
  • The general feeling was that talking to people who had previous experience of a related area was key.

There were many requests for a "facebook" type social networking facility, the emphasis being on speaking to people directly, rather than accessing materials which related their activities second hand.

There was also a desire for face to face networking opportunites, and telephone conferencing appeared to be popular, due to concerns that something was lacking in text based online communications.

The emphasis was very much on "at time of need" communications, and everyone agreed that building a network of potentially useful contacts was a good idea.

Many were requesting access to a repository of guidance and information, but by far the greatest emphasis was on the need to communicate directly. Very much along the lines of what George Siemens and Stephen Downes have been saying about Connectivism, that knowledge exists in the network itself, rather than in a knowledge repository, and those that attended the workshop echoed this ascertion.

It was a fantastic experience, to talk to so many people with so many opinions, and it really did confirm that we're on the right lines with Web 2.0, as long as we remember it's about people making use of technology, and not the reverse. As Jay Cross says in a recent post on the Internet Time community.

People, not technology, keep us from making our relationships at work more productive and fulfilling.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Knowledge management quote

Writing about the difficulties of sharing knowledge, and considering the intial attempts to "capture" knowledge in a repository, I came across this great quote by Jay Cross in his book "Informal Learning- rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance", which I thought really summed up the reason why the KM knowledge repository idea has failed.
“You can no more capture true knowledge in a repository that you can trap lightening in a box”.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Facebook - not as innocent as it seems

A month or so ago I received an innocuous invite from a friend to "join me on Facebook", so I did, innocently and without any understanding of the future impact of my action.

After wasting many hours trying to get a purple rabbit called Gerald to win his fight against various monsters, posting pictures of Sheffield flood carnage, ignoring people trying to turn me into a vampire, zombie, pirate etc, and flinging food and drinks and flowers at my friends, I've realised Facebook is just one big playground of mindless yet addictive applications. This rather sweet poem from David Bogner says it all really...

Facebook has gargantuan time-sucking powers, but what's worse, much worse, is that Facebook is now being used by employers to assess the potential suitability of job applicants. Mike Gotta points out that if information concerning protected characteristics (e.g., race, gender, or age) is disclosed and those being assessed by employers are not hired, they may find themselves on the wrong end of discrimination claims. David Lacey warns that employers might have grounds to demand ownership of their employees’ social networking information.

This is bad, as any prospective employer looking at my Facebook profile would think I was a mindless numpty with too much time on their hands and alot of mad friends who like to take pictures of people blowing rasberries (pretty good actually, check this one out...)

So consider this when you're in the middle of a virtual food fight - someone somewhere may be checking you out...and dismissing you as an idiot...

Friday, 13 July 2007

The return of the Friday Photo

This pic is of a fire-twirling man on Kho Tao, Thailand.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Yov Gov most hated Internet words

Reading the Metro on the train yesterday, I came across an article on the most hated internet words (which, Metro being a "mash-up" publication, probably came from China Daily).

The results of a YovGov poll found the most hated interent words included "Blog", "netiquette", "cookie" and "wiki".

The most hated internet words

  1. folksonomy
  2. Blogosphere
  3. blog
  4. netiquette
  5. blook
Cookie and wiki were ninth and tenth respectively

Makes me wonder if anyone actually likes any internet words...and if they don't like them, why use them? I feel a sociological paper coming on :-)

Social Networking video from CommonCraft

Stephen Dale drew my attention to another CommonCraft video, this time on Social Networking

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Online-offline crossover - Enterprise 2.0 post in print

I received an email from work colleague yesterday which said "I see you made it onto the back page of Information World Review." "Back page?" I thought, "websites don't have back pages?"

He informed me that the july/august printed publication of IWR had picked up a post (also picked up by Social Computing Magazine) on the human face of Enterprise 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 - same problem, different platforms, and included it in their The Best Bits of the Blogosphere section - flattery indeed! The starting point is Stephen Dale's post Librarians, where are you? from his Dissent blog, in which he challenged my ascertion that there were librarians out their involved in Web 2.0, and which elicited a cascade of comments from information and library professionals involved in social software (only slightly encouraged by me....)

What struck me was that this section from the printed publication is not online, and because of that, I was unaware my post had been picked up. I use technorati to check out who is linking to my blog. Printed publications of course, are not referenced in technorati. So once again, I've experienced a degree of crossover between online and offline worlds, which I've commented on previously in relation to work relationships and collaboration, The impact of blogging on offline relationships - Real Life 2.0 anyone?

It's a strange and fascinating world where you can write a quick post one morning and a few weeks later, find yourself on the back page of a journal - strange, fascinating and really quite nice....and it's a very good read, so I'll be subscribing from now on (maybe it was a really convoluted marketing ploy all the while :-)

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Capability building – where Enterprise 2.0 plays a part

This somewhat ranty post was born of a conversation about the difficulty of evidencing ROI for training and development - the particular conversation didn't include Enterpise 2.0, but it should have, so I've included it anyway.


The argument for a holistic view of learning which incorporates formal training, informal learning, knowledge sharing AND Enterprise 2.0
(forgive me the simplicity - this is a rant remember).

If you want someone to be able to do the job you pay them to do, they need to know how to do what they’re doing, or you’re paying out for no reason.

To get more than a return on current skills levels, to improve the skill base, or just to keep up with changes, you need to invest in people. This needs to be via formal training (the what) and informal training (focusing on the how).

Definition of formal training in this instance is directed, structured training, primarily classroom based, where a set curriculum is followed as required by the job function. For instance

  • Methodology training ie Prince2, MSP, ITIL
  • Principles training ie mentoring, negotiating, facilitating, dealing with difficult people,
  • Application/tool based training ie MS office, autoCAD, procurement system

This can be related to learning to drive – you learn to drive a car (methodology), pass your test, (certification), but you only learn to drive by doing it (practice).

According to the Institute for Research on Learning, formal training accounts for only 20 percent of on the job learning (Jay Cross 2006 “The Low-Hanging Fruit Is Tasty”, - or see informal learning, the other 80%). If this is true, understanding the other 80 percent, the practice, and cultivating informal learning to improve this practice in the most effective way, must benefit the workforce.

Cheetham and Chivers also support this, they state that

"…much of the learning required to attain full professional competence actually takes place after the completion of formal training. This conclusion highlights the critical importance of informal learning. However, the results also suggest that different individuals find different kinds of experience formative, and this should caution against being too prescriptive in respect of “best practice” learning methods.”

Cheetham and Chivers 2001

Therefore broadly speaking, professionals learn a degree of what they do from formal training, but the majority of their skills, knowledge and behaviour is learnt informally.

Any investment in the development of capability therefore needs to consider informal learning to a high degree, if what is discovered in formal training is to be translated into practice and improved competence, to gain a return on investment.

Formal training related to relevant situations
As Knowles and others have identified, adults learn most effectively when what they are learning relates to their environment. Training which relates to learners particular experiences is therefore vital if what is learnt is transferred into their work. This can be done by using case studies with direct relevance to the job of the learner – ie using case studies from that company to train Prince2.

Knowledge management
Sharing knowledge about how an issue was mitigated or a risk avoided reduces the likelihood of costly mistakes. Sharing experience which was in some way successful helps to improve competence. For instance, knowing that post go-live support can be reduced by 6 days by investing time up front to understand and communicate exactly who will do what in a business process is a valuable experience which, if shared, saves 6 days expenditure and improves the likelihood of change being accepted.

Knowledge sharing is therefore a vital component of learning about a role, and thus, increasing competence. Networks and communities of pratice, both offline and online, can help to share this knowledge.

Enterprise 2.0
Blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, instant messaging, online conferencing, all these tools facilitate collaboration, reflection, sharing, and ultimately, learning, all important for the development of competence and capability required to achieve business objectives.

Mentoring and Coaching
Mentoring also is a way of enabling people to share experience and good practice, and to increase competence, and serves to help people develop their skills in the areas they need to develop, when they need to develop it – just in time learning.

Professional Development Networks
Professional development networks, workshops and masterclasses improve practice by enabling individuals in those networks to dictate the content of workshops when they need them, keeping work current and allowing individuals to share experiences and knowledge.

In conclusion...

You need both training and development to facilitate learning and to improve competency. You need both formal and informal learning initiatives, which incorporates knowledge sharing activity, to support people in their roles in achieving your business objectives.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Dissertation distractions

Running out of time to complete my dissertation, I realise that I'm having too much fun blogging, so have to focus focus focus on writing now...

I've discovered that a million things are actually have a priority over writing my dissertation, the top 5 being
  • Blogging (which is sort of writing my dissertation...)
  • How many people are reading my blog
  • How many things are happening that I can't go to because I'm writing my dissertation
  • Facebook (steals hours of life)
  • Considering my split ends
Posts are going to be sporadic, which is a shame, but such is life....

Monday, 2 July 2007

Critical reflection, knowledge sharing and the learning cycle

Having more or less given up on the concept of tacit knowledge, in terms of completely failing to discover a way of identifying demonstrations of tacit knowledge in blog postings, I've been examining reflection as an alternative route to identifying knowledge with value for the development and improvement of pratice.

In doing so, I remembered the good old learning cycle, developed by Kolb and utilised by Honey and Mumford in their work on learning styles...

Going back to Kolb, I started thinking about his learning cycle in terms of a community of practice, particulary in relation to the concrete experience element. How do people get to know about the experiences of others? Through sharing reflection.

To share experieince, one must have to some extent thought about it. In thinking about knowledge sharing, I've linked what Boud would call Returning to Experience to the 1st stage of Kolb's learning cycle, as this descriptive stage of reflection does not involve a critique, but is merely a description of what happened. To some extent, if we avoid the philosophical debate around knowledge, we can call this, or at least liken it, to explicit knowlege.

Moving onto the next stage of Kolb's cycle, critical reflection, we are considering the emotions and outcomes associated with the experience. This sounds to me something like tacit knowledge...and it's these elements of the experience that hold the utility of the practice - the stuff that we really should be sharing.

If critical reflection can be utilised by a group, they can more effectively validate any reflection, both at the descriptive level, but more usefully, at the abstract conceptulisation and active experimentation stages. This is a powerful medium for testing new outcomes and learning as a group from the experiences of individuals. Each individual thus gains more from the critical reflection of one person than that person alone.

Ideally then, the group learns more individually due to the groups multiple conceptualisations, experiements, reflections and experiences.

Unfortunately, this implies that we must

  • Learn to reflect, descriptively and critically, in terms of repeatable processes and procedures and potential new practice
  • Learn to articluate those reflections, by writing, conversation, networking
  • Learn to read, listen to, review and analyse those reflections in terms of our own practice
  • Learn to collaborate in our abstract conceptualisation
  • Learn to collaborate in our testing of hypotheses generate by our abstract conceptualisation

It's never simple is it...

Friday, 29 June 2007

This Learning 2.0 slideshow has given me plenty to think about

Social Learning 2.0 by EdMedia 2007

Love the "why e-learning is better than sex" slide....
Sadly, another something 2.0 label though. Maybe I just have to live with it...

Thanks to George Sieman (again) for the link

Who is participating in social media and how

Thanks to George Siemen for highlighting this chart from Business Week, showing participation in social media in the US

Another Business Week chart shows that although use of social media has grown enormously, creation of content is still the domain of the few

In the 22+ age range, there are more commenters and readers than there are creators (those who write blogs, publish web pages, upload videos.

This is reflected in terms of my research, in that there are more readers and commentors than creators.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The impact of blogging on offline relationships - Real Life 2.0 anyone?

I want to highlight a recent post by Jon Husband, KM and Friendships - Blogging, Listservs, Forums, Moderation, etc. in which he returns to a blog post from 2002, showing remarkable insight and a considerable amount of vision, in terms of the potential of blogging. In particular this comment resonates with me...

...the sociality that blogging enables and creates is a critical component of the effective construction, exchange and use of knowledge, and I truly believe that many if not most organizations should move more quickly and more seriously to experiment on purpose with ways to use blogging (inside and outside the firewall) to enhance responsiveness, effectiveness, productivity and innovation.
I agree completely with Jon. But I wonder if when writing this he was thinking about the construction, exchange and use of knowledge offline, as well as online? (maybe he'll let us know?)

I've noticed recently that my involvement in blogging, particuarly internally, is having a real, positive impact on my face to face work relationships.

People I have met on our internal blog already know me to some extent - I'm much happier to ask them for advice, info and input, they seem to be much happier to give me what I ask for. We've developed a level of trust even though we haven't met in person. We've connected on a level that has increased the degree to which we share knowledge and experience, the degree to which we collaborate.

This isn't necessarily on a blog, it's because of a blog. We're collaborating and conversing in emails, on the phone. The blog facilitated and enabled the open, collaborative working relationship we now have.

To some extent, this is problematic, as not everyone has access to the knowledge we are sharing, it's offline and between just us, but in terms of a broader knowledge sharing process, knowledge is being shared, and between people who may not have done so without the blog acting as an enabler.

I don't think the power of the blog can be underestimated here, particularly when those participating are unlikely to meet face to face, yet still benefit from sharing.

I guess what's really starting to interest me is the impact of online activity on offline reality. If anyone has seen anything of note on this, it'd be great to hear from you.

...and no, I don't really think we should call it Real Life 2.0, considering a recent post, that would make me a hypocrite.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Special Sheffield After the Flood post

Nothing to do with learning or knowledge management I know, but just had to post these pics of Sheffield after the great flood of 25th June 07