Thursday, 31 May 2007

Viral Learning Centre - spoof video

With reference to the last post, this is NOT what I mean about Viral Learning...but it's a pretty amusing take on media training...

Little Videos That Educate - Making Learning Viral

Whilst indulging in a rare moment of relaxation, I was reading The Guide, the wee culture mag, one of many many many magazines and suppliments that come with The Guardian on a Saturday and I came across a reference to Derren Brown in the Internet section. As I’m almost as keen on Derren Brown as I am on the Hamster (see yesterdays post), I checked it out. It’s a very interesting little site, and probably quite useful if you’re the suspicious type, on how to tell is someone’s lying.

This sort of thing has been popping up all over the web for quite some time, check out VideoJug with it's strapline "Life explained, on film" It’s usefulness is, I think, worth noting (being able to fold a t-shirt in 2 seconds isn't necessarily that useful unless you're after a job in The Gap.

For instance, should I wish to learn how to get out of a car without showing my drawers (as my Granny used to call them), then I’d check out
this video

If I wanted to learn how to put on a sarong however, I could
watch this.

Observation is nothing new, it's the basis of
social learning theory – we are all great people watchers. Just look at the popularity of TV soaps, reality TV (just realised that Big Brother is back again, sigh... ). Apart from the obvious exception of animal based programming, the majority of what we watch includes people. We are social beings, and part of this means we like to watch people.

In terms of Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic learning styles, videos really hit our collective spot. The interactive element of being able to view videos online engages our need for visual stimuli, kinesthetic tendencies, whilst neglected by TV (except changing channel or shouting at it) are catered to some extent by the ability to interact with the video - we have control over what we watch, when we watch, whether we start or stop or pause the video, and most videos have sound, so those of us with auditory preferences are happy too.

Blogging may be giving value back to the written word, which is great, but the accessibility of video and v-logs on the net is helping us learn essential (and not so essential) skills that we might struggle to acquire without being able to observe them in real life.

I'd love to see more of this sort of thing - Haynes could produce online videos to supplement their car manuals, B&Q could actually SHOW us how to build a shower cubicle. It's something TV does really well with DIY and practical skills, why not online?

Or maybe it’s just me and I watched the 70’s childrens programme HOW and the “This is one I made earlier” sections of Blue Peter too much as a child (not mentioning of course how the standards of the programme have obviously dropped since then with the recent competition foror :-)

But it does seem to me that actually watching and listening and copying it is how we learn, it's how we learnt to walk, talk, communicate....

Bring on Viral Learning Videos I say...

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Informal learning in action

Yesterday I went to buy a second hand (almost new) car. It’s a big thing for me, for many people I expect, it's a lot of money to pay out. I managed to haggle down a few quid here, a few quid there (pounds to you non-Brits) and came out with a big enough discount for my own piece of mind, if not for my bank balance.

I thought about what I’d done on the way home…thought about why I’d immediately attempted to get money off (not just cos I’m tight), how I’d known what to look for, what car to go for, and thought about all the experiences that had influenced my behaviour.

They were, in no particular order:

  • Talking to friends and family about what they’d done when buying a new car and what to look for/how to act
  • Listening to stories I’d heard from friends and colleagues about car buying and remembered them when I got there
  • Watching TV programmes about cars (Top Gear mostly, I love the Hamster…)
  • Watching TV programmes about car salespeople
  • Watching The Apprentice …enough said
  • Reading "what to look for" check lists

I didn’t go and learn how to buy a car on a training course. I learnt how to do it by talking to people, observing, reading and actively searching for information from multiple sources, gaining a lot information which I’d somehow internalised and used when I finally decided which car to buy.

This indicates to me that informal learning really is something that needs close attention and analysis.

The first thing that really amazed me about all this was the power of TV as a learning device. It seems almost entirely passive when you're watching it whilst eating your tea (not that I'd EVER do that :-) Try watching QI a few times to realise exactly how many useless bits of info you pick up to amaze and occasionally bore your friends with. It is possible to learn something from even adverts – I learnt what a numismatist was from a McDonalds advert (it’s a coin collector…).

The other interesting thing is the recall I had when I needed it. I wasn’t aware I’d picked up and stored all this stuff, but obviously I had. But that’s for another time…

The thing that most struck me was that I was a part of a group of people who know a lot about cars. And I mean a lot. About things I’d never even heard of. But I gained more insight into what I needed to do and how to go about it more quickly than I ever could through the other channels I’d experienced.

Conversation is a wonderful thing – people are stuffed full of useful information. All in all I’d say that belonging to a community is a valuable precursor to timely knowledge acquisition, and that learning is to a great extent, informal.

And all I need to do now is find a loan to pay for the rest of the car…my friend says he’s found a really low rate….

Monday, 28 May 2007

Lurkers are legitimate

I’ve been reading an article by Jonathon Bishop on Increasing participation in online communities.

Incidentally Jonathan went to the same University as me, the University of Glamorgan in the lovely Welsh Valleys, and it’s very likely that I served him a pint in the Uni bar or the local student pub, The Otley, run, funnily enough, by the Otley family, who are now brewing their own beer very succesfully, but that’s another story (and really sorry to hear that the lovely Alf Otley passed away last year).

Anyway, Jonathan Bishop talks about drivers for participation, predominately why “lurkers” don’t participate and how to get them to do so.

The paper has some interesting insights into motivation to participate in virtual communites, but my reaction to it has been adverse, due only to the fact that he uses the word lurker. Not his fault alone I admit, it’s a word that has been synonymous with online communities, but...

I hate the word lurker

Lurkers are actually valuable, in that they may, without ever participating in a community, be reflecting on what is being said, taking away valuable learning and sharing it outside of that particular community, within another, different community. They may encourage others to participate, we don't know...and we shouldn't judge.

I make a call to stop using the word lurker – it means to move furtively, to sneak about, has overtones of concealment and danger, and these people, these so called lurkers, deserve more respect.

Although I believe Lave and Wenger's category of Peripheral describes the behaviour of people who aren’t actively involved in a community, I prefer “readers” to lurkers…

Please can we all stop calling people who are valuable members of our communities lurkers and call them readers instead.

See the Virtual Community wikipedia entry for more on descriptive categories for involvement in online communities and encouraging participation.

Barriers to Sharing 1: fear of being seen to be incompetent

In interviewing participants for my research, certain key areas came up again and again, one of which is the issue of confidence.

When discussing knowledge sharing and blogs as a vehicle for knowledge sharing, it was clear that what they said about the usefulness of sharing, wasn’t reflected in practice. They were keen on the concept of sharing, and said they enjoyed reading what others had posted, even that this led to some extent on their reflecting on their own practice.

What interesting was that they wanted to read about others thoughts and experiences, but weren’t willing to describe their own...

When questioned about why they thought people weren’t posting, participants felt to some extent, that people weren’t posting due to a lack of confidence. In digging deeper, this appeared in some part to be due to the perception that as Project Managers, they should be able to do their job, to manage projects. If they are seen to be asking questions about project management, or stating something that others may think is incorrect, they will look as though they are incompetent.

Chris Argyris has said that people will talk about what they do in terms of their espoused theory, what they believe is the best answer to the question, but what they actually do doesn’t necessarily reflect what they actually do, their theory-in-use. This does appear to be the case with the study participants, and they appear to be demonstrating what he calls Model I behaviour.

This behaviour, by which theories-in-use are oriented towards winning, and avoiding embarrassment, Argyris believes leads to deeply entrenched defensive routines (Argyris 1990; 1993). He believes that sharing action, thoughts and feelings can make people vulnerable to the reactions of others – a no brainer there, who hasn't at some stage felt nervous about saying what they think, but it seems this behaviour, very simply, can be attributed to a lack of confidence and fear of being seem to be incompetent.

“Acting defensively can be viewed as moving away from something, usually some truth about ourselves. If our actions are driven by moving away from something then our actions are controlled and defined by whatever it is we are moving away from, not by us and what we would like to be moving towards. Therefore our potential for growth and learning is seriously impaired. If my behaviour is driven by my not wanting to be seen as incompetent, this may lead me to hide things from myself and others, in order to avoid feelings of incompetence. For example, if my behaviour is driven by wanting to be competent, honest evaluation of my behaviour by myself and others would be welcome and useful. (Anderson 1997)”

If we consider that these people are working in a health context, where competence, particuarly medical competence, is seen as the bedrock of the organisation, it may be that project managers are very aware of the need to be competent.

It seems a viscious circle ensues, where the need to be competent drives the need to learn, but this need is thwarted by the fear of being perceived to be incompetent.

It’s been suggested that the professionalisation of Project Managers in the NHS would help practitioners acknowledge that they are continually learning. This might also put even more pressure on them.
Interestingly, I read a post by Andrew Latham on the subject of confidence and blogging, in his experience, in terms of software development, which seems to reflect the issue. In his situation it seems that it's acknowledged that people need to continutally learn, to progress in order to do their job well, and that colleagues can help this process.

Encouraging a learning culture and making opportunties for continuing professional development may be a way around this (sounds simple doesn't it), but until a culture of learning becomes the norm, I’m not convinced that knowledge sharing through online communites and blogging will be effective.

As Argyris says, it’s only by interrogating and changing the governing values, that new action strategies can be produced that can address changing circumstances.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

How people really learn at work

Jay Cross tells us that 80% of learning is informal. He notes that this is supported by the Institute for Research on Learning, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Education Development Center of Massachusetts, Capitalworks, the eLearning Guild, and Canada’s National Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning.

I love to tout this figure in conversations with colleagues, many of whom are still in the “lets arrange some training” frame of mind. Training in a vacumn just doesn’t work, it needs to be embedded in working practice, to be a part of what people actually do. Many people I speak to say “the training just wasn’t about what we do here.” Hence my interest in communities of practice and situated learning, and the possibilities for leveraging them as vehicles for learning.

My research is telling me people learn most by doing the job, and by talking to colleagues. This tells me both that my feelings about informal learning, and situated learning are correct. Well, correct in terms of my subject group anyway (she said, not wishing to get into the subject of statistical validity).

Some evidence from my workplace at last, albeit limited, for concentrating on how people really learn at work.

Friday, 25 May 2007

A politician with a bit of sense

Interesting comment fromDavid Milliband, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Thanks to Euan Semple for bringing it to my attention.

Milliband talks about the disperal of power, interactivity, collaboration, how politics can link with Web 2.0 and giving voice to cultural and collective collaborations.

In describing his blog he says

"This blog is my attempt to help bridge the gap - the growing and potentially dangerous gap - between politicians and the public."

Maybe he has a good enough grasp of web 2.0, which it sounds like he does, to help get politics back into the youth arena, indeed, into the public arena...

Working from home and the joy of blogging

It's Friday, and I'm working from home to avoid the commute from Sheffield to Leeds, particularly to avoid the train - a huge incubator full of germ ridden suits. I really need to kick this cold! It's over a week since I could breathe.

There's still a decidedly chilly reaction to my decisions to work from home, and I know why, but I honestly get more done at home. I start earlier, as I have no commute, no need to get dressed (yes, I work in my dressing gown until about 11am) and I stop later, as I've no need to catch that train and I can cook and work at the same time in the evening. It's great. I seem to have far more time at home to sit and ponder, reflect, generally gather my thoughts than I do at work, where there is constant distraction and a not very comfy chair.

My ponderings today were primarily around how useful this blog has been for helping me formulate my thoughts on my dissertation. It's also been great for helping me reference interesting and helpful blog posts and articles. I just need to link to them, and they're there for ever. Much more fun than just making lists on email, they actually come to life for me. As Chad says in his post on blogging for new bloggers...

"Putting your thoughts out on blog is great for you (writing really helps clarify thinking) and its great for others who might learn from what you have to say, or who see that you’re wondering about something and either have the answers, or often a different perspective on the topic."

A good point well made.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Communities of Practice, Knowledge Management and Learning

I've been having hours of fun analysing the statistics from the use of the Project Managers Knowledge Collaborative - the blog I've set up for my MEd dissertation. I found something interesting in terms of the participation levels in terms of reading, commenting and posting.

The basis of my dissertation research is a group blog for Project Managers. They’ve been told to blog about whatever they feel would be relevant to their colleagues, but they’ve had no other guidelines (apart from "Be Nice"). Ideally, they blog about their experiences, sharing their tacit knowledge with others, so their knowledge can be managed effectively and visibly, and learning can take place within the community, raising the level of of Project Manager competency.

If we start with the premise, as stated by Lave and Wenger in Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, that people learn by the process of being active participants in the practices of social communities, that learning is situated, then membership of an online community should reflect the theory, that participation leads to learning.

In practice, a large percentage of activity on the blog is reading, followed by commenting, then posting. Taking the model of legitmate peripheral participation, this behaviour reflects the idea that the majority are peripheral but still valuable members of the community, some are active and commenting, and fewer still are core, doing the posting, sharing the knowledge, questioning and driving forward the practice of Project Management.

Someone by the name of Ruben posits the assumption that the use of social software relates directly to Wengers framework, and lists a number of hypothesis to argue this case in his post Learning 2.0. Particularly rellevant in this case is his Hypothesis 6:

Hypothesis 6 : Social software supports an important prerequisite of communities of practice, namely legitimate peripheral participation, because users can particiapte in a way that best suits their needs, without being obliged to become core community members who participate for the greater good.”

The issue is, that those on the periphery will only participate if there is something going on at the core – in this case, posts. With nothing to comment on, the active participants will wander off, the community will stop creating opportunties for learning. Bearing in mind this is an internal, closed community, I'm struggling as I’m now at the difficult stage of cajolling people to post, and get more participants, neither of which I’m finding particularly easy…I guess I need to re-read Saint-Onges Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage (despite what he says about blogging...see John Husband's blog for more on this KM/blogging debate)

Linked articles/sites article Communities of Practice
Situated cognition and the culture of learning (Brown, Collins & Duguid)

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Saint-Onge, H., Wallace, D. (2002), Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage, Butterworth-Heinemann, USA

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The Tipping Point and knowledge sharing

Thanks to George Siemen (and by association, to Stephen Parker) for bringing my attention to the fantastic publication - Networks, Connections and Community: Learning with Social Software.

Not only does it reference theories and models which relate to the use of social software, but it also contains a great example of how to define your research approach.

I've been attempting to gain support for the use of Andrea Shaprio's Tipping Point developer, a simulation tool for enabling those responsible for change to see first hand, the impact of the decisions they make about change management.

Andrea's theory is based on the viral model of the adoption of the new, as discussed in Malcolm Galdwell's book The Tipping Point. The Flexible Learning network also reference this work, but through Gladwells defintions of the characteristics of people who start epidemics.

Whilst working hard to cultivate an online community, I've noted that it really is the case, that if you can find the Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople in your community, and they engage which what you are promoting, chances are the idea will flourish. Ideally, this happens to the extent that it reaches a Tipping Point where less or little effort is required to ensure the idea is adopted.

A lovely theory with a fundamentally individual basis, which fits beautifully with the activities of the blogosphere. What's the betting many of the bloggers out there are either Connectors, Mavens or Salespeople...something it seems other people like Liz Strauss agree with...

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Knowledge and Citing Blogs

Watching the particularly touching Starter for 10, something James McKavoy’s character Brian Jackson said struck a chord. “I want to know everything” he states. How is that possible, I wonder.
University Challenge is a beautifully archaic institution, representing the historical academic principle of knowledge as “truth”. This goes against the theory that resonates most for me, the theory that knowledge is socially constructed.

In writing a dissertation about an emerging technology (well, emerged is more the case), it seems that the nature of knowledge enabled by Web 2.0 technologies beautifully encapsulates the constructivist theory.

What impact does this have on academic research? As Allison Cavanagh says in the introduction to her book Sociology in the Age of the Internet (2007)
“The development of the internet, as a technology, medium and social space, has well and truly outpaced academic responses to it.”

I have a feeling my bibliography will contain a considerably greater percentage of references to blogs than books or peer reviewed articles. I wonder how the examining body will view this. I’m referencing published works, peer reviewed by the blogosphere. Does this have the same weight and kudos as a peer reviewed journal? If not, why not?

Slightly concerned but I’m hoping the case for citing blogs is greater than that against….

Blogging for knowledge sharing and learning

As I’m in the midst of a research project on the usefulness of blogging for learning and knowledge sharing, it seemed remiss of me not to actually have a blog in which to discuss it.

With a sample of only 14 people, only 9 of which even log on, it’s becoming apparent that developing an internal group blog isn’t that easy. Barriers abound

“I don’t know what to write”
“Who owns the site – are they monitoring what I’m doing? Is this really assessing how much time I spend working and how much I spend on the Internet”
“If I ask questions, I’ll look like I don’t know what I’m doing”

These are just a few reasons I’ve been given for not posting. People are happy to read, happy to comment even, but not happy to post. What began as an attempt to develop an online community has mutated into an examination of why people are reticent. I don’t know if that’s the nature of my own organisation, or of the workforce in general, I suspect it’s the latter. I’m not in a position to research the entire workforce, but then again, am I?

If I ask the question, what prevents people for blogging in a closed, safe, internal environment, will I get any answers?

The only way to know is to ask, so I am…in your experience, what prevents people for blogging in a closed, safe, internal environment?