Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September Big Question Response - "To Learn Lists"

This month's Learning Circuits 'Big Question' gets to the heart of an interesting query - how do we manage "Informal Learning" and how is that reconciled with our daily tasks?

Jim Collins, in an essay in Learning Journeys, wrote, "A true learning person also has a “to-learn” list, and the items on that list carry at least as much weight in how one organizes his or her time as the to-do list."

The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question for September "To Learn Lists"
  1. If you have a to-learn list and are willing to share, and willing to share how you work with that list, that would likely be helpful information.
  2. As Knowledge Workers, work and learning are the same, so how does a to-learn list really differ from a to-do list? How are they different than undirected learning through work, blogging, conferences, etc.?
  3. Are to-learn lists really important to have? Are they as important as what Jim Collins tells us?
  4. Should they be captured? If so how?
  5. How does a to-learn list impact something like a Learning Management System in a Workplace or Educational setting?
  6. What skills, practices, behaviors do modern knowledge workers need around to-learn lists?

Part 1 - Any Lists to Share?
I think it is important to examine what exactly we might be sharing because the topic that Jim has opened up is broader than it seems. What he is describing by a "To Learn List" in fact represents several distinct things, including:
  • Discovery (or query) Lists
  • Discovery Tracking (for ad hoc exploration)
  • Personal Learning Goals
  • Personal Dynamic Curricula (to support those goals and objectives)
  • Representation within a personal learning environment (now managed with non-standard tools as the architecture is not fully agreed upon or deployed yet)
So the "To Learn Lists" themselves can take the form of:
  • Outlines
  • Mind Maps
  • Concept Maps
  • Documents (HTML, Word, text, .ppt, .xsl, MS OneNote etc.)
  • Web 2.0 (Blog notes, wiki posts, etc)
All of this generally fits within the category of Informal Learning, which is why there is a diversity of approaches.

Part 2 - How do they Differ ? In all honesty, sometimes they don't. However, 'To Do' lists generally focus attention on immediate work-related tasks, whereas the To-Learn Lists involve activities that span days, weeks or months unless of course you happen to be involved immediate ad hoc discovery efforts (and in those cases especially the To-Learn and the To-Do tasks tend to merge). The primary difference that I think is being asked about here though is one of organization.

What tends to happen when we do merge our to do tasks and learning is that we often lose track of what we've gained. The 'To-Learn List' if we view it as both the learning goals and the learning activities targeted to meet those goals can allow us to reference our newly gained knowledge later rather than letting it all slip away. (and some of us have better longer term memory than others)

Part 3 - Are these types of organizational tools important ? Yes, they most certainly are. However their effectiveness is limited by the lack of tools available to support and automate this process. The most important tool lacking is the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A PLE is a combination discovery engine, visualization tool, knowledge management tool and ideation or strategy engine. It would allow someone to build up their own personal curricula and knowledge base for future reference and would help organize and prioritize learning tasks and link them to career goals & competencies.

Part 4 - Capturing Them As of now, I capture most of mine through a combination of tools including a mind map (for the topic area visualization) and MS OneNote, to capture web research within a unified set of taxonomies. The main problem with this however is that nearly half of what I end up querying is Ad Hoc based upon the initial responses I receive from the set of topics first place on the mind map or query list. In truth, there is often no way to predict where your research will lead you, but it is important to be able to capture that 'trail' and be able to see the relationships that develop. The highest level goals can be a very simple matter though of just writing down a few bullet points.

Part 5 - LMSs They will likely never impact them at all. This is because the LMS industry has done its best for the last decade to to completely neglect all aspects of personal learning endeavors. The LMS view of the world is top down and autocratic. "To Learn Lists" are all about personal freedom through learner control of their own educational experience.

Part 6 - What skills do you need to Exploit 'to learn' lists ? Most of them you have already; the ability to think for yourself, determine your own goals, follow your own interests and organize your efforts over a period of time. It's our job in this industry to make that process easier for the learner to facilitate their growth.

* Note "Undirected Learning" I do not believe that personal direction using blogs or what have you is the same as 'undirected', undirected implies that the effort might be frivolous, and this is certainly not the case with what many people are doing.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Informal Learning Survey

In an article in July's Learning Circuits magazine: Informal Learning, Overlooked or Overhyped?, there is an examination of a recent survey of Informal Learning adoption at various organizations. When I read though who was being queried and what the context was I was somewhat surprised:

"The core was an online survey of 1,104 human resource and learning professionals, who completed the survey between March and April 2008.
The majority of them (86 percent) were managers, directors, vice presidents, or C-level officers. Most of the respondents represented large enterprises (60 percent had workforces of at least 1,000 people) that operate in multiple nations."

I have several problems with what I saw in the article regarding the study:
  1. It's not clear whether they were asking these folks if Informal Learning was being sponsored or otherwise endorsed rather than spontaneously occurring.
  2. Depending on what they really wanted to ask and find out they may have been asking the wrong folks - i.e. if they wanted to know about true adoption that didn't happen to fall within the context of an organization's approved resources or practices, then many of these high level respondents might not have actually known what learning mechanisms their employees were or weren't using.
The questions that should have been asked then are these:
  • What if any Informal Learning programs and / or capabilities are being offered or supported by your organization ?
  • What Informal Learning do you think is occurring outside of that context and how do you track or other find out about such activities?
  • And of course, ordinary members of the organization should have constituted a larger proportion of those taking the survey (and perhaps could have been given their own specially tailored survey).
This would have provided a much more comprehensive view of who was really do what in the enterprise with Informal Learning and begins to provide a foundation to possibly bridge the gap between management and employees on this issue.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reconciling Web 2.0, KM & Learning Technology

Here we are in 2008, and the unification still hasn't happened yet? Why not? Why isn't standard operating procedure to combine Knowledge Management, Web Collaboration & Learning Technology solutions together into unified Enterprise Learning scenario ?

Let's go over the pieces again to this artifically separated puzzle in an attempt to perhaps explain what might be taking so long...

Knowledge Management - Traditionally, this has assumed the form of complex DBMS driven solutions with some minimal collaborative capability (in most cases never exploited). KM has never been viewed coherently within the context of the larger family of enterprise processes, hence few have understood how to gain value from it.

Web 2.0 - For the purposes of this discussion, Web 2.0 refers to the collaborative knowledge revolution brought about by use of blogging, wikis and other digital knowing / information sharing technologies combined with previous and emerging collaborative communications technologies / applications.

Learning Technology - This is still being separated into formal and informal flavors with the informal approaches making slow gains but not achieving their proper recognition. In many ways, informal learning overlaps with Web 2.0 technology, however what it has been lacking is the pedagogical pedigree that is currently only being extended to formal learning solutions (which are still very much LMS and SCORM-centric).

Is there overlap across all three areas ? yes...

Do all three areas serve a larger enterprise goal ? yes

Would all three be more effective combined than separated ? yes

so, why isn't it occuring ?

Answer # 1 - The field of E-learning has never yet developed a practice framework that encompassed the whole process of learning - and more importantly the necesary scope - i.e. across the entire enterprise while simultaneously focusing more on individual needs.

Answer # 2 - The thought leadership of the field of e-learning was coopted early on by a small handful of COTS vendors and thus lost their focus. They then left a void which users are now filling themselves, this however has signicantly slowed the progress which otherwise would be occuring.

Answer # 3 - The traditional educational community is still somewhat unsure of how to deal with Web 2.0 - the first reaction was merely to view it as a medium for potential plagiarism - an unbelieveable knee-jerk reflex but one we've still not recovered from yet.

Until we understand that blending is about more than integrating a small subset of learning technologies we're not going to realize the full potential of e-learning.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Response to July's Learning Circuits Big Question - Lead the Charge

I apologize for being away for some months, I was involved in a rather intense project and neglected the blogs for a bit. This post is in response to Tony Karrer's question/post on The Learning Circuit's Blog: "Leading the Charge."

I'm not sure whether this month's query is a question or a proposition, but I happen to agree with it whole-heartedly. I believe that this issue is not restricted to the technology du jour either, whether we're talking about Web 2.0 or Audio / Visual capability (remember language labs) or the introduction of computers or even typewriters it is part of our responsibility as educators to understand the technology that learners must use or that learners can exploit to help understand whatever it is they need to learn.

Some of us have taken this to different levels, myself for example. Originally I had pursued a degree in education but eventually switched to Information Technology. This led to an interesting mixture of motivations and projects which in turn got me involved in E-learning at its inception. I still consider myself an educator but in a new and different context. My view now is this: I can empower others to learn through the technology solutions I design and/or deploy rather than being directly responsible for 'teaching' or 'training' others within the context of a specific set of expectations.

This is more or less what I've been describing for the past number of years as "The Learning Enterprise" or "Me-Learning." (see previous posts in this blog). Ultimately, I think that this philosophical shift is much more important than any particular technology that might be applied to Learning per se. The real revolution is one of personal empowerment; i.e. giving the Learners the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves. We preach "critical thinking' all the time but traditional education has practiced conformity since its inception. We are indeed at a cross-roads in our perception of what learning can or should be be. It is definitely a revolution, one that can be equally applied to both the personal and organizational level.

Those educators who truly believe that the learners come first and that learning is a continual process should not feel intimidated by whatever new technologies emerge that might be applied to education. This is not a threat - it is enhancement that enriches both learners and educators. The single best way that I can envision to help educators cope with and learn as their careers progress is an open-minded attitude, both on their part and the part of the organizations that support them. The expectation should be from day one as an educator that tools and methodologies will evolve and that this evolution is a good thing.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What is an LMS, Really?

The notion of a "Learning Management System" or LMS has long dominated the discussion and practice of E-learning. This was understandable at first; an LMS is essentially a large content tracking and delivery mechanism (built atop some database engine). It addressed immediate considerations for automation of learning delivery both for online and classroom education; those considerations included:
  • The ability to disseminate CBT and other electronic content over the web.
  • The ability to support online course registration / subscription.
  • The ability to support learner progress tracking.
  • The ability to support some form of online assessment.
At the heart of this issue was the desire to provide some type of virtual metaphor for the classroom and the desire to automate a number of traditional, existing processes while simultaneously opening up new channels for education delivery. The LMS helped accomplish some of this, but also acted as a barrier for further innovation by entrenching much of the status quo approach to Learning Management as a process and a philosophy. This has led to a number of resulting issues.

Core Definition
A Learning Management System provides web-based access to Learning Content and various Learning administration capabilities. The exact nature of the content available and the administration features provided varies based upon product vendor. Multiple content standards are utilized, most notably SCORM and AICC. The majority of LMS products have tended to couple content delivery with content / learning assessment and this is also reflected in the standards mentioned.

The one question that has been continually posed to vendors LMS and e-learning practitioners who view the LMS as the engine that drives a typical enterprise learning solution is this: can or should the LMS adopt a more open content model. This is not a new question, since 2000 many have looked at creating flexible "Learning Object" standards and many vendors have produced solutions that represent hybrid compositions of LMS and Content Management System (CMS) - otherwise known as a "LCMS." Others have extend the LMS in the direction of Performance Management (previously often referred to as competency management). This is a variant that is very focused on assessment.

However, at the same time another crop of solutions - originally referred to as Learning portals started attacking the virtual classroom metaphor more directly. These solutions tend to have some LMS (usually lite) capabilities built-in and are used to deliver learning at universities and other institutions. There a quite a number of ways to refer to them; Virtual Learning Environments, Collaborative Learning Environments, Personal and so forth.

Impact of the LMS
The true impact of the LMS seems to have been an arbitrary imposition of pedagogy on E-learning before such a consolidation of approach was warranted. This means simply that many assumed that there was a right way to provide E-learning before really understanding what their true options were and how those new options might impact the way that learning is managed as a process and an IT solution. Many if not most of us have found web-based technologies to be fairly liberating - we have come to expect that this will always be the case in most instances where traditional activities are made "virtual." This didn't happen in E-learning - with a world of content available to us we restricted ourselves to a very narrow interpretation of what was "appropriate." The content standards and pedagogy imposed by early E-learning solutions prevented them from achieving widespread adoption - this in fact explains why nearly all of the major universities and other educational institutions are now using the Learning Environment paradigm to deliver their offerings instead of the early LMS-driven solutions.

As noted in other posts, E-learning as a practice is and should always have been technology agnostic. In other words, the approach taken to what solution mix to use, what process mix to use what approach to content to use - should be flexible and not bound to any particular technology, product or pedagogy. The E-learning practice is about solving problems, not posturing to determine who is right or what is 'better.'

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.