Archive for May, 2010

Can your Workplace Adopt/Embrace the Informal Learning Concept?

Many, many moons ago I wrote a post on Knowledge Management Systems that illustrated Marc Rosenberg’s KM model. This model depicts an organization that has a truly integrated system of sharing knowledge that includes formal training and an ongoing mentoring system for it’s employees. This model includes use of social media to connect employees.  Since I wrote this post, the use of social media online for both connecting and learning has exploded. Many more company executives (though not as many as there could be) are now schooled on the finer points of using social media as promotional vehicles as well as within the organization to enhance employee learning and knowledge.

Recently, On his blog, Jay Cross presented an adapted version of Jane Hart’s 5-Stage Model of the Evolution of Workplace Learning.

http://www.informl.com/2010/05/07/workscape-evolution/

Here’s the visual that illustrates this.

From informl.com (Jay Cross)

As Cross points out in his post, the more familiar your workers are with online networking tools and media,  the more they can readily use social networking support to improve their learning and skills.   You need to be able to assess where your audience of learners skill lies in the following areas: Web/Tech Expertise and Social Networking Familiarity.

From informl.com (Jay Cross)

Going back to the “5 Stages” illustration shown above, the newbies or novices to the workplace, culture, organization, or system would be FIRST guided to the LMS where formal learning can take place (your essentials such as terms of service, legal information, safety, organization mission, organizational structure, job skills, compliance training, etc.). If you need to track learning in a blended model (both face to face and online), you can use the LMS to keep track of who’s completed what training as they come into your workplace or program.

In the grand old days when most training was done in face to face sessions complete with massive binders and glossy handouts, training really only took place at the beginning and employees or trainees were expected to absorb what they could from the training. If they couldn’t remember everything that was okay because they had their gigantic binders as a print reference.  This system works when the nature of the work can be completely documented in print and is static. In other words, nothing changes about the nature of the job and there are NO variables.

Some workplaces assign ‘buddies’ or coaches to new employees. It’s often part of the work coach’s job to model or teach these learning behaviors to their employees. At one entry-level job I had many years ago, I remember my work coach or mentor telling me something as basic and obvious, as “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” In sharing this with me she was essentially letting me know, “It’s safe to ask questions here. We’d rather you do things right or learn by asking, and we won’t punish you for what you don’t know.”

Can you imagine what would happen if this guy afraid to ask questions about his job?

A truly rich “Informal Learning” environment can provide learners with the support they need to deal with variables NOT covered in formal training. And here’s the big “But,” you have to teach effective mentoring behaviors to all staff and reinforce these behaviors as much as possible. The informal learning model explicitly sets the expectation that learning and workplace improvement inherently part of the work culture. Employees must see it as part of their job responsibility to take  the new guy under their wing. The sooner you get the newbie up and flying the sooner everyone can be productive and creative. Managers and employees can build checklists of knowledge, skills and ‘tribal knowledge’ that new employees need to know. These lists and even ad hoc information can be shared during social or work activity.

But Informal Learning isn’t just what you’d learn about your fellow employees from washroom or smoking break talk. Informal Learning can happen via chat and discussion forums. The other day a work colleague and myself noted that we both got ourselves unstuck from work-related ‘problems’ by looking up similar situations or issues in professional forums online. It’s just as easy to set up an internal online work chat or forum.

I’ve seen some older employees cringe at the words “Informal Learning.” Many of the more ‘traditional’ workplaces place a lot of value on formal learning (lectures, lessons, face to face training, etc.)  because that’s the people, are used to.  I think  the key to building a truly learning rich environment and workplace is to highlight where social learning is really happening naturally and successfully and then introduce less familiar methods of leveraging informal learning. But again, if your company or organization doesn’t have a clear definition of what it means to learn effectively (outside of formal training) the concept of Informal Learning will be a hard sell. Maybe it’s just a matter of re-branding it or camouflaging it.  As for the acceptance of learning via social media… Maybe we just have to wait until the technologies that propel Informal and Social Learning (forums, chat, wikis, etc.) become more commonplace and accepted by the majority.  It will happen, eventually :)

When building a better car is building a [not so good] one

Remember this  image from the Simpsons episode where Homer finds his long-lost brother?

Homer thought he was building the ideal car by adding as many features and tools as he could. Sometimes adding too many features to tools and applications or even websites can leave you with a end product that isn’t so usable after all. Just a thought.

How Good Instructional Design Can Help You Build Better Web Content

I’ve been reviewing GUI Bloopers to reaffirm some of the design issues I’ve been facing lately, and I ran across the following principle:


Basic Principle 2: Consider function first, presentation later.

Jeff Johnson goes on to better define what this means in this quote:

“A software application embodies certain concepts and relationships between concepts. Designers should fully define the concepts and their relationships before they design how to present the concepts to users.”

Applying Instructional Design principles used to do a simple task analysis can help facilitate better design. Simply, you should be able to clearly define the tasks you want the users to complete in interacting with your site, application, or GUI.

I have a somewhat simple example.

Say you’re creating a site for users with the purpose of informing them how to effectively podcast.

You do a simple task analysis that asks the following:

  • What knowledge do the user/learners need?
  • What behaviors do they need if any to do this?
  • What skills do the need to be able to perform?

After you answer these questions (identifying the content items for your site),  you will need to create formal learning objectives to guide users through the content they need to be able to accomplish the task, activity or perform the skill that the site is teaching.  There is an art to writing good learning objectives that are measurable, and there are whole websites and books devoted to this subject, but for the purpose of this exercise, I am writing them in a very simple form. In the podcasting example, a set of learning objectives may look like this:

Learner will be able to:

  1. Define what a podcast is and how it is used by both podcasters and listeners.
  2. Identify tools needed for downloading podcasts.
  3. Use a simple audio recording tool/software to record a podcast.
  4. Publish their podcast.

In this scenario you could organize the learning content by the learning objectives. Let’s say you create a simple schematic/wireframe for your web page that looks like this:

This, of course, is a very simple example but the same steps could be used to determine the page layout or content for a site or sub page to a site. From this point you could treat all four of the items above as main categories in the site and determine sub or enabling learning objectives and content items needed to meet these over-arching objectives.

It may seem like this method is over thinking the development of content for the web, but I have found that this method of determining content by ‘Task Analysis’ actually helps better address learner needs rather than simply spilling out a pile content items and then trying to figure out an organizational structure around your pile after wards.

The same task analysis methods can be applied to GUI design of a tool.  Just ask yourself (bear in mind some of these questions are over-simplifying things but but there are still users out there who don’t know these things):

  • What to the users need to know to be able to use this application?
    • Example question – Do they know how to use a file menu?
  • What skills do the need to successfully work with the tool?
    • Example question – Do they need to know how to upload a file such as a .gif or a .wav file?
  • Are there any behaviors or attitudes about technology your audience has that may impact how they use and view the tool?
    • Example question - Do the users in your audience like to read printed materials? (Though personally I think we should discourage this as much as possible)

I believe that if you answer some of these questions up front before you start designing the tool, you win at least 80% of the the battle when it comes to conceptualizing design effectively.  The result: More happy users.

Happy User vs. Sad User

Happy User vs. Sad User


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