Thursday, September 27, 2007

Messy Learning OK. Messy Training Not OK.

I've been thinking about messes a lot the past few days. I've got small kids and my house is pretty messy. It turns out that life in general is pretty messy. And now it turns out that learning is messy, too.

Janet Clarey was reporting back from the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning Conference, including experiments with un-workshops when things don't go as you planned.

She live-blogged Stephen Downes' keynote and remarked, "This is messy learning in progress and it’s good."

Slide 22 of Stephen Downes' presentation includes a diagram: Messy vs. Neat.

So I've been thinking about messes and why messy learning makes people so uncomfortable. Especially the corporate types.

Learning is messy because we get easily distracted by shiny objects -- or rather, inspired to shoot off in different directions. Because self-directed learning doesn't always have a clear or specific performance objective.

Maybe your goal is to learn how to make a bowl on a pottery wheel, but then you end up making a real cool sculpture. Or maybe you want to learn about the life of the author of that great novel, and then end up reading about Puccini. By accident. It happens. Or maybe you actually want to learn how to do your job better.

I start a book, but I don't finish it. I start researching one topic online, but start diving down a completely different path within a matter of a few clicks. Conversations can wander.

Let's say, to go out on a limb here, that people are more-or-less comfortable with the notion that LEARNING is messy. But I don't think folks are comfortable with the notion that TEACHING or TRAINING can or should be messy.

That goes against about 800 grains.

And messy e-Learning? Forget about it. e-Learning should be all neat and tied up in a nice wrapper with a Next button that moves you through a content checklist and a great assessment at the end.

A PLE can be messy. It's personal, after all. And people are messy. Should training be messy?

This may be why the concept of informal learning is such a hard sell. Formal training, is by definition, not messy. It's formal. It's neat. It's got structure and objectives. You can measure it. It's really hard to measure a mess.

As Janet wrote in the comments to her own post, attendees were saying of the un-conference format that "structure" and "objectives" were needed.

Is a messy training program just one in which the presenter is clearly not organized? The agenda not fully thought out?

What makes for messy training/teaching?
  • The training doesn't teach what the participants want or need (failure to consult with actual learners while designing the program).
  • The instructor doesn't really know the topic and is just completely winging it.
  • Things go wrong (software fails, power goes out).
  • (A whole bunch of other things, right?)
As Michael Allen says in Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning, "you can teach someone, but you can't learn someone" (to echo something Mark Oehlert recently ranted about).

I admit that this post is a bit messy. But I'm learning.

Photo Credit: Audrey Johnson from stock.xchng.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogger's New Polling Tool

As you may know, I've been playing around with Polls on this blog.

Last week, I asked "So What Kind of Gamer Are You? and "Are You a Gamer?" (58% of the 24 respondants to date consider themselves "Gamers." Interesting....)

(If you haven't responded to those polls, please click on the links here and do so!)

Today I just noticed that Blogger has added a polling tool. Just edit your Template layout, add a New Page Element, and choose Poll. Although the poll style is sparse and not as sexy Poll Daddy's, it does the trick.

I've added a new poll to my sidebar, asking "Have you ever been in Second Life?" Come visit Learning Visions and enter your response.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Online Visual Identity

When Michele Martin changed her profile picture the other day, I realized I was a bit disoriented. Suddenly, she didn't look like the Michele I "knew."

And I saw how one dimensional our images of our online contacts (and digital friends) can be -- typically based on the same profile picture that's used in countless places. I've had the same profile picture up for months -- on my blog, in Facebook, MyBlogLog, and now here.

Truth be told, I've gotten pretty sick of that chirpy picture of me sitting in my kitchen wearing that purple sweatshirt popping up everywhere.

I do, indeed, often look like that. But that's just one view.

So I'm going to try to mix it up a bit. I've changed my profile picture in a few of my online places. I'm still smiling. But I'm wearing a different purple shirt.

For some reason, I haven't figured out how to change my Blogger Profile Picture -- so I'll still look like a green apple.

Why does this even matter? It has something to do with creating an online identity that's well-rounded. That's not just a caricature of me.

In this TED Talks video of Mena Trott, founder of Six Apart, she talks about taking a picture of herself everyday and posting them on her (private) blog. The power of the personal; building a friendlier world through blogs...

I should also show you pictures of me where I'm not smiling. Because sometimes I don't actually feel so damn chirpy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

31 Days: Days 26, 27, 28

I'm cleaning house and trying to to finish up with the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. Although the challenge officially ended in August, the community is alive and well and coming up with new challenges and ideas. Join us at the Building a Better Blog Ning Group.

For those of you who are new to my blog, the 31 Days Challenge was started by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. He came up with a series of challenges. Michele Martin turned that challenge into a community (and lured a certain reluctant individual into the challenge).

Here's some house cleaning:

Day 26 Link Up to a "Competitor"
In my blogging world, there are no competitors -- we're just all fellow travelers, learning from each other as we go along. I'm happy to link and do so with great gusto. Task complete.

Day 27 Get a Sponsor for Your Blog
I'm not monetizing this blog, so I'm skipping this one. Task ignored.

Day 28 Write a Mission Statement for Your Blog
Ok. This feels like a good task and one that I will have to return to when I've got more energy.

We all know what a mission statement is and have probably spent hours in group meetings crafting corporate mission and vision statements. Gosh, I remember the gusto we poured into this back in the early 90's. And then we all posted our printed missions statements on our cubical walls to keep us focused and on target and walking the talk.

The challenge is to do the same for your blog. So why do you blog? And if you don't blog, why not?

I blog because I started reading all of these other great e-Learning blogs and realized that there was something pretty cool going on and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to jump in to the conversation; I wanted to learn from all of these really smart people. My mission statement will have to include some key words on e-Learning, instructional design, web 2.0 technology and learning from community.

If you've been following me for awhile and think my blog is about something else, please let me know.

Task in progress.

You can view all of my 31 Days activity here:

31 Days: Day 25
31 Days: Days 22, 23, & 24
31 Days: Days 17, 18, 19, 21 & 21
31 Days: Days 12, 13, 14, 15 & 16
31 Days: Days 8, 9, & 10
31 Days: Days 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 (I got my numbering off somewhere along the way)
31 Days: Days 1, 2 & 3

Friday, September 14, 2007

So What Kind of a Gamer Are You?

In yesterday's poll, I asked readers if they think of themselves as gamers. As of this post, 55% of respondents proudly say "yes, I AM a gamer." Maybe not so proudly. There is some hemming and hawing amongst folks. Read the comments and see for yourself.

At Phil Charron's suggestion, I'm taking this next poll a bit deeper.

Let's talk about your gaming habits. And I mean digital gaming habits. Not whether or not you like to play Boggle at home the old-school way and rope your significant other into it on a regular basis. (Hey, that sounds like a slice of heaven to me!)

Instead, I want to know about your regular computer/digital game playing habits. And by regular, I mean that you access and play these games at least one a week.

So answer the questions, and take some time to comment. It's fun! It's almost like a game!

And be sure to response to the first poll "Are You a Gamer?"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Work is Going to Be a Game"

Gamasutra: The Academics Speak: Is There Life After World of Warcraft?

On page 3 of the article, there's an interview with Jeff McNeil, a PhD candidate at University of Hawaii, Manoa (Random sidenote about me: I went to highschool right down the street from UH and had daily swim practice at the UH pool).

McNeil says,
The Wall Street Journal just had a great article which said “Work is going to be a game.” Game-like features help us to manage this level of complexity that we can’t keep up with anymore. Students, right now, have more decisions, choices and control than ever before. And yet school hasn’t changed.

Pretty soon, we’re going to be saying goodbye to classrooms where students put their hand up and get a single question in an hour… It’s just not enough interactivity. And once the value of game design is discovered, well, you’re going to see changes in the way that we think about, play, and buy games – whether they’re single player, MMO, or whatever else is just around the corner.

It’s a lot of work, making curricula game-like but it’s also quite fascinating. This is how educators can become re-invigorated in their discipline. Some are seeing it. Some are doing it. Harvard’s Chris Dede is doing it, and has been extremely successful.

There is an eLearningPulse!

The e-Learning industry is alive and well.

I jumped the gun a few weeks ago and unveiled the new one-stop shop for all things e-Learning (with or without the hyphen or the capital L -- you decide).

But now it's official: there is an eLearning Pulse.
eLearningPulse is "Your daily source for all things eLearning". This site provides free resources to the eLearning development community, including news, discussion forums, job postings, and more.

Thanks to Ben Edwards of Redbird Software and B.J. Schone of eLearning Weekly for putting this together.

Are You A Gamer?

In the spirit of continuing the great conversation that we've been having in the comments on recent review posts (see Women, Gaming & the Guild Master Ceiling and my first review post) of Karl Kapp's Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning -- and in the spirit of experimenting with polling tools (thanks to Soha El-Borno of the Wild Apricot Blog, I thought I'd try a quick, down and dirty poll.

Obviously, this poll won't tell us that much. But perhaps leave a comment to explain your vote.

I used Poll Daddy to create this. It took about 2 seconds.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Women, Gaming & the Guild Master Ceiling

This post is an addendum to my first review of Karl Kapp's book, Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning.

A basic premise of the book is that gamers are on their way into the workplace and will be changing how we do business. Karl and I have had lively discussions about whether or not girls are gamers. Of course they are. But I would argue not in the same numbers as the boys.

Karl sites statistics that "Seventy percent of the players of the social interaction game The Sims are women under twenty-five," and that the number one game from May 2004-July 2006 was Princess Fashion Boutique.
"Gamer traits are cross-gender traits, because young girls play video games and are growing up in a culture influenced by those games." (p. 25)
Yes, girls play Princess Fashion Boutique in record numbers. And this will change how they think and learn to some degree. Young girls are digital natives. But gamers?

Recently, I conducted a series of interviews with college-aged women. They all had gadgets, relied heavily on their laptops, checked Facebook constantly, and considered themselves "digital natives." But very few of them were/are active game players and, as a rule, did not consider themselves gamers.

I'm concerned that women will be excluded if such a focus is put on gaming skills -- or at least the gamer label. Have you heard the urban legend regarding the big executive who was hired because he was a World of Warcraft Guild Master who had attained some really high level?

The traditional Glass Ceiling will be replaced with a new, but invisible and invincible Guild Master Ceiling.

This past Saturday, there was a Women In Games International (WIGI) Summit at the Austin Convention Center.

In Gamasutra, John Henderson has posted about a summary of a presentation by Dona Bailey. Dona was an early Atari employee (and the only woman at the time) and spoke about women in the gaming industry and provided some specific ideas for getting girls and women more involved in games and gaming.

DebySue Wolfcale, senior brand manager for Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) participated in a panel on Diversity in the Workplace.
As for how to include more women, Wolfcale said her employer, SOE, has realized women players make up a significant part of massively-multiplayer games, the sort they make, and for their sake female game developers are necessary to build the games to attract and keep women playing them.

Furthermore, women are often in roles that hold communities of players together, Wolfcale said, acting as socialite players and leaders of player groups, or guilds. “If we want people to keep playing and paying,” she said, “we have to make sure we're building games that attract women.”
I don't have a conclusion here. I'm just raising some questions.

Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning

Welcome to stop #3 of The Karl Kapp Games, Gadgets, and Gizmos Virtual World Book Tour.

I've grown up with the mentality that it's cheating if I don't read a book from cover to cover. But I have to admit that I used a few cheat codes to read this book. (I just didn't have a lot of time given that I was stop #3 on the tour!)

I suspect the concept of cheats is going to resonate a lot with Boomers and Gen-Xers as a foreign, but thrilling concept. (See Chapter 5: Cheaters Never Win...Or Do They?) It sure did with Tom King over at stop #2 of the book tour....his was just the clever approach I was going to take in beginning this book review. Tom beat me to the punch.

I'm a linear reader in recovery and have been actively learning how to skim books and not feel guilty about it. For this exercise, I was a good doobie, and I read all of Chapter 1, which gives a great background on Boomers, Gamers and the differences between the two.

Then I read the descriptions of each chapter and decided on which ones I would focus. I circled Chapter 6 (moving from creating rigid course structures to small, easily searched nuggets) and Chapter 8 (gamers' expectations of bosses/teachers).

My plan failed me and I just started reading Chapter 2: It's in the Game. (Hey, I can only stray so far from my linear, conforming roots!)

Be sure to read Chapter 2 if you're about to start a new project and need some juice before you start brainstorming. Lots of practical ideas and examples for turning basic teaching points into learning games -- from casual games to teach facts and concepts, to detailed simulations that teach procedures and problem solving. Although I'm not in active instructional design mode for any projects right now, I did jot a bunch of ideas.

Then I started jumping ahead and reading the summary of each chapter. The summaries usually intrigued me enough to go back and read/skim the entire chapter.

Ultimately, I think I actually did read the entire book. Cheat codes and all.

Here's some more thoughts....

Are You a Gamer?

If you were born anytime after 1960, then, technically, you are a gamer.
"A gamer is someone who has grown up in the generation influenced and shaped by video games and technology." (p. 14)
It's not whether or not you played games or still do, it's simply the fact that you were shaped by a popular culture that was shaped by video games.

Karl chunks groups out based on year of birth...roughly a decade at a time. Gamer 1.0s were born between 1960-1970. That's me. But I really don't feel like much of a "gamer." Compared to a Gamer 4.0 (those born between 1991-2000), I'm a bit of an ape (no offense to apes, mind you).

Gamer 1.0ers overlaps with Generation Xers (born between 1965-1979). I was born in 1968. I'm a Gen Xer and a Gamer 1.0er.

Gen Xers are digital immigrants; they did not grow up with the dual technologies of the Internet and video games. But then Karl says this:
"The first generation to be fully immersed in video games and the Internet is the gamer generation." (p. 28)
So, Karl, am I of the gamer generation or am I not?

I feel like I'm floating in this liquid generational gap between the boomers and the gamers...

Workplace Change
"So even if boomers do not leave the workplace en masse, they will most likely be leaving your organization, taking with them a vast amount of knowledge and possibly costing your company dearly if you don't prepare now." (p. 6)
This strikes me as completely foreign. At my current company, I am the OLDEST employee at 39. No boomers here. We're a small company, founded by a couple of Gamers 2.0ers. I'm the Gen Xer who can hardly work a video control to save her life.

Just ask my CTO, who was recently peering over my shoulder as I struggled to figure out how to play a Flash Game. "Wow, you're really not very good at this, are you?"

Cheat Codes & Gaming the System
"But to gamers, cheat codes are not cheating. They are more like help codes." (p. 158)
Bending the rules is fine, if it's not strictly disallowed.
"Successful people learn the unwritten rules of engagement and push those rules, work around those rules, and subvert those rules until they are highly successful." (p. 153)
I agree. And some of them also go on to do illegal and highly unethical or questionable things.

It's a fine line, and Karl makes sure to mention that management must also guide the use of corporate cheats to the ethical benefit of organizations, employees and customers.

Karl recounts a workshop he ran one summer to teach business concepts to middle school kids using the game Railroad Tycoon. The first level objective was to build a park with high customer satisfaction ratings.

One group's satisfaction ratings were through the roof. It turned out they were drowning the unhappy guests, which the game allowed them to do. "It was a little disturbing to me, but to them it was part of the game." (p.157)

Gamers learn to play by the letter of the rules and not the intent. But they're still playing by the rules.

OK. Well, I think "bending the rules" is good. Thinking creatively is good. Working at the edge is good.

But my god. It's bad enough having a boomer in the White House.

Implications for Instructional Design
"Games have a different expectation. They desire instant (or almost instant) learning delivered in an informal manner. They do not want to log into the corporate learning management system, navigate to the desired course, and then page through forty screens to find that one desired piece of information." (p. 165)
Hallelujah! So when can I stop writing these courses? And yet, I'm scared to admit that I don't know if I've got what it takes to do what this generational shift requires. That's way more creativity than I may have in me.

Can someone just write me a page-turner of a course to teach me how to be an instructional designer for the new millenium?

Corporate training departments are set up for the old-school boomer approach to training. Selling a different approach is hard. "We don't have the budget for that." "That's not in our plan." These are actual objections I've heard from clients when I've tried to discuss some alternatives.

And, hey, many e-Learning vendors are vested in the "old boomer" model of training. It's primarily what pays my salary and keeps my company in business. At least this year.

It's a big shift for instructional design. We're no longer talking about designing "courses"; instead we need to talk about helping companies design different strategies (and using games, blogs, wikis, instant messaging -- the gamers' learning tools), about crafting a strategic approach to learning and performance support throughout an organization.

I think we'll need to just send this book along to any prospects before we head out on a sales calls.

Some More Things You Should Know

This book is not just about gadgets, games and gizmos. It's also about using blogs and wikis and other collaborative tools for workplace learning and knowledge sharing.

This book isn't just for learning professionals. Managers, HR, recruiting officers, and consultants working with clients on organizational change initiatives should read it. Karl's provided some great roadmaps for implementing a Knowledge Transfer Process within an organization (see Chapter 11: Getting to the Next Level), with lots of specific examples and practical tips.

The Future

Knowledge Transfer will be an ongoing issue. As the boomers fade away and are completely replaced by a workforce of gamers who change jobs frequently, there will be a constant knowledge drain. It'll be essential that companies have systems in place to capture knowledge as it's being created.

You can read more about Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning at Karl's website. And be sure to buy a copy (or better yet, have your company buy it) for your collection.


Update: As soon as I published this, I saw a post in my reader from Richard Nantel, CEO at Brandon Hall Research: The Myth of Boomer Retirement. If boomers aren't going to be retiring and leaving the workforce in droves as predicted, then will the knowledge transfer gap be an issue? Do we actually have a lot more time to figure this out?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Engaging Interactions for e-Learning

B.J. Schone has just graced the e-Learning community with another great -- and free! -- resource: Engaging Interactions for e-Learning. I was honored to have been among those asked to review this eBook before it went "to press".

Be sure to stay tuned to B.J.'s other blog where he'll be posting about each of the 25 interactions in the book, hoping to continue the conversation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Continuing in Second Life

I'm still at it. Slogging away in Second Life. Since I last posted, I've been back "in-world" a couple of times.

I finally learned how to fly with relative ease (it's as simple as using the page-up and page-down keys to change altitude....duh).

Today I spent some time going back through the basic navigation tutorials on SL Orientation Island. As with any new learning experience, I find I need to dive in and learn what I don't know. Then I can go back in and focus on the "assignments" -- gaining the skills I've realized I'll need.

Today I spent some time exploring NOAA/ESRL, which is an island set up by the National Weather Service (U.S. Department of Commerce).

( -- if you're in Second Life you can also try searching for Meteora or NOAA Virtual Island).

That's me on a glacier on the NOAA island. At the glacier station you can "animate" the glacier and see how the formation changes as the glacier melts.

I hovered above a map of the U.S. which showed current weather across the country. I rode a weather balloon into the atmosphere and took a plane ride through the eye of a hurricane. Topped it off with a ride in a submarine and an underwater stroll. Whales and dolphins and jelly fish swam by. Very cool.

My favorite station on the NOAA island was the Tsunami area. It's a virtual click-to-learn exercise. You click on the Tsunami sign and get the first "page" of the lesson -- how tsunamis are formed underwater. Then you go underwater and see how the plates shift. Each click takes you through the next phase, until finally you are encouraged to run to high ground as a huge tsunami crashes in on the beach destroying the houses.

Talk about experiential learning.

If, like me, you've been reluctant to try Second Life, I can only say just do it and see for yourself.

In my first second life experience, I was called a bitch. My second Second Life experience was much better. And when Karl Kapp invited me on a tour of SL, I was delighted. It makes a big difference to someone like me to have a guide.

All this to say, I'm keeping an open mind.

Building Community

The office park in which I work is right next to a big slab of conservation land. When time permits, my favorite lunchtime activity is to escape out to the woods and go for a walk. It clears my head, gets my heart pumping a bit, and gives me some much needed solitude.

A few months ago, I was sharing my walk with a coworker. We came across a big pile of bricks and decided to make something. He made a wall and I built a circle.

The next time I went back into the woods, our sculpture had been altered. Someone had made an exclamation point out of bricks, right in the middle of the circle.

I changed the circle to a yin/yang sign.

For the next month or so, every time I went back into the woods there was something different. It was always a thrill to see what would be there. A heart. I changed it into a question mark. A bullseye. I built a stonehenge structure.

We were communicating, this faceless person and I. We were collaborating. Invisibly.

Last week I was out in the woods (it had been way too long), and a family was playing with the bricks. Four kids and two parents. Stacking and sorting, making shapes and playing. I smiled at them and walked on by.

I don't think they were my original invisible community. But they had become a part of it.

Being a part of the Building a Better Blog community has given me that same thrill. But we have pictures, so we're not so invisible.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

31 Days: Day 25 (Go Shopping)

Day 25: Go Shopping

For day 25 of the Blogging Challenge, the task at hand was to go shopping. Go to a mall and spend 30 minutes observing shopping patterns, merchandising schemes, etc.

My life in no way supports random trips to the shopping mall, so instead I'll look at my current shopping habits and needs: I need to get in and out of the store as quickly as I can, getting exactly what I need. Often I have two small kids in tow or I'm trying to check ten things off a list during my lunch hour.

I like to go to stores where I know the layout. I've got my system down and can't tolerate spending a precious ten minutes searching for the bread aisle or trying to find the peanut butter.

If you think about blogs and websites in general, we come to expect similar layouts and experiences from blog to blog. I look for a subscription button somewhere in the sidebar. A link to learn more about the blog's author. I like to know how long this blog has been around. The rest is either gravy or distraction. Too much clutter means I spend more time searching for the basics.

I almost always go to the grocery store that's nearest to my house. It's a bit more expensive than the store in the next town, but it's smaller and easier to get through. The aisles are shorter and there are fewer products on the shelves. They have just what I need. Or at least, just what I expect.

As I think about my own blog-reading habits, I see the same patterns. I rely on my feed reader to get me the information I need and want. Lately, I haven't had the time to go on random blog browsing sessions.

Right now I need a smaller blog store. I think I need to trim down what's in my feed reader. A good aggregator (like Stephen Downes) will get me the info I need so I'm not missing the really juicy stuff.

As I avoid the bigger stores these days, I've also noticed myself avoiding the longer posts in my feed reader. When posts are really long, I start skimming. I may even just skip it completely, thinking I'll come back to it later when my brain is less full. Yeah right. I'm sure many of you are the same.

Keeping blog posts short will ensure they get read more. A challenge to all writers. And a big challenge to me, who can ramble on like no other....

Another big shopping challenge is navigating the checkout aisle. All those candy bars in reach of the hands of little children who are riding in the shopping cart that's shaped like a car because you're trying to keep them entertained while you get the groceries. (You've seen harried young mothers attempting this feat, right?) I'm sure this relates to blogging -- the enticing thrill of a delicious looking link that can send you off in a myriad of directions....

Darren did a great summary of his lessons learned while shopping as did Michele Martin.

Do you have any great shopping tips that can be applied to blogging? Are you a browser? A shop-aholic? Or a speed shopper? Do you notice similar patterns in your blogging?

Photocredit: Shopping Cart by sanja gjenero courtesy of stock.xchng