Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So many learning style tests, so little time..

I went looking for a learning style test for an online course. I thought a learning style test was a nice ramp up for an exercise where people had to blog about their own facilitator style - from the idea that it is good to know your own preferences and biases as a trainer/facilitator. Hoping this awareness helps you to try to stretch and integrate opposite preferences in your design. I asked a question about learning styles on Twitter and in Jane Hart's social learning community and got some good responses which made me really think! A definition on learning style from wikipedia is:
Learning styles are different ways that a person can learn. It's commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information. Psychologists have proposed several complementary taxonomies of learning styles. But other psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the scientific basis for some learning style theories (nb: learning may be broader than just processing stimuli or information)
How do you notice differences in learning styles?
One of the observations I have with regards to the use of social media is that some people just love delicious, the social bookmarking service, and others don't bother at all after you show them. The same with blogging. For some it really works, for others they try and abandon it immediately. Personally I dislike podcasts, when I listen to them, my mind gets distracted too easily. I also have the impression some people enjoy learning in communities, others preferred structured courses. Is there something in the personality of learners or learning styles that may explain these differences? And how to work with this as online facilitator?

What are the various learning style tests available?
Here's the list of learning/personality styles tests I harvested:
Ofcourse this is a little overwhelming! And there are more to be found in this report about learning styles.

Do learning styles exist and is it helpful for learning professionals?
I found this video with Daniel T. Willingham of the University of Virginia and this blogpost (via Harold Jarche).

Both claim: "Learning Styles don't exist. Everybody knows this except people who don't. Their non-existence is mostly harmless. And occasionally tragic". The explanation in the video sounds convincing for the case of remembering words- learning a list of words does not work better through audio for auditory people or by images for visually-oriented people. So it's correct that people have different preferences, it is not required that teachers use that to adjust their teaching to those styles. The way you teach depends more on what you are teaching (and I'd say depends on the learning experiences you'd like people to have).

Learning styles and the brain
Reading the book 'brein@work' about brain functioning it is explained that the brain is flexibel and adaptive. One of the definition of learning in this book is: "a proces whereby as a result of our experiences and activities changes occur in the brain which may influence our future awareness and behaviour." From all impressions that people receive we can only process a small portion (2000 bits/sec). The thalamus takes care of this. Visual stimuli are the strongest, but you may use all the senses if you want to make sure information sticks. Repetition is important too, and emotions. This is true for any learner, not only for 'visual learners'.

How to choose a learning style test that fits your purpose?
This question arises which test are you going to use and why? Wilfred Rubens suggested to select a test based on solid research, but don't they all claim that?... In the blogpost there's also a link to this solid report about learning styles by the learning and skills research centre (haven't had time to read it in full but scanned it..). It helps to uncover the assumptions about learning underpinning the learning style tests. It adds new tests to the list, but the good thing is, it can help understand the wide variety by pinpointing to five families of learning style tests:
  1. Assumption that learning styles are constitutionally based/fixed (like VARK I guess)
  2. Idea that learning styles reflect the cognitive structure (like Pettigrew)
  3. Assuming that learning styles are part of a relatively stable personality type (like Myers-Briggs)
  4. Learning styles are flexibly stable preferences (like Kolb)
  5. Move on from learning styles to learning approaches, strategies, orientations (like Vermunt)
This is helpful to select, and I tend to go for 4 or 5, learning styles as flexible preferences or moving to learning approaches, like the language of learning. The report also looks into reliability and validity for 13 models. Some are really weak, some are recommended like Vermunt and Entwistle.

I tested some of them- it helps that I'm a fan of online tests.. I must say that several test results resonated with my own observations and helped me reflect on my own preferences. I liked the Myers-Briggs (which is more a personality test) which pointed out that I'm a rational mastermind- more introverted. It helps me see why I enjoy working online (and other might not or less!), and my strength to explain theories in a practical way.

My take aways?
I'm amazed that there are so many different learning style theories and tests! The families definitely help to choose what you'd want to work with if you are looking for a learning style test. I'd prefer a style test that acknowledges the dynamic nature of preferences. It may depend on the situation and what you want to learn what your preferences are. And I don't believe in the auditory/visual/kinesthetic learner difference.

I still think the tests are helpful for learners to become self-aware. You can use it as a starting point to reflect about yourself and think for instance about your pitfalls and strengths as facilitator. Or as a learner- what activities work for you? Do you thrive on certain ways of learning? How to strengthen this? The downside is ofcourse that you fill in the tests yourself (rubbish in- rubbish out!), so some feedback from others may be needed too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The dark side of constantly being in touch through social media

I'm intrigued by the power of social media to network. It brings us new ways of communicating and knowing what's going on. As someone who believes in the power of learning from your peer groups (within communities of practice) I see social media offering new ways of connecting with others leading to collective learning. However, there are also downsides to an ever increasing level of being in touch through social media..

Many articles on the internet are sharing the successes of social media like how technology helped in times of fuel shortage in Kenya, how volunteer mappers helped Haiti, or the web2.0 revolution, or how crowdsourcing helps holocaust survivors find answers. Or in organisations: how we use social media to spur employee innovations. All success stories of situations where people have used social media constructively to achieve some goal. Sharing success stories is necessary and useful to inspire others (imitation welcome!) Then there are an awful lot of how to's..on the internet like how to network online, or five tips to separate your professional and privat life online, etc. But there is less written about the dark side of social media...

Let me give you three examples people shared with me. I'm going to make them anonymous because I did not ask permission to share them.

"My daughter is constantly in touch with her friend whose parents are going to divorce. I really dislike MSN and social networks because her friend will get in touch with her immediately something happens. At times upsetting. So this divorce issue is entering my house forcefully"

"I discovered that my husband is sending two girl-friends messages on Facebook for Valentine's day. I'm very upset to discover this... Now I don't trust my husband anymore"

"I followed another professional on Twitter doing similar work as I do. Reading that he got more work and more interesting assignments than I do made me feel bad. In the end I decided to unfollow him."

What do these examples tell us? That openly sharing and constantly knowing from a large group of people what's going on also has its downsides. Maybe the wife was happier if she had not known what her husband was doing (and probably the husband didn't know what information is public and private!). The professional may be benchmarking himself unconsciously through Twitter with others and discovering he is not doing as well as other consultants may be discouraging. Is this openness always beneficial I'm wondering?

And you? Are you happily embracing social media or are you at times feeling bad because of all you discover through social media? What do you do to handle this? And do you feel there needs to be more attention for the dark side of social media? (and I'm not yet talking about political manipulation of social media like in this case)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Voki, great tool to use in an online course

I work a lot supporting global networks and online communities of people around the world. I'm always careful with tools that take up a lot of bandwidth (though guilty of using Ning a lot..). Currently I'm also working with a Dutch group of trainers and coaches and now I can use a wider variety of tools and I'm enjoying it.

I am now working with a Voice Thread. Voicethread lets you invite a group to respond to a question, proposition or some pictures via text or voice (audio) or even by a short video through a webcam. Now, I discovered Voki and tested whether it worked in Dutch too and it does!. A tool that allows you to create a character, type text and then have the text read by this character. Click on this character to hear my question of today. Hope you'll like the Australian accent!
I guess you may use it as an online facilitator when you are tired of using your own voice via webcam. You can co-facilitate when you are on your own :).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interactive and engaging webinars- between who and who?

I'm currently using Webex for webinars, unfortunately we discovered (quite late!) that there is a maximum of 7 active microphones, and the first time we had serious problems. Now we found out that we can share the microphones, after people raise their (virtual) hands. Sounds stupid and I feel stupid. You probably think that we should have done a test, but we did a test (with less than 7 people). Apparently nobody realised this maximum of 7. Nevertheless, I don't feel it completely failed because we asked people to use the chat, nevertheless it does feel like a failure for participants. The first webinar probably needs to be technically perfect, might be because of the mistrust they already have for technology? Ironically we had a face-to-face where two people couldn't reach the venue, one stuck in a huge traffic jam, the other in a train which took the wrong track. But that's somehow accepted... Are we more lenient for these obstacles like taffic jam, because we've known them?

Because of the technical obstacles we've not tried out the polling and whiteboard features. So when I saw a free webinar by Gotomeeting on the topic of: 'making your webinar more engaging and interactive' I subscribed immediately. That's what I need to take the next step. The presentor of the webinar was Ken Molay. If you like you can still listen to it here.

A funny discovery was that for me interaction is about interaction between the participants. But in this case interaction was apparently between the presentor and indivividual participants. I had no clue about the number of fellow participants and could not read their replies in the chat. It sounded so smooth that I even thought I was listening to a tape and did not have any fellow participants :). But when I typed this question I got an immediate reply! So it was not a tape.

The webinar started with the observation that webinar participants are prone to start multitasking: check mails, water the plants etc. According to Ken Molay this is hard to avoid. You rather focus on winning their attention back. A few tips to win attention:

  • Talk to participants, use names (get names from the chat)
  • Start immediately with the topic of your webinar and action, that's why people are joining the webinar
  • Don't use introduction slides about your company- too boring!
  • Use pictures and images
  • Tell a story instead of a lot of facts and figures
  • Challenge participants: what did you hear? What did you see?
  • Go 'over the top' with your voice - it may not sound normal in a face-to-face conversations (this probably made me think it was a recorded tape I was listening to!)
  • Use short polls to ask people's opinions
  • Use an invisible behind the scenes team that helps you scanning the chat for questions etc.
  • Make sure participants have to use their keyboard and become pro-active

Though many tips seems kind of obvious, I thought the talk 'over the top' was very original and I would like to try this. Polls are also a good tip and should be part of your design, especially with large-scale groups.

I asked a question about use of webcams in webinars. I have different experiences, showing myself, seeing everybody, without webcam. It is usually quite distracting. Ken Molay felt it depends. When you use your webcam you have to make sure the lighting is good, that you are not looking at your notes constantly etc. So these are important extra things to pay attention to when you use a webcam as presentor during a webinar.

Tip from me, maybe they should investigate: "How to facilitate interaction between participants in a webinar" I'm convinced it is powerful to create an exchange between participants and use their ideas and experiences too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Various ways to use social media as a facilitator or trainer

This is a blogpost written for a half-day workshop for facilitators with Sibrenne Wagenaar.
We thought of starting with a blogpost because it helps us think about the topic of the workshop, it is a light way of starting online, and it gives the chance for others to look over our shoulders (and give tips?).

More and more often we meet trainers and facilitators who are working mainly face-to-face and would like to use the opportunity of social media to facilitate more online because it may enhance the quality of your trajectory. There are many different ways in which you can do so. A great model has been developed by Jane Hart: how to use social media in e-learningtrajectories:

We believe you may also use this model to think about how to use social media in face-to-face learning trajectories.

(1) Wrap-around model: socials aspects are added as extra element to organise trainer- en peer support. An example is using Yammer or Twitter so that participants can have contacts in between face-to-face events, but the core is in the face-to-face.

(2) Integrated model: social aspecten are integrated with the content of the training. Social media form an integral part of the learning trajectory. For instance, when you have an online community platform (e.g. Ning or LinkedIn group) to start exchanging online related to the topics of the trajectory.

(3) Collaboration model: sociaal learning and collaboration are at the basis of the design of the trajectory. The content and topics are co-created in collaboration with the participants. You may be using a combination of social media that are complementary: Yammer for support and contact, Scrumble for brainstorming, a wiki to collect information and documents, a unique hashtag in delicious to build a joint library. It is becoming more of a learning network or learning community.

As you can see: from the wrap-around model to collaboration social media is playing an increasingly central role. Jane Hart warns us that you should use the first model with caution. You need a good reason to use social learning as an add-on, otherwise it is very difficult to make a 'wrap-around' model workable. The strength of the second model is a seamless integration of online and f2f learning. So we advocate to analyse and use the power of both modalities in the design of a learning process. Such that f2f and online learning are mutually reinforcing. Find the right connection between online and face-to-face learning interventions to use the power of various media. In the third model, social media is the basis for learning and participation from a social-constructivist vision.

Important to remember is that the use of social media matches a different perspective on learning as compared to some types of training and 'elearning1.0', focusing on co-creation, self-directed learning by participants and the importance of interaction and conversation between participants. Social media encourage networking, sharing ideas and experiences, collaborate and hence connect so well with this vision. This also means that your role as facilitator is different in the collaboration model from the wrap-around and integrated model. In the third model, you're more of a 'tutor as an equal member of the group learning', your role is to help and create a 'powerful learning environment'. This does not mean that social media can not be used in trainings designed from a different perspective on learning, just that you may have to be aware of this.
Jane Hart's model may help to think about the role of social media in your own training or learning trajectory and making choices therein as facilitator. How central will social media be?

Another model that closely resembles the one of Jane Hart is by Dave Wilkins.
He distinguishes the embedded model, wrapped model and community model. His blog post is worth a read. conversations?

We look around and see a wide variety of learning interventions in which social media can play an important role. We would like to make a distinction between small and large-scale operations and a between one-off learning interventions or prolonged interventions. In a short workshop you will make other considerations when choosing social media usage than a long term project or network, where you can invest in learning to work with a wiki. You may not want to invest in that for a half-day session.

This brings us to the following overview of a number of possible interventions that can facilitate learning using social media. On the horizontal axis on the far left learning activities designed for a small group of participants (eg a training with 12 people), and the right scale actions (think of a conference with 80 people). Vertically, we distinguish between one-time participation (a 1-day workshop, seminar or conference) and longer-term learning, such as a one year learning trajectory or a learning network.

The type of learning interventions will affect how you will make use of social media. Though you can still be very creative and there is no clear guide for doing A, B, C and using tool A, B, C. Some examples:

  • Getting-to-know eachother online: You facilitate a training on brainlearning and want to engage all participants in advance in the subject. You may do so through an online survey, a blog post with the question to participants to share their questions and expectations or invite participants to tweet about their experiences related to brain learning, using a unique hash tag for this group.
  • Conference2.0: You are involved in a major conference on leadership and want to use social media during the conference as a kind of "back channel". Through Twitterhashtag you stimulate people to share insights and questions and a twitterfountain is on screen during the day; visible to everyone. You'll also make a number of flipvideos (short interviews) during the day that you'll make available online.
  • Online follow-up: You believe strongly in the principle of repetition for something new to take root. You will send participant after the training a regular text message containing a question or reminder. Or invite them to stay in touch through Twitter.
  • Webconferences: You work in a multinational company and you want to organize something on the subject of projectmanagement. There is no budget to organise an major international gathering on this issue. Instead you decide to organise a two-days web-conference. You start and end with an open chat session and organizes various workshops during the two days of 1-1.5 hours with guest speakers from inside and outside the organization.
  • Hybrid learning trajectory: You work for a long time with a group of project managers and have an online learning platform (Ning, Moodle, Elgg) designed to promote learning in between the face-to-face sessions. Experts can play a substantive role, participants will work online and give each other feedback on products, there are threads running on the application of new information into their own work practice. The online exchange is as important as the face-to-face exchanges.
  • E-coaching: You have worked for some time with a group of trainees f2f and the meetings are over. Each trainee returns to his duty station and you guide them through e-coaching in applying the lessons learned in practice. For this purpose you use Skype, email and google.docs.
  • Online Learning Network: You want to help people blog. To this end you have an online textbook written with 31 which participants can work. In parallel you have set up a community where users can meet, write feedback on eachother's blog posts and get tips from you as a coach. You facilitate the network to grow and innovate.
  • Blog fair: You want to stimulate thinking about using social media by encouraging non-profit organizations to document and reflect while most of the contacts already have a blog. You invite them every month to write a blogpost about an inspirational question and make the results available via Twitter and your blog.
  • Online community: All over the world policy makers, researchers and practitioners are working on a new approach to forest regeneration. You use Twitter and Ning to foster an online community to exchange in order to stimulate innovation, but also send someone to a conference and ask him to blogging about it. You make the blog accessible within the online community.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Roles in communities of practice

Does a learning community or community of practice need roles to function well? Should you officially assign these roles to people or is it best if people spontaneously fullfil certain roles? What about the self-organising power of communities? On the 29th of March we did a session (we = Sibrenne Wagenaar en Joitske Hulsebosch) about roles in networked learning. We thought it would be nice to share some of our thinking in this blogpost.

Starting with ourselves .... we have a small, starting network of people who all in some way use social media in learning processes and training. Roles are not explicitly named and assigned because it is a starting and spontaneous process. Since we have taken the initiative to invite people we feel more responsible for the ins and outs of this network, but others also take initiatives and propose activities. We talk regularly with members informally, take initiative to convene a meeting f2f, start an online brainstorming, make sure invitations are available for online webinars. But basically anyone can take the initiative to start operations and that happens.
This raises the question ... can it help to formalize roles and assign certain roles to members in a network? And when do formal roles get in the way of spontaneous self-organisation? A more formal roles gives you a certain focus and responsibility that makes it clear how you (are supposed to) contribute to a network. The art in network learning is often this can be combined with other existing work tasks and having a formalised role may help to ensure the learning community doesn't get 'off the radar'. It is crucial that the contents of the network relevant to you and in line with other work you do to prevent the network tasks from falling off the list, but having an explicit role can certainly also contribute.

In this blog post we talk about a learning network or community of practice as a group of people who interact and engage with each other to collectively learn based on a common interest or shared issue and on a fairly explicit manner form a network, offline, online or in a combination of online and offline interaction.

What roles can you distinguish?There are many different classifications of roles in learning networks. The Ruud de Moor Centrum has recently developed a great networked learning toolkit and formulated six important roles, spread over an internal and external focus. There are two more sources that we like to share with you: Eric Davidov's roles and roles described by Michael Fontaine.

Ruud de Moor Centrum (toolkit netwerkleren)Eric Davidove (blogpost)Michael Fontaine (online article)
Internal roles:
1. Coordinator; responsible for planning
2. Inspirator; the creative brain of the network
3. Creator; makes sure knowledge products are produced

Externe rollen:
1. Coach; supports the self-organising function of the network
2. ICT-coach; supports working online
3. Ambassador is supporting and advocating the need for the learning network
1. Consumer: the person who looks for and uses content, information, and social connections.
2. Creator: The person who creates, shares, improves, and discusses content and information.
3. Connector: The person who helps others to find the content, information, and people they seek or need.
4. Carrier: The person who helps creators to transmit and promote their content and information to others.
5. Caretaker: The person who manages the learning community.

1. Subject matter expert
2. Core team member
3. Community member
4. Leader
5. Sponsor
6. Facilitator
7. Content coordinator
8. Journalist
9. Mentor
10. Events coordinator
11. Technologist

We provide these three categories not to compare them, but rather to show the variety in thinking about and defining roles. This is not the 'one right list' that will make your learning network perfect. You may develop your own list of roles for your network, inspired by these lists. It is difficult to compare them because they have been described from different perspectives. The list of Ruud de Moor Centre is based on multiple learning networks in a system in which roles are needed external support. Eric Davidov, based on a literature overview, has compiled the most common roles in a Community of Practice. Fontaine has looked at roles and their development in communities in a number of large organizations. In his view, certain roles (eg sponsor, leader, subject matter experts) are important in the early stages of a major network, and over time find it rather obvious shifts. Fascinating to read his article about it!

Formal or informal roles?
There is a difference between a spontaneous role (eg. act as an inspirator and having a formalised role (eg. as the network coordinator or ICT-coach). It may be worthwhile to formalise certain roles to create clarity and to make sure that the responsibilities are anchored somewhere in the network. Playing with roles may help the development of a network. This is true for a coordinator roles, but also for less obvious roles like inspirator or monitor. For instance, Habiforum has three masterroles innovationcoach, procescoach a coach learning and development, see this article by Kranendonk en Kersten. Do you feel a network lacks innovation power? You may decide to assign an innovation coach.

We are personally convinced that a role should fit somebody's talents and preferences. Are you a person taking lots of initiatives, then the role of activator may suit you well. On the other hand it is very well possible that people play different roles in different learning networks, depending on their identification with the network. This was one of the insights that the participants of our session gained through our discussions.

Which role do you often take in communities of practice? Here is a great test to see what your preferential roles are..

Rollen as a lense to look at the functioning of a community of practice
We strongly believe in the self-organizing capacity of a learning network: people with a shared passion come together, communicate and think of organisating activities to jointly engage in. Does it still make sense to think in terms of roles in learning networks? Absolutely, because it offers a particular perspective to a analyze a network, scrutinize its functioning and think of improvements. What type of members fullfil a certain role? What are the weaknesses of the network? Do we miss a certain role? Discussing the roles thus provides a framework for a discussion on how to support the development of the learning network. Based on this discussion, you could decide to assign certain roles more explicitly to a person or a small group of persons, or to rotate roles. It is also valuable to become more aware of certain roles needed. Following a discussion of the roles within a the network, members might decide:

  • to assign a role to someone (eg. form a core team);
  • to stimulate network members to take up certain role more often based on talent, preferences;
  • to switch roles within the network for example to start rotation for a wider variety of ideas;
  • to us 'a role analysis' occasionally to reflect on the process in the network.

Roles as lense to look at organizations Finally, the conversation on that day also addressed the potential of using network roles to look at employees in an organization. Rather than thinking always in terms of strict functions, you might think of flexible roles. For instance, you might think in terms of changing, flexible topic leadership rather than thinking about management functions and fixed tasks. This might be part of the more networked organizational form of the future?