Monday, November 28, 2011

Webinar on serendipitous learning with Jane Hart

Last week we discussed the term 'serendipity' in our learning trajectory on social media. One participant thought this might be a country in Africa :). Serendipity doesn't seem to be a very commonly known term for learning professionals, at least not in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it is something that deserve more attention in my opinion. Therefore we are organising on December 15th from 20-00-21.30 hours Amsterdam time a webinar with Jane Hart, international expert in social learning and writer of the 'social learning handbook'.

What is serendipitous learning and how might it this type of learning be stimulated through the use of social media? Definition from wikipedia: Serendipity is finding something unexpected and useful while searching for something else. The word was introduced in English by Horace Walpole in the 18th century, in a letter talking about a story he read: the three princes of Serendip. In that context serendipity is associated with the capability to draw conclusions from apparent coincidences. In other words: smart, prepared people are better capable of making discoveries based on coincidental circumstances.  The discovery of both penicilline and the post-it notes are known examples of discoveries by serendipity.   
Post-its are an example of serendipity (accidental discoveries): the glue from the post-its was already discovered by researcher Dr. Spence Silver, small sticky bullets. Because there is only a small proportion of the bullets in contact with the surface, this provides a layer which sticks but is easy to remove too. The intention of Dr. Silver, however, was to make a very strong glue. Hence the practical application of this glue was not immediately apparent.  The real invention was by Art Fry. The story goes that Fry was frustrated about the bookmarks that kept falling from his book. In a moment of Eureka he thought of using Silver's glue to make a solid bookmark which is easy to remove.  Source:
A good illustration of the fact that serendipity is not about finding weird and unexpected information but is about making the connections, finding applications without the context of your own work. Social media is excellent for stimulating serendipity, not only at the level of new inventions, but also at the leven of finding creative solutions for problems in your own work.  Jane Hart has written extensively about these possibilities and calls these workers using social media:  'the smart worker'. Click on the following links if you want to know more:

In addition to working smarter I would also like to emphasize the creativity aspect. Social media offers many new connections, but the art is making the connection to your own situation and coming up with new solutions to old problems. For instance, you can stimulate serendipity by looking across various disciplines. Social media can play a large role is this. Here's an example of spaziale, space where Naomi den Besten is blogging about the connections between process and spatial design . Below you find an interesting TedTalk from Joris Luyendijk (thanks Josien!) talking about  'share your learning curve'. Share your learning proces (for instance via a blog), start from zero and be curious. By sharing it, you create new avenues for unexpected connections.

Would you like to work with the concepts of the smart worker or serendipitous learning in your organisation? Then you should definitely read Jane Hart's blogpost: 10 steps for working smarter with social media, helping you with steps to take in an organisation.
Are you interested in joining the webinar? Please find more information here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New emerging practices for trainers and facilitators

I'm currently facilitating two learning trajectories, both starting online. I'm a big fan of starting online because everybody can start at his/her own pace and there is space for everyone to express him/herself (I actually learned this practice from CPsquare). Another recent experience is that I was skyped into a training in Cambodja for a session about online advocacy. It was my second time of being skyped into a session, the first time it felt like talking to a wall, but this time I even had the feeling I had some contact with the group. I asked them questions and they answered by raising their hand. The trainer counted and summarized.  At the end they also asked questions, passing the mike of the headset, which worked pretty well. Here you see a picture. For people who like the technical details: we combined Zipcast en Skype. Zipcast allowed me to show the slides and dictate the pace. The sound of the Zipcast was not good enough so we combined it with skype.

Both experiences made me reflect on how big the shift is for trainers and facilitator who embrace social media and integrate in in their practice. I can see some emerging new practices which are not widespread yet. Online learning exists for a long time already. However,  online learning was mainly elearning as individual online modules and had nothing to do with classroom training. Elearning and classroom training were two separate 'things'. Now with the widespread use of social media, elearning2.0 as you might call it, has come under the control of facilitators/trainers. However, making use of this potential as facilitator requires a huge shift in practices. Based on my own experiences, I'd say facilitators who want to leverage the opportunities offered by social media need to adopt the following practices:   

Select and manage your own tools. With elearning- in the sense of individual online learning modules- design and implementation is done by an instructional designer and some IT-support. Working with Learning Management Systems, there is often a more technical person involved in the design and implementation of the platform which alienates the technical design from the design of the learning process. With social media, there are so many free and easy tools, which has given facilitators the control over the tools. It is easy to set up a wiki, facebook group, a Yammer community or Ning social network. Or start your own zipcast- you don't need expensive webinar software. Even when organisations offer tools which do not suit what you want, you can set up your own toolset. To do this effectively however, facilitators need to know those tools and to be able to make a good selection.

Weave online and face-to-face activities into a powerful, mutually reinforcing blend (hence design longer trajectories). I think there is already an important trend moving from one-off training events to longer learning trajectories. Online hasn't always found its right way into the blend. I've observed that people have different ideas about what's best to do online and what kind of learning activities fit best face-to-face. Some are convinced all presentations should be done online, so that you can use face-to-face for interactions. I'm not sure whether a 'this is best done online' or 'that is best done face-to-face' exists. I've experienced that it is powerful to sandwich topics. Start online (or face-to-face) and continue to deepen them in another modus. What's for sure is that the design of blended trajectories is a new field for most trainers and new practices will have to develop over time. There are lots of blended experiences but not many trainers yet who master a systematic design of blended trajectories.

Be prepared to understand and support real problems and practice dilemmas. Tailor-made.  When you start adding online activities to the mix, you will see that there is ample space and time for people to express their questions, doubts, thoughts and experiences. You will notice that you get much closer to the actual problems and workplace-based questions of the participants. This means for a facilitator or trainer, it will not be enough to have a standard tool and exercise and take your participants through the flow, but you will need to prepared to understand their issues and respond in a tailor-made way. Take the example of a teambuilding session. If it is a one day session, you do an exercise to let the team reflect on their collaboration, their styles, give feedback to eachother. But the real effect of the exercises will surface after some time when the team is back to work. Continuing online with the team creates an opportunity for real (and longer!) support to the teambuilding process, but it also demand a deeper understanding, wider skillset and motivation from the facilitator.

Be available 24/7. Continuous partial attention. This may be the reason why not many trainers have made a real shift. A training can be neatly blocked in the agenda. Working online with a group, however, you have to be flexible and devote some continuous partial attention to the proces. If you are still immersed in a full trainings schedule, it may be hard to make this shift. One of the solutions may be to work more often in small teams of facilitators.

Open your boundaries. In the classroom training setting, it is clear who is in and who is out, there is a trainer and there are trainees. The trainer is in front of the group, the trainees are not (except in some exercises). Using social media this boundary becomes more fluid, there are no longer 'walls', anybody with an internet connection can participate. Online, you may invite additional people in the role of expert, interested colleagues, supervisors, mentors, guests or inspirators. This automatically changes the fixed roles from 'trainer' and 'trainee' to a more dynamic scene with various players. Everyone can bring in  knowledge and expertise. Which brings me to the next one:

Bring expertise into your training. You have to think out of the box (and out of the country!) and think of possible expert inputs for your trajectory, which you can bring in through webinars, skype sessions or through asynchronous discussions. In the case of the Cambodja training I knew the trainer personally and she arranged for my input, she is definitely an out-of-the-box person. Many trainers act like the expert, bring in a colleague or only facilitate processes without bringing in expertise. Facilitating process is important, but offering training without expertise input does not work for the participants who value expertise inputs. Distance is no longer an excuse!

Pay attention to social learning and building social capital. And last but not least: working with social media means fostering interaction. Social media are about online interaction. This means that collaborative learning and sense-making are important. Hence it is logical that the facilitator also understands social learning processes and knows how to work with those processes. This means taking a relational approach into account. I have the impression many trainers do that already in their training sessions, but not really consciously.

Curious to know whether you recognise these practices and whether you are already applying them too?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

About serial mastery and social media

One of my interest areas is the professionalisation process of professionals. How do you become a master, an expert, a thought leader? What are the best ways to learn individually and collectively?

Shift- the future of work is already here

An inspiring book in that context is 'The shift by Linda Gratton'- a must read book if you are interested in the future of work. She is a professor at the London Business School and describes in her book what work and the jobs of the future will look like. The reason for her research and book was the quest of her sons to find a study areas, one wants to be a journalist and the other wants to study medicine. Is that smart? Will that earn that a living in the future? But it is not only an interesting read with the future of your children in mind, but also for yourself.

The new poor

Gratton's story is not sheer positive. She describes a process of globalization in which the 'new poor' and 'talented' can live anywhere. Your birth in the Netherlands, Europe or the US will no longer be a guarantee for a good job, we must increasingly compete with other professionals from around the world (not without reason that the tigers moms in China described by Amy Chua get so much attention). And ofcourse that's already happening. Hence a focus on self-promotion and branding rather than modesty will be normal for professionals. This too is a shift that you can already see happening. If you are self-employed like me, you can still function without a blog using your old networks and offline networking skills. However, increasingly you have an advantage if you know how to brand yourself online and to find your professional voice.

From shallow generalists to serial mastery

The book also talking about the shift from shallow generalist to serial master. A serial master has a deep knowledge and competencies in several domains. So you have to specialize, and you will need and discover a new domain of relevance every few years or so. Interestingly enough, that's like reading about myself, when I started as an irrigation engineer, morphed into an organisational advisor and I'm currently a specialist in the design and facilitation of learning processes. I typically had three-year contracts. This forces you to become a sort of serial master, because after two years if you have to start thinking what you would like to do next.

The new self-directed learning = Learning

I was asked to facilitate two workshops about the 'new learning' for career counselors. Below you can find the presentation in Dutch (in a prezi).