Monday, March 26, 2018

Lessons on learning analytics from a taxi driver

I've been on a surprise strip. You book a trip for three day but without having a clear where you are going to. Very exciting! We had to be at Schiphol by 5 am and although we were still sleepy: the taxi driver was not. He talked a lot, probably to stay awake .... He was very enthusiastic about a new system with data in his taxi. His story reminded me occasionally of an episode of Black Mirror:  Nosedive with a society based upon likes. Everyone gives each other points/likes and you need to have a certain number of points to be able to live somewhere in a certain appartement. It does not work out well for the hero of the story.

The wonderful taxi system

The fantastic system of our taxi driver consists of a point system (it is called cicada) adopted by his taxi company. Every driver earns points with his or her driving style. At first, he first did not care about his score, until it turned out that a female colleague scored highest. Knowing this, stimulated him to want to improve his score. Our driver was already at 98. For a long time his scores remained at 96 and he thought you could never get 100, but ... by keeping his hands on the wheel he was able to increase his score. I asked him what you have to do as a taxi drive to score this high. It comes down to riding evenly, not accelerate or brake suddenly, but also keep your hands on the wheel for example. He knew exactly how many seconds he could be on the radio before his score went down. It became interesting when a training place was released to become an executive driver. Our (black) driver was not nominated. Then someone thought about the scores, and wondered whether the scores should be an indication. Since our driver had the highest score he earned the place in the training and became an executive taxi driver.

From taxi to learning analytics

Clive Shepherd discussed the new skillset that L&D-ers need to develop. One of the new skills is interacting with media, and that includes the use of data. L&D also has to deal with new data which are available because of working with online media. Just think of the data you collect in your LMS or during a webinar. Although I was on vacation, I could not help myself to think about the parallels between the taxi system and learning analytics. With learning analytics you use data to gain insight into how people learn and how to support learning. The taxi data are aimed at a better driving style. The positive thing about the points system is that our driver was not nominated for the training, but because of his points he could prove that he was the best. Could you also provide a more objective assessment using learning analytics? For example, looking for the real experts? What also worked really well is the gamification element. He wanted to get a high score and therefore changed his driving style. Tip is therefore to make learning analytics understandable for learners themselves.

People always tweak the system

One more thing: you have to pay attention to what you measure with your system / learning analytics. Know what you are measuring. Combine it with observations. In the black mirror episode the system has very bad effects because people are going to judge each other. So be aware of the effect on people. Who wins, who looses?

Your data are always indicators, such as the number of minutes hands off the wheel. It was clear that people are always trying to outdo the system. For example, a taxi driver can turn on the radio 5 times in succession for 30 seconds and in between put his hands on the wheel to avoid a lower score. The question is whether that is safer than changing the radio at once. So know what you are actually measuring and ways users may tweak the system. You should never just look at the figures and forget to use your common sense.

By the way our surprise trip took us to Rome!

Thursday, March 01, 2018

You can use Twitter to get new ideas to do your work in a better way

Would you like to show off at work with great ideas? This week I did some intakes for a course about learning technologies which is starting next Monday and I realized that actually very few people are using Twitter. Yes, they do have a Twitter account and may have a look at their timeline some times, but it is not helping them to do their work in a more innovative way. That's a pity, because Twitter can actually help you to generate better ideas.

Knowmads are innovative

I believe that we need to work more and more in a knowmadic way (see this blogpost about knowmad). Technology is driving innovation and new ways of working, but we need people to do this. New ideas can help to solve a recurrent problem or simply ideas which stimulate you to do your work in a different way which may be fun. It is not something I am making up, but something I have experienced myself and which is backed up by a study by MIT.  I read "how Twitter users can generate better ideas" by Salvatore Parise, Eoin Whelan and Steve Todd. The article is based on a 5 year research program in which they studied 10 employee groups in 5 companies. They linked internal brainstorm results to Twitter usage. 

The ideas of twitter users are of higher quality

Twitter users and non-users actually submitted the same number of brainstorm ideas, but the ideas of Twitter users were rated higher (the rating was done anonymously).  Furthermore, there was a correlation between diversity of the Twitter network and the quality of ideas. Loose Twitter networks are better for ideation. 

Become an ideas scout and idea connector

Just being on Twitter is not enough. 205 interviews revealed what skills are necessary to be able to find ideas and be able to translate to your work context. You need what they call an individual absorptive capacity. Two activities were correlated to this capacity: idea scouting and idea connecting. Twitter users who performed both roles were the most innovative. 

An idea scout is an employee who looks outside the organization to bring in new ideas. An idea connector is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organization to implement these new concepts

Idea scouting

So how to scout ideas on Twitter? Interviewees said: It’s not the number of people you follow on Twitter that matters; it’s the diversity within your Twitter network. A senior technologist who was interviewed said: “I don’t necessarily want to follow more people. I just want to follow people whose opinions don’t always align with my own, which is kind of an ongoing battle because after a year or so of following the same people, you find that your opinions shift and morph a little, and suddenly you are with a homogenous group of people again.” What I personally do is follow a wide range of people on Twitter. However, the flow is so large I can not read all. I may hence miss Tweets from the people in my network, therefore I  use Hootsuite to be able to follow my warmer networks via lists.

The 70/30 rule

One person had a 70/30 rule to blend serendipity into her Twitter network: 70% of the people she follows are directly relevant to her work, 30% are outside her comfort zone. Several employees mentioned virtual connections to the thoughts of individuals such as former astronaut Buzz Aldrin as catalysts for good ideas. What I do is follow people from other industries (like marketeers) and also writers of books I like. You could also think of having a core of strong ties (people you know well and work with) and weak ties (people who are unknown to you or move in quite different networks).

From weak to strong tie

You can use Twitter as a way to move from weak ties to strong ties, to get to know people better. Twitter is perfect to establish weak ties (by following them), you can start to engage by interacting (such as replying, retweeting) but may also organize face-to-face meetings. In this way Twitter helps you expland your strong network.

Idea connecting

Idea connecting involves translating the idea to the workplace and issues and sharing and discussing those ideas with the appropriate stakeholders. In the interviews people described their roles as listener, curator and alerter. One person said: “I try to sift through all the Twitter content from my network and look for trends and relationships between topics. I then put my analysis and interpretation on it. I feel that’s where my value-add is. I’m not just sending out a bunch of links. I think through what might be valuable to particular groups such as marketing or engineering. This leads to engaging discussion.” My personal experience is that there is also serendipity involved. I follow L&D trend watchers and read about artificial intelligence and chatbot. When I participated in a face-to-face method to reflect about mistakes in order to learn from them I was able to connect that idea to a confession bot idea. Hence Twitter does work for me as a source of new ideas.