Monday, March 26, 2012

Gated Communities Are Not Necesarily Safer

You're living in your own Private Idaho
     -  The B-52s
I’ve had a lot of questions come to me this year that have all had the same theme.  That is, “I like this idea of YouTube for Learning but I can’t just have my people using YouTube.”

On one hand, I love that people are realizing how powerful video can be as a Learning tool.  Except for my good friend Steve, virtually every single person I talk to prefers to learn with some sort of easy to consume multimedia format.  Videos are clearly the way to go, as evidenced by the explosion of YouTube and people like Sal Khan.

On the other hand I’m frustrated.  We had these same discussions when email came into its own.  There were a lot of companies that simply refused email because it was “open to the outside” and “who knows how much time people will waste on email.”  I understand this – it’s change.  Most people find change disruptive, it rocks the boat, it is uncomfortable.  

Some companies have gravitated toward a private video serving mechanism – their own little YouTube.  An entire breed of software offerings have emerged to facilitate this.  But think about it – it’s like marrying within your immediate family.  It’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons.  First, you lose any sort of collaboration with professionals outside your immediate realm.  Sure we have good ideas, but some really great ones have come from outside.  Second, why do you want to spend valuable resources managing something that is already managed for you?

Proxy servers, firewall filters, there are so many ways to effectively control what and where your users surf.  There is some really valuable content out there that can help your company be more productive and thus more profitable.  In today's world we need to leverage every tools we can get our hands on. 

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  (That's one of those phrases I have always wanted to use!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

“You learn it best by trying it over and over, figuring it out.”
        - Stuart Collins

Why are activities so important?  Why all the fuss? 

In a nutshell, it’s simply how we learn.  Humans learn through interaction.  They learn by doing the task they are expected to do.  Have you ever been told how to do something, and then when you do it you hesitate, unsure of how to proceed?  It’s because you haven’t imprinted the action in your brain yet.  Some studies have shown the actual memory of yourself doing something is more powerful than the knowledge of the task itself.

And yet, when we develop training  what do we often do?  We start with the lecture, then we refine out idea, and then we try to squeeze in some hands-on or / exercises.  How confused is that?

Moreover, look at what people do when they misjudge their timing (as we all do) and they run short.  They rush through the last topics in an unabsorbable flurry and then cut out the exercises!

That process is just wrong, and it needs to be turned on its head.  You START with the exercises you want your learners to be able to do.  Begin with what you want them to leave with – the really important bits.   And then you fill in the holes with what you want to tell them.  (But don’t fill in all the holes – make them think.  But that’s another story).

But I can’t claim credit for this idea.  It has been around for some time but really come on strong in the last decade.  In 2002, Harold D. Stolovitch wrote a powerful book called “Telling Ain’t Training” that put forth the idea that the most effective learning occurs when the learning is active and enjoyable.  In one sense, this was putting form over function (or at least elevating it to an equal).  It shook the foundations.  Academics revolted.  Pitchforks and torches.  (not really on that last one).

I paraphrase that concept with the line, “If you’re talking your class isn’t learning.”  Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it does point to a weakness in many programs.  That is, it’s more about what I as a developer can shovel out at you than what you will actually learn.  You can avoid this by following a simple paradigm, whether you’re building a multi-week program or a one hour session:
  1. What skills do I need my learner to leave with (my task list)? 
  2.  How can I get my learners to demonstrate that skills to me (the activity)?
  3. What seeds of knowledge to I need to plant to get them started (my lecture)?
If you remember that the LAST thing you do is open up PowerPoint you’re most of the way there.

So how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  I'll bet you can find that one out for yourself....