Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Projects are how we change the world...and ourselves...

The process is not linear (as indicated in the diagram). It is iterative and parallel. The diagram just depicts the various tasks/steps of the entire process. These were the key points the client needed to understand to get a feel of what happens behind the scene in elearning development. Read the post for a more detailed explanation.

Projects are how we change the world and introduce new knowledge into our organizations (when they are done well that is - also sometime how we remove obsolete knowledge and processes).
~From a comment on the post, Defining KM, by Dave Snowden

Though the post is on Knowledge Management--and a tiny gem of a post it is--it was this comment that drew my attention because of a recently completed project. While I can't say this project changed the world, but it definitely changed me (because of all I learned and learning is change) and added a world of altogether different perspectives.

I have tried to capture some of my key learning in this post. But before I fast forward to the learning, here's a brief overview and background to set what I learned in context. I have erred on the side of caution and have not named the client.

How it all started

  1. The client (an IT organization functioning in the telecom industry) has a global presence with footprints in all the continents, and the major countries within each.
  2. They have very very well-defined training programs with certifications in place.
  3. It is mandatory for all technicians in the organization to take the training/be certified before they are allowed to venture on to client sites.
  4. The training is purely class-room based with instructors (who have been conducting ILT there for close to 25 years) leading/guiding/facilitating the sessions
  5. Management (the C-suite folks), realizing the cost and the administration overheads of flying people from all over the globe to attend training wanted to move to e-learning
  6. Wisely, they wanted to begin small by rolling out e-learning for a new version of an old application (the assumption was that the information would not be too new for the learners)
  7. The application for which training had to be designed was still in Beta and was expected to change significantly over the next few months. (This proved to be one of the major challenges during the actual development phase of the project.)
  8. They wanted to experience what switching from class-room training to elearning meant
I went as the Consultant to do the initial requirements gathering and scope analysis.

What ensued-Part 1

I had gone mentally prepared to gather the training requirements and also assess the overall scope of the project. About a week into my visit on-site, I realized the following:

  1. The C-suite folks wanted e-learning. They had a some notion of what it entailed having observed other organization. The management below that had no clue what "moving to e-learning" meant.
  2. I could not do requirement gathering or scope analysis without educating the client on e-learning, its various phases, the implications, the role of SMEs, trainers, learners, etc.
  3. I had to get the buy-in from the people I would be interacting with daily to develop and design the course and convince them that e-learning wasn't so evil.
What ensued-Part 2

  1. I kept aside all thought of scope analysis and content gathering.
  2. I spent the next few weeks focusing on preparing and giving presentations with the hope of explaining e-learning to folks with hell of a lot more experience in the corporate world than I have. 
  3. I got used to answering skeptical questions. (I also got used to fending off our program manager and relationship manager on the side, who for very obvious reasons, wanted to pin down the project scope and start the work.
Aside: Point #1 is ratified by a point made by Jenise Cook in her post, How to Estimate Training Time and Costs. 
One e-learning consultant in another state told me his “secret”. When he gets a brand new client, he does not work on a fixed, project fee basis, he always works on an hourly basis. When a new client is new to e-learning, he finds he’s also a coach as well as an ID and a developer, and the coaching takes up more of his time.
It is important to keep this pointer in mind if you are introducing elearning. It saves the client and the project team some anxiety about time and cost.

The outcome

As I spent almost a month explaining the various concepts and terminology related to e-learning, the differences and similarities between e-learning and ILT, the advantages of each, I could see the mindset changing palpably.
This was brought home to me most forcefully when I heard the following conversation between one of the ILT trainers (a very senior person) and an SME (who has been in that org for close to 15 years):  
Trainer: "Oh, we need your input on the CDD because you have to verify if the performance objectives noted against each topic maps to what that topic is supposed to cover."
SME: CDD? Eh??
Trainer: Oh...Course Design Document (with a smile at me). It is this interesting excel sheet with colorful tabs that Sahana will present in today's workshop. We have to fill out the questions in each of those sheets. Keep a day free for that activity or you'll have her parked outside your cabin door with a printout...

It was then that I knew I had made a dent, a difference, brought about a small change. After that, the presentations and workshops became interactive with questions pouring in. These were no longer skeptical ones but questions with a genuine desire to understand the various stages of e-learning development. Some of the most FAQ were:
  1. What do you mean by gathering content?
  2. What are the various things you do before we can see an elearning module?
  3. What is a storyboard? 
  4. How long does it take to review a storyboard? Will you show us how to review one?
  5. How do you "fit" the content into a storyboard?
  6. What do you mean by a module and its objectives?
  7. Our learners are new to elearning? How will they adapt to the navigation?
  8. Can you explain the different UI features and the functions in the prototype you showed us?
  9. Can you build a feature where they can ask questions if they get stuck?
  10. How will they be assessed?
  11. If we want them to go the main document for reference, can we add the document to the module?

Post this phase, the regular activities of gathering content, analyzing it, creating micro-design documents and writing storyboards started.

Fast forward

Moving ahead to the review of the storyboard phase. This was when I truly felt the impact of having introduced elearning as a concept to the client first. The trainers and SMEs not only felt involved, but they were also convinced of the value of the tasks they were performing. This made a huge difference to the way they reviewed, to our interactions, and to the experience of the entire development phase.

Yes, this project did make a difference. A huge difference to me!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Harvard ManageMentor: Some thoughts in response...


Yesterday, I received a note from Harvard Business Publishing with a request to review their article, Our Take on Social Learning Tools. Being a topic right up my area of interest, I agreed with alacrity. This morning, I read Paul Simbeck-Hampson's (@simbeckhampson) response to it on Amplify. Paul has done a great job of covering the key points.

I have added my tuppence worth in the paras below...

Learning mix in the workplace

Harvard Business Publishing is releasing the next version of Harvard ManageMentor, their "online resource for business essentials". I have quoted from the article to illustrate the stance they are adopting.

In working with our customers, we discovered that they were trying to address a number of learning requirements, most notably formal learning, informal learning and performance support.   In this new release, we not only optimize the experience to support the natural flow of multiple learning needs across an enterprise, but also address new trends and requirements around collaborative learning by giving learners the  ability to learn from and with others.

Our collaboration capabilities, which include polls, discussion forums, comments, and ratings, take advantage of emergent Enterprise 2.0 technologies to engage the user. These technologies are deeply integrated within a topic’s content so that learners can more easily share and apply concepts and ideas with others in the context of their specific organization – right at the moment when learning happens. Our approach is an important differentiator because we integrate and embed the collaboration capabilities within a specific topic. For example, in the Leading and Motivating module, learning happens in the context of the specific learning objective. Our approach will have more impact and drive more engagement. Other products on the market that enable collaboration at the learning management level will not influence and connect with the learner in a meaningful way.
The highlight above is mine and its shows that Harvard ManageMentor is headed in the right direction with what they are aiming to achieve and how they are approaching it. I have tried to point out some of the "Whys", as I perceive them, to highlight the importance of the goals.

By integrating collaboration capabilities within each topic, Harvard ManageMentor brings the amalgamation of content with context to the forefront. In this era of information explosion, context-less information is just data that does not foster or drive decision-making abilities. And coming from Harvard, it can be easily gauged that the key requirement will be to enable critical management decisions and building leadership skills. By enabling collaboration that leads to the addition of pertinent context, Harvard ManageMentor is definitely addressing the all important need of just-in-time, contextual and context-specific information, which is at the core to effective decision making.

By also seeking to address the different stages and requirements of workplace learning (and I have used Jane Hart's diagram to show what I mean by that), it is hoped that Harvard ManageMentor will bridge the gap.

Given below is a slightly modified version of the diagram created by Jay Cross to depict the formal/informal mix and who is in control at which point. 
I  have reference these diagrams because they so effectively depict some of the critical areas that need to be tackled to make workplace learning deliver results (read lead to performance), foster motivation, breed innovation, and retain talent.

Some points to ponder

It will be interesting to see how Harvard ManageMentor works. Just some points to ponder over while we wait for the launch...

  1. Will it "track" the social, collaborative aspects of the learning? (I am using the term "social" purely to mean "informal", that which is not top-down and push.)
  2. How easy will it be for users to add content?
  3. What Enterprise 2.0 technologies will be integrated to facilitate collaboration?
  4. How well and how will the different learning needs--both individual and group and formal as well as informal--be addressed?
  5. How effectively will it bridge the gap between an LMS and a collaboration platform? Can it retain the best of both?
Most importantly, and this is a very valid point raised by Paul, how will it foster motivation. He has covered the points succinctly. I have quoted what Paul has written below:

Motivation to learn also lies at the heart of this issue and Dan Pink hits the nail firmly on the head; you should watch the video I posted on Amplify - Delivering information only in a single formal channel is OUT and peer discovery and support is IN, and should be adopted. Senior management need support too, they were not cognitively formed to understand this - that is the ultimate change challenge. 
This criteria is an all important requirement in today's work environment. With the nature of the work moving away from routine, process-driven, left-brain tasks to ones that require creativity, team work, innovation, and out-of-the-box solutioning, creating an environment where intrinsic motivation can flourish will be the key to success. 

An environment that facilitates and encourages collaboration, enables autonomy, provides the tools required to be independent, productive, and resourceful thus enabling mastery will be where the best talents will be found. If Harvard ManageMentor can provide the framework and facilitate organizations with the necessary technological support to create such an environment, it will be a goal worth achieving.

Ten related posts and articles
  1. A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning)

  2. The Standalone LMS is Dead

  3. The State of Learning in the Workplace Today (May Update)

  4. Workscape evolution

  5. The SMARTER Approach to Workplace Learning

  6. 5 Stages of Workplace Learning

  7. Less is more: A different approach to L&D in a world awash with information

  8.  I Know It When I See It

  9. Power Law of Participation

  10. The real Enterprise 2.0

Monday, May 17, 2010

Automation is out; Innovation is in! How will L&D address this?


Dan Pink, Harold Jarche, Dave Snowden, Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Shawn Callahan, Howard Gardner, et al. have been talking about it, writing about it, warning folks to take heed. Giving organizations the wake up call!

Writing about the changing face of the workplace, the changing nature of the work we do in the Concept Age, about the need for creativity, innovation, collaboration, connection, about the rise of complexity and chaos, about the failures of yesterday's best practices in today's world, about automation and Asia, and the impact of these on how people learn in today's world.

Automation is out; innovation is in

I have tried to summarize my understanding of the interconnections between Cynefin, rise of complexity and chaos, Concept Age, workplace learning in the networked era, information explosion and the need to change how we learn and train, how we perceive organizational performance and training, and the very nature of learning itself.

Cynefin is a very useful framework that helps us to understand the "the evolutionary nature of complex systems, including their inherent uncertainty". Taken from the Welsh word meaning "habitat" or "place" and applied to today's corporate context by Dave Snowden to explain the relationship between human beings and context, this framework is a succinct and effective way of capturing the impact of rising complexity in the workplace.

The diagram below is the classic one showing the different stages of an organization's growth and the applicability of good and best practices vis a vis the need to develop emergent and novel practices.

Now, take a look at the diagram below. It's the same one but with certain additions by Harold Jarche. It is easy to see the kind of work that can be automated and the kind that can be outsourced.

And what is alarming is that even today, most (read almost all) organizations still focus on training people to do what can so easily be automated or even outsourced. Again, I have used Harold Jarche's version of the diagram to show where there is a gap.

Dan Pink, in his seminal and now famous book, A Whole New Mind, warned organizations about the need to pay heed to work that cannot be reduced to a step-list, that requires creativity, is complex in nature and are the ones that will eventually keep organizations afloat, will be the differentiators between the winners and the losers.

What is disturbing and worrisome is that organizations are still turning a blind eye to this phenomenon. The measure of effectiveness and efficiency continues to be "productivity," "ability to adhere to set processes," "ability to create step-lists that can automate essentially creative work." The result of course is mediocrity, confusion, lack of job satisfaction, loss of ideas, and general ennui.

One reason could be (probably is) that creativity and innovation seem heretical, unmanageable and un-measurable, a manager's nightmare. It is easy to ask someone to write x lines of code in 8 hours. How do you ask someone to be creative to x degree??? in 8 hours. Sounds stupid to say the least!!

What the business world needs to understand and accept is that the measuring of productivity by hours is a thing of the past. It worked perfectly fine in the Industrial Era, in the Manufacturing Age, when work meant "leaving one's mind behind and doing what one was asked to do". It was a manager's haven; it was all about managing cost, resources, and time effectively. It was an era of the carrot and stick, of following orders and processes, of doing the same thing in the same way. It was the age of proven and best practices. Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of scientific management, ruled.

That was then and this is Now!

The changing face of L&D and training 

What worked in a process driven, sane world won't work in a world hit by the tsunami of information, social media, hyperlinks, user-generated content, automation and outsourcing, and many more similar evils. We have reached one of those turning points in history that rarely occur in one's lifetime, and when it does, we are fortunate, yes fortunate, to be caught in the maelstrom and experience the violence of the change. This is how humanity has evolved. This is what Charles Darwin meant by Survival of the Fittest. Today, those who can think on their feet, question the established ways of doing things, take the lead, be fearless in the face of criticism, be ready to fail but not give in to failure, be passionate about and believe in what they do, are the survivors.

Sounds idealistic? Maybe. But I believe this is the truth, this is today's reality. And sooner we, who represent the L&D arm of organizations understand this, the better for us and for those we serve.

And maybe 1000s of years from now, the image below will also contain the the "hyperlinked humans".

Sadly, the L&D department is still being given the dictate to help people acquire the best practices, ensure people know about processes, and such other routine requirements. However, as Charles Jennings has so aptly pointed out, both organizations and L&Ds would do better to enable people to:
"Being able to find just the right information or source of knowledge at the just right time in the just right context is far more useful than recalling something we’ve learned some time ago and hoping it is still relevant and 'right'."

Apart from the tidal wave of social media that washed away many of the old ways of communication, of interacting, the rise of globalization and automation, and the Web 2.0 phenomenon that gives everyone the power to create and disseminate content, have essentially broken down all set parameters. The hyperlinked world has no hierarchy; but more importantly, the hyperlinked world is constantly communicating and creating, changing the rules, creating new ones and upsetting the balance. The tidal wave of information is only going to rise. Given this situation, what can the training department to do to truly impact not only individual performance but also organizational growth?

They have to focus on meta-learning. The table below from Charles Jennings post, Less is more: A different approach to L&D in a world awash with information, shows some of the core skills required by today's workforce to perform on the job. This in turn will not only lead to organizational growth but also personal satisfaction, and hopefully will increase intrinsic motivation too.

Search and 'find' skillsTo find the right information when it's needed
Critical thinking skillsTo extract meaning and significance
Creative thinking skillsTo generate new ideas about, and ways of, using the information
Analytical skillsTo visualise, articulate and solve complex problems and concepts, and make decisions that make sense based on the available information
Networking skillsTo identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of knowledge and expertise, within and outside the organisation
People skillsTo build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial for information sharing
LogicTo apply reason and argument to extract meaning and significance
A solid understanding of research methodologyTo validate data and the underlying assumptions on which information and knowledge is based

I will end this post here.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this...

Related readings, videos, presentations (by no means an exhaustive list)

  1. Work Shift

  2. Automated and Outsourced

  3. Less is more: A different approach to L&D in a world awash with information

  4.  Workscape evolution

  5.  Drive: Key Points Captured in a Video

  6. Cynefin

  7. Cynefin Framework

  8. 5 Stages of Workplace Learning  

  9. When should we collaborate?

  10.  Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

  11.  Social Learning Strategies, Models, and Roles

  12. Five Minds for the Future 

  13. Complex adaptive system


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drive: Key Points Captured in a Video

Wonderful summary and representation of Dan Pink's Drive.

The Adventures of Developing an e-learning Course!


I have just been reading a post by @tomkuhlmann called Five Ways to Guarantee Your E-Learning Course is a Success.  The post is a relevant read for anyone in the field of delivering e-learning, training, and responsible for organizational performance.

I have cited below a paragraph from the post of particular relevance--about asking questions, the right questions. Disregarding the power of questions or forgetting to raise them and get them clarified can often make or break a course or render it ineffective.
There’s a lot that goes into building a course.  Make sure you get access to the right people and resources.  Who can review the content? Who can provide assets like logos, images, and documentation?  How will you connect with the potential learners? Who will review or pilot the course?  What’s the implementation strategy?  What type of IT support or technology do you need?
I have added some questions that I have found useful to ask

Who provides the final sign-off? Who is the business client? Whose buy-in do you require to ensure that there is post-rollout support provided to the learners? How will you ensure effective communication throughout the development cycle?

One of my recent experiences reinforced the importance of asking the right questions, asking as many times as required till all expectations are crystal clear to both the client-side stakeholders and the developers of the e-learning program (this includes learning solutions consultant, project managers, instructional designers, visual designers and communicators, illustrators, programmers, integrators, et al).

The mistakes I made, and what did I learn

I was working with an international client who were rolling out e-learning in their organization for the first time. After having familiarized them with the fundamentals of e-learning and having gathered the basic requirements, I got down to collecting the content for the initial modules from one of the SMEs. Being a highly technical course, this SME (Subject Matter Expert) intervention/interaction was of utmost importance. Post this first content-gathering phase, it was time for me to travel back to India.

Mistake #1: I forgot to verify with the stakeholders if the SME who had provided the content would also be the same one reviewing and providing feedback on the storyboards.

Satisfied that I had enough content to start work on the initial modules, I got down to creating the micro-design documents for those modules. Duly referring to the course design document, the audience analysis made, I began drafting the storyboards.

Mistake #2: I did not think of verifying/ratifying the micro-design documents with the clients. This would have saved a lot of heartache for us and panic for the client.

This was an international client and we are working across different time-zones. The primary mode of communication (during the initial phase) was e-mail, whose ineffectiveness I soon found out to my grief.

Mistake #3: I did not leverage the power of the Internet and the various options available for interaction, communication, collaboration--at least till that point. I learned better as time progressed. Again, after coming to grief.

I e-mailed the completed storyboards to the SME for feedback on content logicality, veracity, flow, and other such regular things. What I received in less than 24 hours was nothing short of a panic e-mail (from SMEs different from the one who had provided the content) saying that the content covered was inadequate, lacking in depth, and too generic to be of much use to technicians who needed much more specificity to perform on the job.

I almost had a minor heart attack being clueless as to how this could be the case since the content had been provided by an SME, albeit a different one. This difference was what threw a monkey wrench in what should otherwise have been a fairly straightforward case of review and feedback process.

Insights gleaned

After my panic sub-sided, I realized it was time to get into a more direct conversation with the SMEs. E-mail was just not the answer. The conversation that ensued provided me with the following insights:
  1. The SMEs who had provided the review inputs on the initial storyboards had been unaware of the source of content 
  2. The storyboards would be reviewed by multiple SMEs since it was important that all aspects of the tasks be covered
  3. Each SME had their own area of expertise, and all of these had to be brought together in the course
  4. The content was in a state of "high flux" since the product was still being tested and updated
  5. The content provided at the inital stage had changed (vastly) by the time the SMEs got down to reviewing the storyboards

Critical learning

Regular questions we typically ask but which often fail to take care of the finer aspects that go toward making a training program successful:
  1. What is the training needed for?
  2. Is the training truly required? Will this solve the business problem?
  3. What is/are the business need(s) that it aims to fulfill?
  4. What insights has the task analysis provided about performance, hitches faced during on-the-job performance?
  5. What has the learner analysis revealed?
  6. What is the overall desired performance outcome?
 Some important questions that remain unasked

  1.  Are all communication channels being effectively used (especially important if communicating via Web and across different time-zones)? Can better use be made of tools and applications like Skype, AOL, Webinars, conference calls, video conferencing, Google docs, etc.? (Disregarding or overlooking the effectiveness of these communication platforms in today's super-linked world is like sending snail mail when an e-mail could be sent.)***
  2. How stable is the content? How much of it is likely to change during the development of the training program? (It is safe to assume that in today's world, content will change and change rapidly.)
  3. Which part of the content is least likely to change? (Focus on developing those modules first.)
  4. Who are the SMEs? 
  5. Who is the final authority who will provide the sign-off?
  6. Is the reviewer/sign-off authority of the storyboards same as the one who will provide the final sign-off on the produced, functional modules as well? (Any unexpected change during this phase can throw a spanner not only in the development process but will also be a roadblock in the meeting of deadlines and schedules.)
  7. Are all the client-side stakeholders (SMEs, line managers, learning and development team, business managers, technicians, etc.) in synch with each other? 
  • Are they on the same page? 
  • Do they know how their inputs can impact the overall development process and final output? 
  • Are they aware that their respective inputs are important for overall course effectiveness? (While this seems like something that should be handled by the client, as effective consultants, the onus is on us to point out the importance of such interactions and also manage the communication in many cases.)
 This is by no means an exhaustive list. I look forward to additions to this list from all...

Some tools I actively used post this panic attack to ensure seamless communication flow

*** During the course of the project, we began to use:
  1. Skype for chats, demos, walk-through, feedback, discussions
  2. AOL messenger for IMs
  3. Dropbox to quickly exchange heavy files and folders
  4. Webinars for walk-through and demos
  5. Conference calls for quick queries and clarifications, discussions, brainstorming
  6. And of course, the ubiquitous e-mail for more formal updates, minutes of meetings, conveying information to all stakeholders-directly or indirectly connected to the development, ensuring all key people have the necessary, critical information for reference and record, and such like
How did these tools help

Apart from ironing out communication gaps and helping the panic to sub-side, these various channels of communication ensured we were in touch with the client at all points during the development cycle. This not only increased their trust in us but also helped us to build that invaluable rapport that made the rest of the project inspiring, fun, "learningful," interactive in the true sense, and increased the chance of the efficacy of the program manifold.

This constant, ongoing dialog also helped to make the SMEs feel involved and valued, lowered their resistance to suggestions, helped them to see our point of view, and created opportunities for healthy exchange of ideas.

I would love to hear your experiences and receive inputs...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

HPT and Social Learning: David Wilkins via Skype #ISPI -Sharing some key points...

I just attended an #ISPI session hosted by the Massachusetts ISPI chapter (@MASS_ISPI).  

The session was on HPT and Social Learning: Organizational Performance in the Cloud by David Wilkins, VP of Product Marketing at Jean Marrapodi (@jmarrapodi) in her inimitable fashion made it possible for me to attend this session via Skype. And Dave (@dwilkinsnh) made getting up at 4:00 a.m. so totally worth it. 

A keen and passionate believer in the power of Social Networking (SN) in improving organizational performance--not marginally but manifold--this session was an eye-opener for me.

Before I launch into my take on this one, I have pasted below some of the tweets from @jmarrapodi capturing the key points of the session.
  1. SoMe is largely driven by groups other than L&D. We need to get w/the program!
  2. No one owns SoMe. We should! ~@dwilkinsnh #ISPI #ASTD
  3. GenY has a tribe. People move in tribes. Your SoMe group always moves w/you. ~@dwilkinsnh
  4. Much of using SoMe is abt trust.Putting name on the line helps. Can't be anonymous. Shared expertise builds credibility. #ISPI 

  5. "We should no longer teach a man to fish. We should teach a man to teach & share expertise." ~@dwilkinsnh
  6. Organizational network analysis (Rob Cross) shows how companies really work. Sometimes reveal that C-level disconnected. ~@dwilkinsnh 
  7. @dwilkinsnh is talking about @hjarche & @jaycross Inverted Pyramid needs of training.Not mgmt down but collaborative work
At the same time, sort of fortuitously, Guy Wallace (@guywwallace) was tweeting some very pertinent questions about the viability of implementing SoMe in organizations. I have pasted those below as well since they form a part of the larger whole. 
  1. Don't expect executives to see the value in what you propose if you don't understand how they calculate value in the first place. Homework.
  2. What is the philosophy in your Enterprise about using ROI, ROA, EVA, etc.? What business metrics are the most important? How do you link?
  3. What is the typical expected payback period for investments in your Enterprise? And what total payback will there be x2 or x3 years out?
  4. When you suggest/ask the Enterprise for funds for Training - do you look at both First and Life Cycle costs in the ROI forecast?
  5. What costs could be avoided/lessened, and to what extent, if Informal Learning tools were embraced in work processes? That's part of the R.   
  6. What types of Performance would you recommend which SoMe tools for - if you had a 90 floor ELEVATOR ride w/ the CEO - and she asked?
  7. Could SoMe help remote Sales Teams respond better to RFPs? What would that be worth? And then how many times might that be repeated a year?
  8. Could SoMe help Field Marketing Teams do their work? What would that be worth? And then how many times might that be repeated a year?
  9. Could SoMe help a Global Team do their work? What would that be worth? And then how many times might that be repeated a year?
  10. Activity measures (results) without the Value measures (results) don't tell enough of the picture to make a decision on anything.
Highlighting the movement from the one:one to one:many and now to the many:many model with the rise of different SoMe platforms, Dave stressed on the importance of the network, of being connected.   

My take:
With the increasing availability of informal content via different networks, customers are more connected than ever before. The "Cluetrain" effect is here to stay.     
Thesis #12: There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.      
Networking, exchanging and sharing, learning from one another--be they partners, clients, competitors, subordinates--is imperative. Connecting is no longer an option. An organization that refuses to break down the rigid walls of hierarchy, top down management, one way communication, control and command approach will stagnate.
Stagnation is a notion of false comfort. There is no such thing as status quo. Nothing stagnates. It just decays and dies.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Who are Instructional Designers? The existential dilemma...

Apologies for a long post but it is one of those where I was internally debating and had to resolve this conflict with myself…

1. Post objectives:
  • a. To gain personal clarity on the role of an ID in a business/corporate training setting
  • b. To pinpoint a few critical skill sets required of an ID
  • c. To summarize the different tasks of an ID during a PLC
2. Post type: reflective, discursive, open ended
3. Acronyms used:
  • a. ID = Instructional Design
  • b. BA = Business Analyst
  • c. PS = Performance Support
  • d. PLC = Project Life Cycle
4. Similar post in this blog: In Response: Accidental Instructional Designers #dl09--Part I

5. Comments on other blog(s) regarding qualities of an ID: Perfect Behaviour

6. Typical ID Resume I came across on that really made no sense. I have tried hard to ignore the painful lack of Parallelism in the bullet points! Can we blame anyone for either undervaluing the function or becoming glassy eyed by the jargon thrown at them…?
Role: Instructional Designer:
Exp: 5-9 yrs
Qualification: Any Graduate
Job Profile:
1.The candidate should understand instructional design theories and models and should effectively apply them to develop eLearning content.
2.You should analyze client requirements, assess learner profiles, and design teaching/learning models that are tailor made for the target audience.
3.You should have a minimum of 2-3 years of experience in a corporation, educational institute, publication house, or journalism.
4.You should have experience in designing curriculum based products.
5.Professionals from the E-Learning industry are preferred.
6.Soft skills: Good communication & written skills.
Quote from Harold Jarche: Skills for learning professionals
“Today, active involvement in informal learning, particularly through web-based communities, is key to remaining professional and creative in a field. Being a learning professional in a Web 2.0 world is becoming more about your network than your current knowledge.”

Note: For the purpose of this post, I have approached the ID function from the perspective of online training.

The ID debate raised its head once again in one of my conversations with my colleague. The conversation is not new—it has been played out across various platforms and networks. Blog posts have waxed eloquent about the roles and functions of an ID. Comments have flown back and forth faster than one can say Jack Robinson. The role models of the ID community like Dr. Karl Kapp, Cammy Bean, Connie Malamed, et al have shared their thoughts. Yet, the debate continues. The business world still glances at the role of an instructional designer with skepticism. The belief that writing skill is tantamount to an ID’s skill still abides. And as technology advances and Web 2.0 phenomenon becomes firmly entrenched, the ID's role becomes even more complex and thus nebulous. Who are these people? Where do they all come from? Where do they belong?

Some of the questions—and pertinent ones indeed which helped me a great deal—that my colleague posed were:

1. How will you convince a business organization that ID is a necessary function when designing learning solutions?
Many organizations are investing in Authoring Tools like Articulate and Captivate and strongly feel that their SMEs who have in-depth knowledge of the subject can deliver the e-learning courses. I have attended a Captivate Training session where many attendees were SMEs from different orgs.

2. What does an ID do that a Business Analyst (BA) cannot do?

Wikipedia has a page devoted to the role of a BA and there are umpteenth other websites that define the role too. A BA’s role today seems to be as volatile and evolving as an ID’s.

Some relevant reads:
i. What is a Business Analyst?
ii. Duties of a Business Analyst
iii. Rethinking the Role of Business Analysts: Towards Agile Business Analysts?

3. Is Instructional Design a specialized function? If yes, in what? They seem to be doing a whole lot of things.
Have tried to answer this in the post below.

4. Are IDs generalists?
Yes; because “facilitating learning” is a general function that impacts all areas of an organization. An ID must be a generalist to be able to see the big picture, spot the larger patterns.

The questions set me thinking—partly because in spite of being passionate about my chosen field of work—I could not really defend it with rationale. And it has taken me quite a while to summarize all that I feel in this post.

Some questions that raced through my mind were:
Is the ID function under-valued because the field welcomes almost anyone to its fold and allows them to develop the skills? Would it be appreciated more if becoming an Instructional Designer was restricted to those with valid ID certifications/degrees? I am not so sure.I had written a post along similar lines some time back called New Skills for Learning Professionals.

The more I reflected I realized that an ID’s role is an amalgamation of a number of functions. During the life cycle of a project, the ID function involves:

1. Business Analysis with a focus on how training/performance support can impact the bottom line. This comprise:
  • Organizational gap analysis
  • Strategic needs analysis
  • Performance and task analysis
  • Understanding the ROI
  • Target audience analysis (psychographics, demographics, etc.)
  • Spotting where knowledge flow is being bottle-necked and opening up those channels
  • Interviewing all stakeholders (CIOs, training heads, HR representatives, line managers, team leads, technicians, engineers, SMEs, et al) to gather all the perspectives
  • “Training” all stakeholders so that they understand the positive implication of training and PS
2. Solution designing with a goal to bridge the gap through performance support, training, designing of a “learnscape” which may involve creating both formal/informal learning opportunities, suggestions for collaboration tools, PS solutions, and much more in this world of Web 2.0...

3. Presenting the solution to all the stakeholders for inputs, guiding/moderating such discussions, simplifying ID concepts and presenting the ROI of it all in business terms.

4. Designing the blue print of the final, agreed upon solution roadmap. This is where a lot of the ID concepts and theories of Andragogy and also Collagogy or Heutagogy (applicable in today’s learning scenario) come into play. This should also ideally encapsulate:
  • The scope of the training program
  • The overall notional learning time
  • The solutions used to support/enhance the assimilation like, scenarios, stories, case studies, simulations, animations, etc.
Note: the solutions should be firmly based on learning theories and not used at random. E.g., a training program requiring a learner to problem-solve lends itself to the Constructivist Approach like the use of scenarios/case studies.
5. Gathering the content relevant for that training program from the SMEs (Wearing the SME's Shoes: Recalling a #lrnchat Session)

6. Designing the content into learner-friendly chunks or creating the micro-design documents.

7. Creating storyboards (documents that will help graphic designers, illustrators, programmers, integrators).

8. Sometimes, turning the storyboards into functional modules using Authoring tools like Articulate.

This means that during the entire Project Life Cycle (PLC), an ID plays a gamut of roles beginning with that of a BA and ending with content writing and sometimes developing. I had to write it down to visualize the span. And I have not even ventured into the depths of design thinking that an ID should understand to be able to effectively represent the content in a multimedia format.

In short then, an ID’s functions involve BA to understanding the concepts of storyboarding during a PLC. And an ID typically begins her/his career with storyboarding and climbs up gradually as s/he gains an understanding of all the different tasks and duties involved.

Can anyone become an ID?
Yes, they can provided they are willing to go through the steps, provided they have a passion for learning.

An ID’s role entails certain characteristics:
  • Have a questioning mind--ask about the learners, the need for the course, the organization's need, about the content, about anything and everything that is remotely connected to the training...
  • Be observant--learn to see the underlying meaning and hear the unsaid, unstated needs when talking to learners, client, project managers...
  • Be analytical--when going through content, needs analysis, organization's goals and business needs...
  • Be empathetic--think from the other person's it the learner, the graphic designers, project managers, and most importantly, the client...
  • Be meticulous and diligent--capture and reflect all observations and analysis in the training programs...
  • Have a strong understanding of instructional strategies--think of the learners taking the course...learners who are super busy professionals and make the course easy for them using the right instructional strategies...
  • Be willing to learn and change and own up to mistakes--this requires no qualifier.

Should IDs be called by some other name?
Probably yes; Instructional Designs are sets of theories that are applied to create sound learning experiences. The role is essentially an amalgamation of BA, and L&D, and Human Capital Management functions. Maybe, it’s time to rename instructional designers to Learning and Development Facilitators Consultants/Strategists. What say?

Go through the slide share:

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...