Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Week's Learning #1

Following Harold Jarche's example of Friday's Finds, I thought where better to collate and synthesize my week’s learning from Twitter than on my blog. Here’s the first of the series...

@jhagel: The paradox of organization - @davegray: paradox fuels power to rethink, reframe, and see more than one side of things http://bit.ly/1rEX1vU
“For example, an organization must have a way to attract and retain members, or it will cease to exist. At the same time it must constrain people’s behavior, or it won’t be able to get anything done. This means any organization has the oxymoronic goal of being an attractive prison.”

@charlesjennings: The role and value of learning content is changing. (article in TIQuarterly) @TrainingIndustr #learning #training http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/trainingindustry/tiq_2014fall/#/10
“The role and relative value of learning content is changing fast… A second driver for a new use of content is the jettisoning of the idea that training is primarily about knowledge transfer. It is not. Training is primarily about “enabling to do.”
@Forbes: What it takes to create a strong corporate culture: http://onforb.es/1shII2f

@edutopia: Growth Mindset, Jedi edition: http://edut.to/1sWB33V . #Pinterest #YodaWisdom

@socialmediaweek: "@iZoliswa: #QuoteOfTheDay 'Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories. #SMWJHB #SMW14"

@kaushikcbasu: When at last you meet a man with solutions to all your problems, the chances are you've met a man who doesn't know the meaning of solution.

@kaushikcbasu: "Same law for all" is no guarantee of fairness. A law that prohibits all from sleeping on park benches is clearly not targeted at the rich.

@kaushikcbasu: Those who say that a more equal world would be boring don't realize that the bottom 90% of the world would give anything for that boredom.

@AbhijitBhaduri: When CEOs tells HR to learn the "language of the business" why does it includes everything except people issues. #SHRMI14

@Josh_Bersin: How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Very important read. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/ … #diversity #HR @sciam
“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another's perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”
@Forbes: When you're really learning, you're going to be a novice: http://onforb.es/XoPBRl
“And becoming comfortable in that situation – staying curious and open and continuing to explore and improve – that’s the essence of real learning.” 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

#SHRMI14 - Post 1: Ashok Alexander – Leadership Lessons from the Field

SHRMI14 was all that I thought it would be. The two-day conference had well-chosen and thoughtfully sequenced sessions. I am planning to capture my learning and the insights in a series of posts. 

I will begin with the session that resonated with me and touched me the most. It was Ashok Alexander's session on Leadership from the Field. Former Director of McKenzie, Ashok narrated his life changing decision when he chose to work with Gates Foundation on the Avahan project, a public health initiative to prevent HIV/AIDS from gaining epidemic stature in India. After heading he operation for 10 years, he stepped down in 2013 and currently engaged with CARE India

At the SHRMI14 session, he narrated his foray into the community of sex-workers and the third India this showed him—an India where stark and despairing poverty drove women to sell their bodies not once but multiple times each day, where young boys suffering from AIDS knew and accepted imminent death, where violence was the norm. This world shattered all his known frames of reference and his prior assumptions. Thus began his transformation. Here is a version of the talk on You Tube. He captures one such story in the blog post Leadership Secrets of the Commercial Sex Worker

In the course of the talk, I asked him what had been his most profound moment of truth. And he said that it happened when one of the women asked him to free them from violence. It was a defining moment of truth for him. And, he was encountering challenges way beyond his known world. A project that had been started with the aim to empower public health and tackle the imminent threat of AIDS became a much larger movement. In an engaging but self-effacing style, Ashok narrated his humbling experience where he learnt that he didn't have all the answers, and didn't necessarily know what to do. And this profound insight taught him some of the fundamentals of leadership. To the question, “What is leadership?” he writes: 
“I have learnt that leaders are not born –they emerge from discontinuous circumstances. A leader is someone driven by a sense of noble purpose. A leader serves. She has courage. And she always has hope.”
Ashok's humble narration style further underscored the enormity of the impact. He highlights the folly of presumption and pride of knowledge. He speaks eloquently and evocatively about the plight of a third India that lies conveniently beyond the comfort zone of our daily sanitized life, ignored and hurriedly bypassed if accidentally encountered.  This India taught him and through him us, lessons in life and leadership that we don’t acquire in the most elite of B-Schools. 

He crystallized the leadership lessons in a few key phrases: 
“Take a leap of faith. Have audacious dreams. Have courage. Face problems with all the humility we can summon.” 
Perhaps the most profound learning for me was his reference to the Theory of Discontinuity. In the context of choices, these are opportunities that life offers us to make lateral shifts, the moments when we must choose opportunities which we know will shift our paradigms and destroy our comfort zones forever. It is in these opportunities that lie the possibilities for personal growth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MOOCs: Forging Diversity and Innovation

The world of education, workplace learning, talent development – in short anyone and everyone connected with learning in some way – are talking, debating, evaluating, exploring, and generally trying to wrap their brains around this phenomenon called MOOCs. It’s now a given that MOOCs are here to stay. It’s becoming evident that despite the high dropout rates, critiques of being elitist and accessible to only a handful, and other similar drawbacks, MOOCs have becoming firmly entrenched in the collective psyche of the academia as well as workplace learning.

IMHO, MOOCs, apart from opening up a much-needed debate around the current structure of education and giving the academic world a good shake, has untapped and unexplored potentials. MOOCs by virtue of being open and online bring together a diverse set of people around a common topic. And as we have been seeing time and again, diversity is the cornerstone of innovation. If society and educators can get the model right, MOOCs have a very high potential to forge connects and facilitate collaboration among widely diverse sets of individuals at a global level.

Here’s an illuminating article by Scott Page called Diversity Powers Innovation. There’s a paragraph that talks about diversity, not of color and language, but of thought: “Diversity usually calls to mind differences in race, gender, ethnicity, physical capabilities, and sexual orientation—social or political differences that at first glance have little to do with innovation. Yet the key to innovation, in economic terms, resides inside the heads of people, the more diverse the better.”

MOOCs with their core course supported by a discussion forum offer a unique opportunity for diverse minds to come together around a common theme. While the current focus is on how many individuals are completing the MOOCs they enroll in, how many are being certified and if organizations are willing to recognize and reward a MOOC certification, what if the focus was to shift. How would a discussion forum in a MOOC evolve if participants were asked to share their individual perspectives on the topic, to think as widely as possible? I agree that for discussions to have both width and depth in any meaningful manner, the facilitators would need to be skilled at conducting debates and discussions online, encourage participation and cull out hidden voices; but that lies in the realm of implementation.

Right now, I am thinking “what if”...

Given that MOOCs have the ability to bring together global participants, can they move to the next level to induce and inspire innovative thoughts and discussions? MOOCs break down – at least to some extent – the economic and regional barriers. Unlike universities where strict entrance criteria filter out aspiring students, MOOCs do not have such filtering mechanism. Moreover, because the filtering mechanism in most universities operate at a cognitive level, they automatically filter out learners with different abilities thus moving a step closer to removing diversity – maybe not of color, race or religion – but of thought. Unless we consider the access to technology or lack thereof as a filter, which it of course is. Would it be too much of a stretch to say that many universities, unless consciously aware, can become an echo chamber and foster homophily instead of diversity?

Devoid of specific filtering out mechanisms, MOOCs have the advantage of being more democratic than most universities. And as such, welcoming to a wider variety of individuals. Can MOOCs then lay the ground for innovation? If the fear is that online communities can’t innovate, and individuals must be in the same space to have truly meaningful discussions and work together, the creation of Linux by denies that claim. It showed how passionate people can come together online and make innovative breakthroughs. In this context, The Art of Community by Jono Bacon is a must read.

I believe MOOCs have the latent possibility to create strong communities, not only individual learners. Rather than only exploring how MOOCs can benefit individuals, if the focus were to shift to how MOOCs can cultivate communities across various disciplines, get people to create together, and bring to bear the power of diversity, we would perhaps see a dramatic shift. MOOCs are an outcome of the post-industrial era and are a representation of a profound shift in outlook. MOOCs, empowered by the principles of Connectivism, came into being to leverage the power of ubiquitous connectivity, the collaborative capacity, and to offer individuals a way to customize their own learning experience through participation, sharing and peer-to-peer learning. All of these laid the foundation for a democratized, pull-based learning model with the learner at the center. 

These same qualities can be used to enable communities to flourish. Such communities will be based on cognitive diversity and passion for learning. Scott Page distinguished between cognitive and identity diversity in his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Cognitive diversity is a necessity when dealing with complex problems. And in a world beset with complex challenges and a need for innovative and creative output, fostering and enabling cognitive diversity to flourish is critical.

MOOCs offer a great platform for fostering, engendering and enabling cognitive diversity

Friday, September 12, 2014

Revisiting My Learning Journey on Social Media

On my way to office today, I was pondering about my evolving use of social media. Six years have passed since I joined Twitter in 2008, when twitter was in its infancy, and I was clueless about its use. In hindsight I realize how immensely lucky I was to have stumbled onto the learning network I did. I got to learn from the experts – individuals who were charting the path and devising ways to use the tool as an avenue for learning, sharing and innovating – building a strong global community of learning professionals. Here’s my heartfelt thanks to people like @janebozarth, @janehart, @hjarche, @jaycross, @charlesjennings, @jeanmarrapodi, and many more for generously sharing their learning and experience and for changing the face of learning – for individuals and organizations. As I see colleagues and friends and peers still struggling to comprehend how to use social media for “learning” and often expressing skepticism, I thought I’d share my journey in brief. This is also a journey back in time for me to trace my own learning pathway through the maze called social media. I hope my journey will encourage others like me to embark on this path. 

I stumbled across twitter quite by accident or should I say serendipity. It was perhaps a case of opportunity meeting the prepared mind. Just prior to that, I had finished reading Jay Cross’ Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance and was primed to explore new ways of learning. Needless to say when I found the same person on Twitter, I was part excited and part overawed. I lurked and waited. I observed the interactions. I followed the links being shared. I read avidly hoping to reach a level where I would be able to contribute or at least understand part of what was going on. Driven by curiosity and a deep desire to learn, I entered a wondrous world. It was equivalent to an online library being personally curated for me by some of the best learning curators and designers. I found out who followed whom and started following some of the people. I didn’t know then that I was building my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and that it would change how I learned and thought forever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Twitter and my growing PLN contributed to what became transformative learning for me. And I guess this was the Seeking time for me (if I were to map my journey onto Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share Framework).

I discovered the blogs of several of the people mentioned above and was amazed by the power of the platform – a free tool to share thoughts, ideas and get feedback and inputs. I started blogging—albeit very tentatively. It took me a while to realize that blogging is not about other people – unless you are blogging to market something. Blogging is one of the most critical and powerful personal learning and reflection tool. Just like I am blogging now to delve into how I’ve learned from social media and my PLN. Here’s a link to my first ever blog post called Games in Corporate Training written at a time when most organizations thought that gamification in corporate training was a sacrilege. While the post leaves much to be desired from the point of view of analysis, knowledge and maturity, it’s still a critical part of my learning journey. No one tweeted it. And I didn’t have a Share option on my blog then. It looked very different then from what it does now. It was the March of 2009, and I have completed 5 years of blogging this year. Blogging took me to the next stage of the framework – Sensing. I started to analyze, assimilate and connect the disparate dots – things were beginning to make sense.  

Sometime later, I stumbled on to my first ever online learning community, #lrnchat. Little did I know then the influence that it’d have over me. I think it was one of those days when I was just lurking on twitter (as had become my habit), and I saw a series of tweets with the hashtag #lrnchat stream past. I didn’t know what was happening but found that clicking the hashtag showed me all the tweets related to it. I sat through the entire one hour and found out that this “phenomenon” took place at a fixed time and day every week. Intrigued, I was back the next week and the week after and the following week... Again unknown to me, I was following the classic behavior of a community member going from lurking to participating to contributing to lurking again. All that l learned here, I took back to my work. I started to view elearning and instructional design through different lenses. I felt empowered. Such is the power of a learning network and community. Here’s an old post from one of my early #lrnchat days: An Impromptu #lrnchat. It was an exciting time. I saw everyone contributing in the community, and understood the importance of Sharing.

When I trace the path back, I can very clearly plot my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) approach. But that’s only in retrospection. Here’s an old post on the various learning tools I used way back in 2010. Some of the tools are no longer in existence. But they facilitated my learning journey when they did exist.

Since then, I have learned to curate, filter, aggregate, save and share. I consciously follow people who I trust and who become my curators. I use different curating and aggregation tools like paper.li to share content. Today, my list of social media tools—apart from Twitter and my blog—includes Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and occasionally, Tumblr. I'm still trying to streamline my sources. I want to avoid the trap of homophily, and try to keep my sources as diverse as possible. However, that seems to be becoming increasingly difficult as we keep receiving “more of the same” kind of content with the web acting as a giant curator. I am not sure if I want everything “irrelevant” filtered out automatically…but that is a topic for another post. 

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...