Mobile Accesible eLearning

Cautions to Learning Professionals Implementing Social Media from the Facebook Brouhaha (Part 1)

If you’re not a frequent user of Facebook or plugged into the stream of technology buzz, you may not even know there is a Facebook Brouhaha. Though recently, even mainstream media has picked up the story. I think the situation bears watching because it can be instructive for building and deploying your own social learning or knowledge management systems.

So, just what is the fuss all about? The long and short of it is that, Facebook has, over the past several months, been changing the way it makes the information you post on Facebook available to others. When Facebook started out, one of the things that separated it from MySpace and other internet-sharing sites was that anything you shared on Facebook was private and could only be seen by people you had agreed to let view your information as a “Friend.” This created an environment where many people felt comfortable posting pictures, videos, and updates about themselves and their family.

Now that Facebook has over 500 million users, it is looking to expand how it uses that information you share. Now from a business perspective, Facebook is looking for ways to generate more revenue from your content. It also is making it the default setting that everything you post is now public, unless you dig through the privacy settings and manually make things private. Just how convoluted is this process to protect your information? Well, all recently published a post on the 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. That’s right TEN settings you have to manually review and adjust to keep control over who sees your content!

These changes have created quite a stir (or brouhaha) among the technorati, some going so far as to start online campaigns to get people to cancel their Facebook accounts. (This, by-the-way, is not an easy feat to accomplish and even if you cancel they keep an archive of the content you have shared.) Two senators have even called for Senate investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices. And four enterprising young New York University students have raised over $100,000 for their plan to build an open-source Facebook replacement.

Now the problem with these calls to cancel your Facebook account, or switch to another platform, is those 500 million or so Facebook users. These create a nearly overwhelming pressure to use Facebook. If all of your friends, family and network are using Facebook to stay up-to-date, share the latest baby photos, and organize events, then if you aren’t on Facebook, you are out in the cold. This social network pressure probably will allow Facebook to blissfully continue on with its practice of unilaterally changing its social contract with its users with impunity.

So what are these cautions mentioned in the headline? Well, there are probably a number of them, but as it relates to developing and deploying social learning tools inside organizations there are two that I would like to suggest. I’ll discuss one here and the second in a follow-up post.

Caution 1: Be careful with the social contract that you create with contributors and users of your system. Unlike traditional classroom training programs or even elearning or mobile learning programs, the success (and possible failure) of a social learning or knowledge management system lies in the hands of the users and contributors. In traditional or even cutting edge training programs, the designers and developers carefully craft the content and experience to maximize the likelihood of achieving the course objectives. This means that, while a learner may value and even use the material taught, they don’t develop a sense of ownership for it. The ownership lies with the developers, and possibly a small group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Contrast this to the social learning environment where the contributors of content have a real sense of ownership.

This ownership of content is where the caution lies in changing your social contract with users. Facebook’s original distinction was “your content belongs to you and you control who you share it with.” Their recent privacy setting changes have stood this implied contract on its head, and that is what has generated such a fire-storm.

The lessons for us in the social learning space?

a) Think carefully about how the system you are developing not only is going to be used today, but also what it might evolve into in the future.

b) Be sure to let your users know up-front how their contributions will be used now and possibly in the future.

c) If you do make a significant use change, give the user some control over how this use change impacts their contributions. (One of Facebook’s big mistakes is that the new “share publicly” setting is the default setting unless you manually go in and change it.)

d) Make opt-in rather than opt-out the norm. For example, after six months you might decide to implement an emailed digest of contributions to groups at the end of each day. If I am a member of eight different groups, I just got eight new emails (that I didn’t specifically ask for) in my inbox. Rather than have this type of thing “just happen” and require actions on the users part to avoid, make it opt-in. Again, give the user/contributor control.

Changes to the user contract is just one of the cautions that this Facebook dustup has brought to mind. In my next post, I’ll explore the ones that Facebook having 500 million users bring to mind.

Managers Do Still Make a Difference

The point of all training provided by an organization is to improve people’s performance on the job. For this to happen, employees must use what they have learned when they are working. In their 1992 book, Transfer of Training, Mary Broad and John Newstrom evaluate the impact of three key resources on skills application – the facilitator/designer of the training, the trainee, and the trainee’s manager. Their analysis showed that the largest contributor to whether people actually use what they learn on the job is the manager. And the biggest factor was not what the manager did after the training (like coaching) but what the manager did before the training occurred.

Since Broad and Newstrom’s work was conducted nearly twenty years ago, and there have been a lot of innovations in how we deliver training, including eSimulations, virtual classroom, social learning, and mobile, I was curious to ponder whether  the role of the manager in learning transfer has changed?

Based on a three-year study of over 10,000 learners by KnowledgePool, not that much. Their research shows that “where learners receive line manager support, 94% go on to apply what they learned”.  Apparently, managers do still make a key difference

The question this raises for me is, as we move to more “bite-size” and ubiquitous training through social and mobile learning, how do we continue to ensure that we tap into this critical resource to ensure learning gets transferred? As stated above, Broad and Newstrom’s work indicated that what a manager does before the training session occurs is even more critical to learning transfer than what they do afterwards.

In 1991-92 its very likely that a manager would have had significant opportunity to interact with the trainee before a training session, if nothing more than to ensure there was coverage for their absence to attend a class. Even if the training was offered via elearning, it is likely the manager was aware of when the employee was going to take a particular course.

Now jump to today (and even more so into the near future). The trainee may be just as likely to complete a 5-10 minute mobile learning session while waiting in line at the cafeteria or bank drive-thru. Or perhaps, they’ve spent part of their lunch time browsing through recent postings in their favorite Community of Practice portal. Will the manager even know that they have engaged in learning? It may be that self initiated training like this will consistently have a high transfer of learning, but I think we are failing our clients if we don’t continue to find ways to engage managers and tap into the impact they have in ensuring that what is learned gets used on the job. Just as we are developing new and innovative ways to deliver training, we will need to find new and innovative ways for manager involvement.

Web 2.0 Learning – Is Now the Time?

Many people predicted and blogged that 2010 would be the year that Social Learning and other Web 2.0 technologies really take off in the training space. And it may turn out that they are right. Certainly the technologies are maturing, and gaining more widespread acceptance by vast numbers of people outside the workplace. I find myself wondering however, is now really the time?

Now you may rightly ask, how could this not be the time? After all if Facebook were a country it would rank as one of the top five largest countries in the world. And you can rightly point out that even local TV newscasts, much less CNN and Fox News, are constantly urging you to follow them on Twitter. Good points, I admit.

What’s got me wondering is a recent post by John Cook, math professor and programmer, on “just in case” learning versus “just in time” learning. He makes the argument that programmers are generally more interested in just in time learning, or finding the knowledge or solution to a particular need right when you need it. Certainly, Twitter, Yammer, social networks and other Web 2.0 technologies can help provide this type of learning, often very efficiently.

Cook makes the case that “just in case” learning is equally important. He uses algebra as his example. If you never learned it, you would never seek to learn it “just in time” because you wouldn’t recognize the need. I know that many of the programs that I have designed have a large “just in case” component. Take Emotional Intelligence as an example. Until you are exposed to the concepts and the resulting shift in your worldview, how do you ever recognize the potential need to learn it “just in time?”

And here’s where I get worried about the excitement and drive to Web 2.0 technologies as “the answer” for cost effective training — many of these technologies require the learner to take the initiative to engage in the dialogue, develop a learning community, explore the network, etc. In other words, it asks more of the learner than more traditional classroom or even elearning sessions. Not in terms of engagement with the material, but more to initiate the learning in the first place.

Many of the people I talk with are working with a fearful and even disengaged workforce due to concerns about the economy and actions their company is or has taken because of it. This is not an atmosphere that seems very conducive to asking them to take more responsibility and initiative to engage in new learning opportunities and methods. This is especially true if the learning will be more developmental (or just in case) rather than “here’s how to accomplish the task in front of you” (or just in time). Most people are already taking on additional responsibilities as organizations are running lean. And while they may find it relaxing and even refreshing to use Facebook and Twitter to keep in contact with friends and family, are they willing to take on more in the workplace?

There are many examples of great technologies becoming available that failed for lack of a market. Is the market of corporate learners ready to buy these new ways of learning?

What do you think?

Developing a SixthSense for Mobile Learning

I recently wrote about Augmented Reality (AR) and some intriguing possibilities in mobile learning. Some folks at MIT are working on a technology that could have dramatic implications for mobile learning and information retrieval.

They call it SixthSense.

Demoed in a TED presentation Pranav Mistry has created an inexpensive wearable system that can project information about real world objects onto any surface. While most current AR implementations require you to pull out your phone, or wear a Heads Up Display (HUD) device, Mistry’s invention is worn around the neck and thus always accessible.  The implications of this really have to be seen to grasp the possibilities.

The real magic of the system however is in the programming that allows you to interact with real world objects. Imagine this type of device being used in a manufacturing facility or lab. Since it’s a personal device, it will know who you are. As you approach a piece of machinery it could instantly access your records and note that it had been 6 months since you last worked on this type of equipment and offer a quick refresher training. Or perhaps, since it would know if you were a new employee, provide a just in time briefing on its safe operation.

I also can imagine it being very useful for teamwork and collaboration. I know many of my best ideas have been sketched out on the back of a napkin while at lunch with a client. With SixthSense we could easily turn the entire table into an instant whiteboard to share and capture our ideas.

I believe that developments like SixthSense, and other Augmented Reality options for accessing information at the point of need, will accelerate the move from training by courses to discrete just-in-time learning experiences. For years authors have been writing about the need to be a life-long learner in the rapidly changing work environment. When technologies like SixthSense become ubiquitous, I don’t know that we will be talking anymore about life-long learning. The distinction between doing and learning will disappear, as the doing becomes the learning.

What do you think?

Why I’m Excited About the iPad

After months of rumor, speculation and hype, Apple finally revealed its latest (and greatest?) new product, the iPad. Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on one, but I’m most excited about the possibilities of incorporating it into Blueline’s client solutions.

Many bloggers in the elearning space have already written about its use in mobile learning. And clearly it provides a more robust platform for mobile learning than the current smartphones. With its large screen, fast processor, ability to handle HD video, and full web browser (minus Flash, of course), it overcomes many of the restrictions associated with mobile devices.

In case, you’ve just returned from a lunar expedition and have not already been inundated with information about the iPad, here is a link to Apple’s demo of it. While I’m sure we will be developing new mobile learning applications for the iPad, I’m equally excited about how it can enhance our other custom solutions.

In this post I explore how we might enhance Blueline’s programs that utilize a learning visual.

learning-visualFrequently we are asked if we can put one of our Learning Visuals or Blueline Blueprints‘ online. And while I have adapted some learning visuals for use on the computer for refresher training or information access after a classroom session, I have never been totally satisfied with the overall user experience. In the live classroom session, you can see the overall visual, point out content to team members, focus on the parts that are relevant to the current discussion, and easily scan for the information you need. On the computer screen this process of scanning, zooming and focusing becomes a cumbersome process of using the view menu to enlarge the image, dragging the image around the screen, zooming back out to scan, then zooming back in, dragging to just the right piece of information, then scrolling through it. Whew — makes me tired just thinking about it!  And to this point it hasn’t proven to be as immersive or as effective as working with the table-size visual in the classroom. Of course, the other approach is to chop the visual up into small segments that fit on the screen when enlarged — again not elegant or as effective.

Now, if the Blueprint visual is being experienced on the iPad, you will still need to zoom, drag, and focus.  But with Apple’s touch and multi-gesture interface, using your finger to drag the image or quickly swipe across it to the area you need, or pinching it to zoom in and out, the learner’s experience will seem much more intuitive and thus immersive. This level of physical engagement mirrors the physical engagement that we often see in the classroom — in which people use their fingers to trace a path along a visual or touch certain graphical elements as they are reading the accompanying data.

But even more exciting to me are the possibilities for enhancing the classroom experience. The iPad offers new and engaging ways to augment the already powerful learning experience offered though the use of our Blueline Blueprints. In fact, several immediate opportunities came to mind as I watched Apple’s announcement.

One of the challenges with a team of 4 to 6 people sharing a table-size visual is making sure that everyone is able to see all of the details from where they are sitting. Now, if in addition to the table visual, everyone also had the visual on an iPad, they could quickly and easily zoom into any part of the visual as it was being discussed.

Another design challenge we face is finding the right font size that allows us to provide the rich depth of data desired on the visual, while still enabling those, who like me, have reached the bi-focal stage of life, to see it clearly. Again, zooming could help with this, but even more exciting is Apple’s new interface element called: pop-overs. With this technology we could easily overlay a full text case study on the visual that is easily readable.

ipadBut more than just addressing some of the physical challenges, the iPad also provides an elegant way to make the learning visual experience truly multi-media. Imagine a Blueprint that is being used to introduce a new sales model or product line. At points throughout the experience, the learners touch a point on the visual on the iPad and an embedded video of a customer starts playing.  Another possibility is live polling, in which the learners touch a section of the visual on their iPads and a poll pops-up in which everyone votes on a question or topic. The results are then instantly available to the team for discussion and review. The visual could also contain embedded links to additional information available on the company’s website or knowledge management portal. And if the iPads belonged to the learner, rather than being part of the classroom equipment, they could have a live, collaborative, note-taking element, in which learners create their own personal record of their experience that is tied directly to the visual on their iPad, thus providing a powerful anchor back to the entire learning experience.

Just as the iPhone opened the door for developers to create whole new categories of apps, I believe over the next couple of years, we will see whole new approaches to enhancing training delivery being stimulated by the iPad and the inevitable clones it stimulates.

What ideas do you have for the iPad and your training solutions? Let’s share the journey together.