2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Activate Learning Solutions is Moving!

 

 

Well the time has come for me to have my own domain name and I will transfer this WordPress site to a WordPress.Org site (let’s see how that goes) on www.activatelearning.com.au over the coming days.

Please feel free to follow me there.  Thank you for reading my blog!

Helen

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How To Pitch The Value of Personal Learning Networks to a CEO – Wise or Folly?

After four weeks of participating in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks cMOOC, it has come to this.

Our pitch to the CEO on the value of personal learning networks.  In fact, through the various readings, discussion and activities of the previous three weeks, we have been building up to this point to undertake the following activity:

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

First Thoughts

My first thoughts when I read this paragraph was that this is going to be a simple task. When you believe in something, it’s not hard to influence others to see what you’re seeing. Or is it? My second thought was that we have a full hour with the CEO.  Usually it takes a long time to get into their diary and set up a meeting so with a full hour with them, it indicates that they’ve taken this topic seriously and really want to hear what you have to say.

My Worlds Collide

While participating in this cMOOC, there were things happening in my real life at work that linked the theory of what we were learning to the real life practicalities of working in a corporate environment.  For example, I was invited to be a part of a working group to inspire more users of our division onto Yammer (I think mainly inspired because of what I did at the People Day event) and secondly, every day I would have requests from people to “ask your networks what I knew about x and y” or “what do your networks say about a, b and c“.

That is, word was getting out there that I was someone who was connected.  I can get answers for the questions they were asking quickly.

Something didn’t sit right with me with that.

All of a sudden what was my PERSONAL learning network, the network that I built, created, maintained, nurtured and trusted could be up for exploitation by others who don’t have any.

So this assignment wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. If PLNs were going to be used in the organisation like this, why would I want to share mine with others?

Now I was considering doing a runner.

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Go on. You knew there would have been a BitStrips cartoon in my blog post somewhere.

A Supportive PLN and G+ Community Understood The Dilemma

We discussed this concept with a small group of participants on the Explorer Personal Learning Networks MOOC. You can see it here.

The group debated the following questions:

  • Why does the CEO in our problem want to leverage PLNs?
  • Why does he/she think PLNs will help with company success?
  • Why do we think we need to place a structure on PLNs?
  • Why are some organizations successful with internal PLNs?
  • Why do other organizations fail?

What transpired was robust conversation to structure our thinking and make a logical case (whether for or against) on the value of personal learning networks.

So What Did I Do?

I came to the conclusion that I had to look at the organisation and its leaders and see how ready it was for social learning.  That is, it was obvious that the CEO may have thought that this was either going to be another fad or simply, a technological solution that needed to be implemented to get people to be social.

My aim was to dispel these myths and tackle the organisational culture first.  

So in effect, I’m not presenting a case either FOR or AGAINST personal learning networks, simply pointing to the current organisational culture and inspiring a dialogue so that they can see for themselves whether they are ready or not for this cultural shift.

I saw my role as someone who presented the facts that got them thinking and reflecting. I wanted them to see what they had to do for themselves.

Maybe I could guide them through the process but they had to make the hard decisions for themselves because I wanted them to see that they had a major role to play.

This was not something that they could mandate.

I created a fictional corporation called Personal Banking Corporation (and no, it’s nothing like the organisation I’m working for) and decided present slides to the CEO and the Leadership Team with the themes:

  • Where we are today
  • Where we want to be tomorrow
  • Define Peer Networks
  • View a Personal Learning Networks video
  • View a personal story of how a peer network helped colleagues in their lines of work
  • Use an example of a business problem and how we could solve it if we used a peer network and without (and present data and findings). This is where I used my recent example of how I asked my PLN to provide me with any sources on onboarding and induction programs for my job.
  • Talk them through Harold Jarche’s post on the Knowledge Sharing Paradox and Seek, Sense, Share Model
  • Spend some time looking at why peer networks will have its challenges with the current organisational structure – note how my first dot point is that “knowledge sharing is explicitly stated as a core enterprise behaviour” (I wanted to call this slide: “Why Peer Networks Will Fail at PBC” but thought it was too hard-hitting as it was self evident from these points that they’d have other things to address first)
  • Open discussion on slides presented so that CEO and leadership team can see for themselves that it’s not as simple as they thought.

 

What Are The Tactics I Used?

First of all, I decided to call them “Peer Networks” – I removed the word “learning” as my intention was to remove any preconceived ideas about learning.  I wanted to create a sense that it was just “part of the way we do business – in the workflow”.

Calling it out may have put negative connotations into their minds.  I also didn’t want it to have any connection with the Learning & Development department for fear of them having the concept packaged into a programmed event, formalised, structured, implemented, measured and evaluated.

Also, my assumption was that I was speaking to a CEO and a Leadership Team who were “Cautious Testers”, people who are “pessimistic but understand the need to collaborate because they can see the benefits of involving a greater circle of people.  These people don’t have much hands-on experience with social technologies, but they have some – enough to see the advantages of open leadership, but not quite enough to abandon their command-and-control practices” (1)

Secondly, I decided to use personal stories of people in my PLN.  I asked both Jasmine Malki (@JMalki) and Costas Sotidis (@LearnKotch) to video their personal experiences of how a PLN helped them in their respective role.  I thought personal stories of people outside the organisation would be believable and make them see that this is happening everywhere.

Costas, in particular focusses on the need to nurture, respect and share in order to maintain and retain a personal learning network because in doing so, we help with different ideas and alternative options in our new roles as knowledge workers.  He makes it clear that PLNs are something that we all have – not just the few.

How PLN has helped your role by Jasmine Malki (@JMalki)

How PLN has helped your role by Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch

Thirdly I decided to use a real business problem to explain how peer networks may help in solving them.  In particularly, I used my current role as a developer of Induction programs.  I am in the process of designing a new Induction Program for Store Managers and I asked the question to my PLN on whether they had an good sources of on-boarding and induction programs.  I wrote about it in my blog post Exploring Personal Learning Networks To Help Me in My Job.

I wanted to demonstrate two methods of gaining responses and information.  In the traditional way, we may have generated a survey, collated responses, measured the data and written reports that may have been costly and taken time to develop.  However with social media, we get instant feedback, personal stories, real life examples, people offering other connections, resources and networks – the interaction is richer and provides dialogue and conversations to occur that generate new and alternative ideas that we may not have considered for our induction problem.

In effect, as Maureen Crawford said in her blog, “the strength of a PLN is that nonlinear interactions and engagement results in emergent competence that is distributed across the network”. (2)

Fourthly, I wanted to add the current organisational cultural challenges into the mix so that they could see that there was a disconnect between a networked organisation and an organisation that did not value sharing and collaboration and provided examples such as:

  • Knowledge sharing isn’t explicitly stated as an enterprise behaviour
  • Senior leaders don’t use Yammer
  • Technology does not allow access to external social media sites
  • High turnover of staff in many areas raises questions of why would anyone want to share when they know they’ll be leaving?

The aim of these challenges is to get the CEO to think that there’s a disconnect and that he/she needs to address organisational culture first before becoming a networked organisation.

And it starts with the CEO.

Lastly, I added the last slide because I envisaged that the hour would have bamboozled the CEO and the Leadership Team with a quiet realisation like the one I had at the start of this assignment, “it’s not as easy as I thought”.

The intention was to generate discussion and come up with some ideas to work on the organisational culture first, to discuss what they themselves were prepared to give up or not – and to question their role in the entire process.

Where To From Here?

Although this MOOC has still one week to go before it finishes, I have found it to be valuable and worthwhile in my learning because I could directly apply it to my daily work. Connectivist MOOCs have been one the most instrumental and critical personal development activities I’ve ever completed but I think it’s because I’m a self-directed and willing learner.

If people in organisations could be more like this, we wouldn’t be answering the question, “what’s the value of personal learning networks.”

Recently, it seems my online and real life worlds are colliding.

I sit in a role of “Design Consultant Induction Programs” but I’m being called upon to use my other skills in the social learning space to teach others in the organisation how to use the technology to create and build learning networks.

Many of these requests are coming from outside my own Learning and Development function because I’m active on Yammer.

Last week, I applied for an internal role in our organisation called “Future Skills Strategy Capability”.  I saw it as an opportunity to be in a role that could shape the skills and capabilities needed for a workforce to face the future.

I guess in the new world of organisational change, I’m trying to see where I ‘best fit’ – maybe there is no fit anymore?

The problem is I don’t have experience in this nor have I shaped strategy in previous organisations.  All I had to go by is my own application, experience and actions I have done in the last few years around performance consultancy.

So I needed to make an impact.  I needed to get creative.

I used our company’s recent More Give and Less Take Marketing Campaign to structure an animated video with voice over using photos from our campaign to create “What Do We Need More and Less Of”  and included that in my job application using the application Shadow Puppet to create it.

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My gut tells me I won’t get the job but that’s okay because I’m seeing signs that we’re on the right track.

Why?

Because we are not like the fictitious company in my MOOC assignment.

If you haven’t already seen the RSA Animate Video on The Power of Networks:

Thank you to my PLN:

Thank you to both Jasmine and Con for their support and assistance when I asked them to do these videos for me. It’s hard to believe that over a year ago, our paths had not crossed but with Twitter and by sharing our learning, showing our work and talking about our passion for what we do and how we can inspire others, what started as being part of our own PLN, I can count them as my friends now.  Thank you.

Thank you also to the Google+ community, in particularly our small group in the Explorer Personal Learning Networks cMOOC who bantered, discussed and deliberated ideas for how we would approach our respective CEOs.  

References:

(1)   Christensen, Karen (2012): Open Leadership: A New Paradigm Emerges and Interview with Charlene Li Available at http://hbr.org/product/open-leadership-a-new-paradigm-emerges/an/ROT156-PDF-ENG

(2)  Crawford, Maureen:  Non-Ownership, Outcomes and Competencies Available at http://xplrpln.blogspot.ca/2013/10/non-ownership-outcomes-and-competencies.html

(3)    “Online Jam Spreads Information Mix”, Financial Business Review, 17 April 2013 Available at: http://www.afr.com/p/national/work_space/online_jam_spreads_information_mix_7lcYBbjvqZlH6W8Zydj22I

(4) Kamerer, Eric: Introducing Personal Knowledge Management to a Corporate Audience Learning Solutions Magazine, 30 October 2013.  Available At https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1296/introducing-personal-knowledge-management-pkm-to-a-corporate-audience

(5) Hart, Jane: How Do We Deal with Unwilling Corporate Learners? Available at: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2013/09/22/how-do-we-deal-with-unwilling-corporate-learners/

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Community Learning Programs in Melbourne

Two nights ago after work,  I wandered over to the State Library of Victoria, a place I hadn’t visited for some years.  It was looking a bit worse for wear in my opinion or maybe I was just becoming a grumpy old woman for noticing the dirt and rubbish that side of town.

It was early evening and Melbourne workers were scrambling to get home while students sat on the steps outside the library munching on fast food before they went back in to continue their studies.

A lone seagull desperately flew around the head of one of the statues trying to land on its head.

I was here to attend a Melbourne Knowledge Week panel of people who created start-ups around community learning events called Learning In the City.

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In its fourth year, Melbourne Knowledge Week has various programs and events around the city.  Our city is home to infrastructure and key organisations which are thought to characterise a knowledge city.  You can find out more about it on the website here.

The panel consisted of community learning providers who were all start ups and have been providing learning in some form or another.

photo 2

We Teach Me

I have had the pleasure of connecting with We Teach Me through my work to see if their product can have some corporate application for peer-to-peer learning programs.  The platform allows anyone who has a subject matter expertise to plan, co-ordinate and conduct courses on any topic.  Teachers can use this product to easily create, manage and promote courses.  Similarly, learners can enrol, connect and create their own curriculum of learning based on their own personal needs.

In fact, last night, I did my first We Teach Me Course on Evernote 101 run by Megan Ilema (@Megsamanda) so I guess I not only learned about Evernote but I got to trial We Teach Me dashboard on a real event.

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At the Evernote 101 Workshop playing with Skitch

The Creative Performance eXchange

Peter Spence talked about the events they offer at the Creative Performance eXchange. It’s an inter-generational forum where people talk and share ideas.  Although I hadn’t been to any of these forums, I understood these to be a gathering of people from all walks of life, of all experiences, from a wide industry and background who get together to talk and in so doing, learn from each other.  On the panel, Peter talked about how left brain we all are nowadays and how we have a lot to learn from children, women and the arts.  My understanding of his message that in today’s society we are simply too busy, too structured and focused and as a result we have lost our humanness, creativity and connections.

Laneway Learning 

I chatted with Mark who was one of the founders of Laneway Learning and found that we had a connection over organic chemistry.  We regaled stories of white lab coats, beakers and morphine derivative compounds (Please, no Breaking Bad jokes).  Studying towards a PhD and doing this on top of their studies, they founded this group that runs short after-work classes in Melbourne that are cheap, accessible and by the looks of it, fun.

Although I haven’t done a workshop yet, it’s on my list to do one of these – or even bring along a group of work colleagues one night.  Rather than go for a drink after work at a bar, why not go and do a fun class together?

I complained that I couldn’t get on a 3D printing class online on Twitter and thankfully, they offered another suggestion with The Robots Are Coming.

I was sold on the name. What a brilliant name for the business AND they have a night where you can print Dr Who themed artwork!   I quickly shot an email to my brother, the left brained electrical engineer as something like this would appeal to his nature so now we’re talking about doing a class together!

(The last time we were in school together would have been in primary and high school but I reckon these classes would be a lot more fun than our childhood school days).

School of Life

School of Life “Good Ideas for Everyday Life” is based on Alain de Bottom’s School of Life where you learn how to deal with the hard hitting questions in life.  This scared me admittedly but I know it’s something I will need to face.

Questions like, “How to Have a Better Conversations”, “How to Be Confident”,  “How to Face Death”…yeichs.

School of Life reminds me of the conversations that we have around our family dinner table. They say that one must never talk about sex, politics or religion at the dinner table but it seems that for Greeks this is certainly not the case. Everything is up for grabs and it makes for exciting dinner conversation where people yell, complain, cajole, argue, laugh, cry, moan about these topics over a moussaka and plenty of retsina.  However, somehow I don’t think the School of Life presents their information in such as robust and loud way as I have been accustomed to.  Regardless, they provide a place where people can be comfortable discussing these heavy subjects.

Overall, my main take on this panel and my experience of community learning events is that they provide a great way for people from all backgrounds to get together and learn something new and from each other.  Courses aren’t long, expensive or convoluted. There is no accreditation, certification or qualification.   The factors that made these events popular was that people were learning from each other, they were actually ‘doing something’ and the teachers were passionate.

Stephen Heppell had written about what makes the Best Learning Moments and it seems that community learning events follow these.

Last of all, another start up was mentioned  and they were Smiling Mind . As someone who loves to meditate (simply as a way to calm my mind), we chatted about their product and service which provides mindfulness meditation.

I went home, downloaded their app,  listened to their meditation and promptly fell asleep. Clearly, a real winner for me.

Just so you know, I’m not being paid to mention these products and services – just like to share because they may be of interest to you.

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One Small Step for Us, One Large Step for our Team

This week we had our People Day. Over 400 people across Australia in the Human Resource function travelled to Melbourne to gather and hear our Leadership Team talk about the challenges of the future and how we can work together to face them.  Although I will not go into detail here about what was covered, suffice to say that the key messages were all related to what we read about on the internet everyday.  That is, the impact and speed of which technology has changed the way we work and how we can work with it.  The underlying theme was that change is the new norm and that we don’t have a hefty manual to tell us what and how to do things anymore.

While sitting in the big plenary room, I glanced around me and saw that no one had their devices out. No iPads, no phones, no tablets.  Sure we had paper and pens and some people were scribbling notes but I felt awkward to have my tablet out sketch noting presentations and taking photos.  People looked at me with curiosity wondering why I was bothering taking photos.

Some time ago, I had written a note on Yammer, our organisation’s social networking site on the power of the backchannel and how we could use groups and hashtags to capture internal events and conferences and share these out across our organisation.  Of course, it’s one thing to write about it and another to do it.

I had been thinking about using the hashtag #PeopleDay and sharing my notes on Yammer but as no one was doing the same, an awkwardness overcame me as the ‘odd person out’ and had thoughts such as, “Maybe this isn’t the done thing? Maybe they don’t want this to be shared? Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing by sharing to Yammer? Maybe there are different rules for internal conferences and external conferences?” 

During the morning break, my colleague Paul came to me and asked me if I was going to share my notes on Yammer.  When I told him my concerns, he was feeling the same way. He was the only one on his table, like me, taking notes on his tablet and having strange looks come his way.

I’m sure people thought that we were being rude with our heads down madly tapping at our tablets.

We decided at that point to just ‘do it’. Just post our notes, photos, sketchnotes on Yammer to our team group with the hashtag #PeopleDay and see what transpired.

What did we have to lose?

Besides, the leadership team was espousing knowledge sharing and collaboration.  This was our go ahead to try something different and apply it immediately.

So we started uploading our photos, notes and sketch notes and over the course of the day, we saw that a few others had seen the posts and started commenting on it.  Then, we saw photos being uploaded and amazingly, all tagged with the hashtag!

I was chuffed.  This was a real win for us because it immediately broadened the scope of how Yammer was being used in our division.

Paul and I demonstrated the power of the backchannel by being the first two to start the ‘movement’ and the rest followed.

The next day, we had our Capability Day (our department’s team day) which was much more hands-on, interactive and a lot of fun.  By this stage, people were accepting of us using our tablets to capture what was going on around in the room.  Some people had asked what we were doing and when we told them, they too, contributed their own posts and photos.

However the power of what we had done didn’t reach us until the next day when we were back at our desks.

The head of our department had heard what Paul and I were doing and asked me to send her an email about it as she was keen to learn more.  I wrote the email and explained what a back channel was, how a hashtag is used and how Yammer has helped create a storyline of events, information and posts that would be beneficial for those people who were absent on the day.  I explained the value comes when people contribute their thoughts and reflections past the event and that it is ‘kept alive’ as people are talking about it online.

At the same time, I was glancing at the Yammer page and watching the traffic of people viewing documents and photos in our Group, the stream was too quick. It showed me that people were on Yammer interacting and engaging with the content that was uploaded.

I shot a quick message to Paul to check the traffic in Yammer.  Both of us were like excited little kids because this was a real win for us.

Although we didn’t have the volume of people participating and contributing to the online conversation, we did see that many people viewed the content.  There is a level of ‘fear’ of the use of Yammer and as many people have an online profile, many of them also don’t post anything related to their thoughts or their own work.  We still have a way to go in this sense but at least we have made a step in the right direction.  Once we have our senior leaders also contributing and responding in this tool, then I believe things will change.

In the meantime, I’m still counting this as a win.

We received congratulations from our head of department and our team members….

Yammer1

And now we can say that people know what a back channel is and how it can be used to capture and share information….

Yammer2

As a result of this action, yesterday afternoon, I was approached by the Culture team to work with them and look at how we can use Yammer in sharing our work and yes, the word ‘networks’ was mentioned.

YES! Score! Fist pump!

It looks like people in our team are now curious and want to know more.

Curiosity leads to questioning why we do the things we do.

Questions lead to experimenting with a new way.

Experimentation leads to learning something new.

Learning is then shared.

Networks are created.

We’re on the right path.

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Week 2 of Exploring Personal Learning Networks To Help Me in My Job

This second week of the Exploring Personal Learning Networks cMOOC was about defining Personal Learning Networks – and let me just say, there were LOTS of definitions.  So much so that in all honesty, it confused me because I was getting bogged down in the details trying to grapple with everyone’s definitions, explanations and reflections.  Luckily, however Jeff Merrell then asked us:

“How will you define Personal Learning Networks to your mother?”

Phew. That’s what I needed. Someone to take my hand and pull me out of the murky depths and make it simple enough for me to understand.

Then I had some anxieties.

Crikey, I’d have to explain it in Greek for her to understand.

But then, maybe that’s a positive for me as my Greek isn’t so good.  I’d have to really take it to the basic level of definition.

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This is how I think my definition would have transpired…

All mirth aside I decided to use my PLE to solve a little problem that I came across this week at work.

The intention was two fold:

  • I wanted to get some ideas for the actual project (more creative ideas I would never have thought of myself; and lack of time to develop anything new from scratch – besides I don’t like to do work work on weekends and I had to have my brief to my manager in by 0830 Monday morning)
  • I wanted to use this as an example of a “real life organisational problem and how the PLN added value” for the MOOC assignment where we have to pitch to the CEO.  (I needed real life examples, hard data, testimonials, figures, results…you know ‘tangibles’ )

I was tasked to provide some recommendations around an induction (onboarding) program at our work.  I was not involved in the original brief and the team who had created the induction program were not subject matter experts in learning design or development.  In fact, I got handed the whole induction pack and program and was told to “finish it off and get it out there as quickly as possible” by the client.

The hairs on my arms stood on end when clients tell me this.

I don’t like taking orders.

Luckily my manager supported my view of that we critically review and assess their program and provide recommendations for how it could be improved. We could then seek their support and approval to redesign and develop it in the way that we saw best for the organisation and for the new employee.

When the client describes their working environment and current induction as, “survival of the fittest” I don’t know about you but for me, alarm bells start to ring. She was desperate for this to change – why wouldn’t she be!

But this got me thinking about induction stories and whether there were people in our organisation who had experienced a great onboarding program somewhere. What made their induction memorable? Why?

So I posted the question on Twitter and got a few responses with some links and leads to companies who do it well.  (Thanks to Joyce Seitzinger for mentioning about iPads in induction as I threw an offhand remark about this idea in the meeting about this and they stopped short – you could see their minds thinking about it).

I did a search on Google + and found the same question was asked by Harold Jarche in his post New Hire Practices back in 2011 and there were some great resources there that I could use.  Finally, I put the same question up on Yammer, our internal social networking tool expecting little or no response, but I got 11 responses within the first two days.

One person helped me out even further (and he’s a member of my PLN no less) also did a Yammer tag search on #induction and come up with another 38 different responses when the question was asked two years ago by Simon Terry and posted it up on Yammer for me to see.  So within the space of 2 days, I had an abundance of personal stories, links to companies who do it well and some wonderful ideas to include in the induction program!

Now if that’s not proof of a PLN working to solve a small issue or answer a question, I don’t know what is. There would be no way I could have got the same amount of responses any other way without doing some formal survey and taking a lot longer to design, develop, roll out and collate responses…and not as personal.

This week I also asked a few members of my PLN to create short videos (less than 2 minutes) on how their Personal Learning Network helped them in their role and provide specific organisational examples.  I’ll collate these responses as part of the final assignment pitch and put it up on the blog at a later date.  They form part of the ‘testimonial’ side of the pitch to the CEO because let’s face it – I want to make it personal and social because it’s not always about the numbers and hard data anymore.

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Our First Meet Up with Third Place

All products mentioned in this post are not endorsements, nor are they paying me to say so!

I was looking forward to last Thursday night.  It was going to be the first meet up for a new Meetup group for Melbourne learning professionals.

As an introvert, organising something like this is a big deal for me.  There’s butterflies in my stomach and an unsettling feeling when you just want this to work out.  I’ve planned and managed many different events in the past and the feelings are always the same.  You want to create a relaxing, informal social environment where people feel comfortable to talk and conversation flows.

For a first event, I was happy with the venue at the Royal Melbourne Hotel which has a colourful history. They had cordoned off an area for us with a mix of tables to sit down or stand with your drink. I had envisaged that people were going to mingle but instead, even better, we sat around a table with our drinks and made introductions as everyone came along.  We made our friendly introductions as everyone came over with their drink, made some room for them and started chatting.  I made sure that everyone was involved or involved in the conversations as I didn’t want anyone feeling like they missed out.

It’s funny how you think things will turn out and how they really do.

I introduced the concept of Third Place to everyone initially but then I let the conversation flow because really, I too, just wanted to chat socially and learn about other people. Where are they from? What are they doing? How did they get to where they are today?

The conversation ended up being around the table, that is, with the 9 people there, it was a group discussion.  People found each other’s stories and work lives fascinating because they would be people we would normally not meet in our every day line of work.

It also made us think about how we would have approached the learning solutions if we were in their industry.  So what we propose as a performance solution for one company may not be the right one for another one simply because of the many varying factors – and this was evident that even though we were in the same field of work, our applications were totally different.

There were a couple of freelancers, a couple from universities, other private companies and public sector.  The range of roles was fabulous – from facilitators, eLearning Designers, freelancers, coaches, and a vendor!

We sat enthralled as one guy (who was humorous to boot) as he told the line of work he’s in. He trains employees in the software that is used for anti-corruption, fraud and security.  We listened intently with our jaws agape as he told us the intricate nature of how they scour hard drives and USBs for data in criminal cases and how people don’t realise that imprints are left in our technological devices. You could hear a penny drop.  I’m sure everyone’s minds were ticking over with what personal or secure information is sitting on our devices and how easily it would be to access.

“And no, simply deleting them won’t get rid of it”, he added much to our surprise.

There was a collective “Awww, oh well…” around the table.

There were other stories too but the other thing that connected us were that we were all recently affected by some organisational restructure or a redundancy. This was the norm.

Discussions were varied but I got to talking to the vendor who I was surprised to be there. It’s a start up company called Coffee Who.  Originally when I checked out their website, I couldn’t see the value in its service offering.  How was it different to something like Meetup or simply connecting with someone through Yammer or setting up an appointment in Outlook calendar?

He explained that his software connects people across the organisation.  Say for example, one business unit knows that they don’t have networks or relationships in another part of the business (in the same company).  This software can automatically send coffee meeting notifications out connecting people of those two businesses.  They can then accept the meeting and go for a coffee.  Usually what happens is that they start conversing – a bit about themselves, their work, their business and voila, a connection is made.  After the coffee meeting, the tool generates a few post event questions about the value of that connection.  You can set up as many coffee meetings as you want.  It then provides a visualisation map of the networks created within the organisation – and who has the most networks made.  It can be used for identifying those individuals who have extensive networks and relationships in the business – the “connectors”.

It’s like “business online dating” (My words, not his).

Frankly, I thought the idea was brilliant because sometimes we need a ‘push’ and as an introvert, I wouldn’t know who I need to speak to in the organisation and how to make the connection.  If the tool can support me to do this, I can do the rest simply by face-to-face connection and from there, it gets easier and confidence builds.

I also learned about a couple community learning initiatives.  The first was SkillShare and the second was Melbourne’s Laneway Learning.  This latter initiative is a great idea where if you have something to teach, you share it with others – in a short class that is cheap and fun.  Have a look at what they do…

Why can’t organisational learning be like this?

MOOCs was a big part of the conversation.

Many around the table had heard of them but didn’t know what they were.  The concept seemed nebulous to them. Some people had completed them and had their own stories to tell about how effective they found them to be. Luckily we had Jeevan Joshi from The Learning Cafe Australia there who provided heaps of information and tips. You can listen to his recent webinar on MOOCs for Employee Learning: A Practitioners View below.

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It’s funny how sometimes you imagine the meetup to be and how it transpires.  One of the things I noticed is that no one took out and used their mobile device throughout the meetup.  Instead, people seemed to be deep in conversation that didn’t necessitate breaking the focus with using their phone.  As such, I felt awkward to be the first so the phone stayed in my bag throughout the event.

Reflecting on this though, I saw it as a good thing as it was a measure of engagement in the conversation with real people there in the moment.

Our next event will be another after work drinks at Platform 28 in the Docklands on Thursday 14 November from 5:30pm-7:00pm.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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Random Thoughts on a Wednesday Night – Passion And The Workplace

Passion

For those who know me, know I don’t sit still. My mind is always ticking over with something, making plans, organising something or experimenting with some new app or software.

Even quiet times at work you’ll find me reading articles, commenting in blogs, participating in tweet chats, doing MOOCs, listening to TED talks, podcasts or webinars. Anything to keep my mind active.

For me, the uncertain and anxious times in-between organisational restructures are perfect opportunities for professional development. But I’ve been noticing a trend over the recent years.  I seem to be having lots of professional development.

Why let all this wasted time make me unproductive? I may as well put it to good use and tackle my to do list of self-education.

We are in week 2 of the Exploring Personal Learning Networks cMOOC and I’m loving it because it’s making me think creatively and giving me the freedom to apply it directly to my work.

It’s my new pet project and already I’m thinking of how I can complete the assignment of coming up with a pitch for a CEO on the value of personal learning networks to an organisation.

I can see that I’ll probably have to use the assignment in ‘real life’ soon when this scenario arises in our organisation. It will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

So I decided to crowd source it.  Ask my PLN to solve an organisational issue around on boarding to demonstrate how effective networks are in solving a business issue. [Hence why you may have seen my Tweets and Google + posts asking for any onboarding examples.  I'm killing two birds in the one stone here.  The responses will form my pitch for the cMOOC but also, I've been asked to develop an Induction program  at work and I'm using my PLN's stories, links and references to create a starting point for my plan].  Luckily, with 41 responses in Yammer, it seemed that everyone had an onboarding story they wanted to share about what worked and what didn’t.

But I digress…. let’s go back to talking about productivity.

Believe it or not, I enjoy going into work every morning to follow through my routine of grabbing a coffee, finding a desk, setting up my gear, logging on and then checking into the Google+ community to see what others are up to, what they’re writing about, what they’ve learned, check out their photos and blog posts.

I’ve gotten myself into a morning routine where I revel in the silence of the office…just me alone with all my PLN.

I read somewhere this week that getting feedback on social media equates to getting a dopamine hit – a high – and there’s something addictive to it.  I believe that. I’m living proof.

This week I’ve been reading various reports of the high levels of disengaged people at work and frankly, it’s depressing. Despite adding the reports on Yammer hopeful for some replies and robust debate, they may as well have tumbleweeds flowing through them.

No replies.

Nada.

Obviously disengagement in the workplace is not as exciting as onboarding stories.

And I’m left asking the question incredulously, “doesn’t anyone else find this stuff important enough to comment on why they think this or do they just not care?”

Maybe they don’t.

Maybe I shouldn’t take things so seriously?

Maybe I should just lighten up – go with the flow.  Whatever.

No I don’t work that way.

I need to be inspired. I need a good news story.

It’s either that, or I’m writing to David Walliams and Matt Lucas to consider creating a comedy show like “Come Fly With Me” but on corporate life because I don’t know whether I need to laugh….or to cry anymore.

But what did I say about not being able to sit still?  Patience is not a virtue of mine.

Today, a fellow colleague came up to ask me about something but we got to talking about his passion.  It’s opera. He’s a tenor and travels around Australia singing to audiences.  He has a manager who co-ordinates his performances and manages his profile.  He’s well known in the opera circles.

Do you know it was one of the best conversations I had in the workplace for a while? Why?  Because I saw someone fired up for something that he believed in.  His passion came out with his words, his actions, his eyes and smile.

He was inspirational, magnetic and alive.

I missed this in our workplace.

After a long time of change and turbulence, I needed to see someone passionate again.  I needed to know that there were people who openly expressed their love for their art, their craft, their work, their hobbies and interests.

I needed to be inspired in my workplace.

Even my previous boss who left the organisation today turned to me at her goodbye lunch  and said, “I’m going to the Elliot Masie Learning 2013 Conference in the US because I need to be re-inspired for Learning and Development again”.

Even she was looking for it.

Workplaces are missing the passion and inspiration but we’re thirsty for it. We need it.

If organisations could bottle up that passion, they can achieve anything.

[Photo: Fire In Your Eye by J. Durham]

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Exploring Our Personal Learning Networks

I think I found my new cMOOC hit.

After Educational Technology MOOC #etmooc, I searched high and low for a connectivist MOOC that could give me the same ‘highs’ as I had experienced with this one.  I was looking for a MOOC where I could apply what I learned to my work immediately, but also one where I looked forward to checking in the Google + community to see what everyone else is talking about and doing – and make a new friend or three.

The MOOC is called Exploring Personal Learning Networks and it was created by the team @JeffMerrell and @KGS_Scott Kimberly Scott who are also part of Masters Program Learning & Organisational Change at North Western University.

When I first saw the cMOOC advertised in Jeff’s tweet, I immediately registered in the Google+ Community as this was a topic of great interest for me in particularly, how organisations could encourage their staff to broaden their own enterprise learning networks or external learning networks for their own professional and personal development.

I saw an opportunity for me to bring the concept to life within our own organisation using the social networking tools we have available.  I saw it part of our future strategy for Learning and Development professionals to have their own networks and then to promote, encourage and support others within the organisation to find their own in their line of work.

I don’t have the answer for how I can do this practically, but my instincts tell me that if I’ve had such a wonderful experience connecting, networking and learning from my own global network through social media  – and with some of them, actually collaborating on projects – then Personal and Enterprise Learning Networks have merit and worthy to explore further.

Maybe it’s an untapped area of opportunity for organisations?

I just need to be able to define the benefit and value in hard tangible financial terms to my senior managers who may see this as just an excuse to socialise online.  But lucky for me, one of the tasks we have to do is to come up with a pitch to sell the concept of PLNs to our organisation.

In the first week, we were encouraged to do two things:

  1. Set goals that we wanted to achieve with our PLN
  2. Try something new

What are my goals?

A survey was uploaded onto the Google community and we were encouraged to submit our goals into this survey which collated the data.  The results are quite interesting – and you can see it here.

What really piqued my curiosity is that in the question “Which competencies are you focussed on developing” many of the responses were on confronting direct reports and conflict management.  My instant reaction was huh?

Lucky this result was balanced out by personal learning and innovation management as I was beginning to think that everyone was going to have the same issue I was having – namely, how do we explain and demonstrate the value of PLNs to our managers and stakeholders without being ready for some robust debate, discussion and maybe an argument?

My goals were mainly related to the following:

  • Continue to broaden and increase my personal learning network
  • Develop professionally and personally
  • Establish a freelance consulting business in the long term

A short term goal that had been brewing in my mind recently and which I wrote a recent blog post titled, Third Place in Company and Conversation: A Place Where My PLN Gathers was to establish a Meet Up group of Melbourne based Learning and Development professionals in all industries who are on Twitter or social media.  I established Third Place and we will have our first after-work social introductory drinks next Thursday night at the Royal Melbourne Hotel (if anyone is interested in coming along – see the website to join and and get details!)

I’m excited with Third Place because not only will I meet my extended Melbourne based PLN in person, but I will also create ‘assets’ or responses to weekly activities for the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC using these people too (if they want to get involved).

Although it’s still an idea mulling around in my head, I’m thinking about creating a video montage of real people talking about how a PLN helped them in their role to state the case for PLN and advocate their role in an organisation.

Real people, real stories…that’s the pitch.

Try Something New

@AlisonSeaman tweeted a question asking if anyone had used the application Shadow Puppet.

Naturally, as a sucker for a new app, I downloaded it and played with it and immediately saw that I could have so many uses for it.  It’s a simple app that you record your voice to your photos and create an instant slideshow that you can share across Facebook, Twitter or email.

I loved it so much that I decided that I created an introduction for the PLN and here it is…

PLN2

The feedback for this was quite positive and I think it inspired others to download the app and try it out for themselves.

(Just between you and me, I have used this app to create a slideshow for an internal job I’m applying for.  I’ll have more details in this blog soon but I put the finishing touches to it this morning).

Finally, I knew that this MOOC was the right one for me with regards to the buzz and excitement around a group of people who were meeting again in other parts of the internet in other chats….

lrnchat

Looking forward to Week 2!

Read the Story & See the Conversations:

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Third Place in Company & Conversation – A Place Where the PLN Gathers

This year will go down in my professional life as “The Year I Met my Online Personal Learning Network and Lived to Tell the Tale (Ad Nauseum)”.

On average, every month I have met at least two people from my wider personal learning network whose connections I made through Twitter, LinkedIn or Yammer.  I would get an email, direct message or a request to ‘have a coffee and chat’ with someone because they have a great experience to share, a story to tell or simply, they are want to learn what’s happening in our industry.

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Of course, the most unforgettable experience was meeting my wider network in London in August this year which escalated our Twitter relationship to a whole new different level.

Usually these meetings are over a cup of coffee or lunch, away from our respective workplaces and in a social or informal environment.  In the case of the London tweet up it was a lunch at a brewery followed by drinks at a nearby bar.

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A highlight of my recent trip to the UK was meeting Colin Steed, Lesley Price and Jane Hart in person (who I was in awe with to say the least).

If it’s a chance to get out of the office, get some fresh air and meet someone new in your line of work, what’s not to like?

But this got me thinking what have we actually achieved from meeting face-to-face after our online connection? 

If I had to explain the benefit to my boss, how would I explain the value of a network?

Before this year, I did not know @LearnKotch however, after meeting on Twitter, we realised that we had much to share and learn from each other.  Coming from similar backgrounds, we connected in not only our work but culturally.  From this meetup, we organised tours of our respective workplaces and got to meet each other’s work teams.  Our online learning content development team met his team and together, in a warm boardroom on a Friday morning in July, we shared our success, stories and frustrations with our respective work.  We shared tips and techniques of online courseware design and development and learned the challenges that go with working in different organisations and business clients.

This meeting culminated with an arrangement to share particular online course content that would have saved our organisation time, money and resources rather than designing from scratch.

Secondly, I met Jasmine Mahlki through Twitter.  She explained that her organisation was considering implementing Yammer and wondered if I had any networks whom she could speak to.  Our organisation has used this social networking tool for some years already and I had the perfect person in mind.  With a quick phone call to him, he was only to happy to help out and provide any advice for Jasmine.

These are just two of my stories on the value of learning networks that directly impacted my role – and they follow a pattern.

The first was the online connection itself through social media.  The second was the follow-up with a face-to-face conversation and then a third was an actual collaboration or shared project, task or action that resulted in some benefit and support.

The result of these three actions changed the relationship to one of mutual respect, trust, equality and collaboration.

A true peer-to-peer learning network.

So with these in mind since my return from the UK, I had been thinking about creating a ‘space’ where people who meet online can meet face-to-face in a social, informal setting away from work where they can freely converse on things that are important to them – much like what I did with my PLN when I met with them in person.

A ‘space’ where there were no formalities, no structure or agendas (because frankly, let’s face it, we get this at work and it does our head in) but just conversations because the actions and the stories will naturally evolve out of these dependent on the people taking part.

Last week I participated in two tweet chats.  The first one was the Educational Technology MOOC #etmooc which was a catch-up for those who had completed this cMOOC. The chat revolved around questions of what people were doing in their lives post ETMOOC and how they have implemented the educational technology tools they learned into their work.   The second chat was the weekly Learn Chat #lrnchat on Friday morning.  The topic of this chat was related to communities.

Paul Signorelli (@trainersleaders) had been in both of these discussions and he posted a link to the Wikipedia article on Third Places, a concept by Ray Oldeburg from his book, The Great Good Place.

Wikipedia says, “Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs.”

This is when the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.  I had my ‘space’ and I had my name.  It was exactly what I was trying to define in my own head and it came from someone who was in my Personal Learning Network from San Francisco.  He also wrote about it in his blog post, When Communities of Learning Discuss Community – and Produce Results.

The results were immediate.  I knew exactly what I had to do and how to do it because Paul had given me that piece of the puzzle that was missing from my jigsaw puzzle carton. He may as well have been in the same room and handed me the piece and said, “Helen, I do believe that THIS is what you’re looking for”.  

YES!

In the next hour, I set up a Meet Up group called Third Place – a place for Melbourne based learning professionals in all industries to converse and network in a social, informal environment such as cafes, library, pubs or restaurants.

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In the first week of going live, we had 27 people sign up many of whom I hadn’t connected previously but who may have read my blog or Twitter posts. Others had an interest in learning and wanted to connect with others in the field for networking.

Our first event will be held in a couple of weeks at the atrium in the Royal Melbourne Hotel for after work drinks. It will be an opportunity to meet some new faces in the one place and establish new networks and friendships with people in our line of work.  From there, we’ll play it by ear but the intention is to spread the events with morning, afternoon meetups in cafes as well as breakfasts and lunches.

Whoever rocks up will be warmly welcomed and the beginning of a wonderful network and friendships will unfold.

I can’t wait. Care to join me?

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