Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Experience of Working Out Loud Using Pinterest

Working Out Loud is a global movement to share and narrate observable work with a purpose. 
This year, I participated in International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek 07-13 November 2016). The idea of this week was to share a reflection on a different element of working out loud each day. I followed the WOLWeek blog that used John Stepper’s latest iteration of the five elements of Working Out Loud as a guide to those reflections. 

Day 1: Share purpose - Working out loud is about sharing your work as it progresses so that others can learn and can help.

The first question raised by Working Out Loud in John Stepper’s view is “what am I trying to accomplish? So, I started Day 1 by sharing my purpose. During the WOL week, I wanted to educate myself and others about WOL and its value. 
I have worked out loud at many occasions both in my personal and professional life. During this week, I wanted to use Pinterest as a way to create opportunities for social collaboration and share my contributions related to the concept of Working Out Loud. 

Using Pinterest was an interesting (and unexpected) choice for many. When I had initially thought of using Pinterest, one of the key mindsets that I wanted to get rid of was that Pinterest is a crafting tool. I knew the potential of Pinterest and had seen some excellent resumes and work portfolios on Pinterest. I had also enjoyed Jane Bozarth’s board on ‘Show your Work’. But I hadn't truly 'used' Pinterest to do anything constructive. And I wanted to change that.

I also found pinning a passive activity. So, I wanted to take it to the next step and invite others to collaborate and pin on my WOL board. I wanted to see what others have found valuable when it comes to working out loud and sharing their work. I wanted to see real-life examples and application of WOL and share all this knowledge with folks who may not have started their WOL journey as yet. So, I decided to use Pinterest as a way to facilitate this conversation.  


At the end of Day 1, I had built a Working Out Loud Pinterest board and captured some of the underlying concepts related to Working Out Loud to get myself started on this journey.



Day 2: Make A Connection - Working out loud exposes us to the networks of other people in our work. Understanding and leveraging those networks begins by making a connection.

For Day 2, I decided to send tweets and direct messages to people in my PLN inviting them to collaborate and add a pin on my WOL board



And twitterverse responded! @Rob Jefferson was the first to chime in and gave me the encouragement that I needed to keep going (Thanks Rob!).

By the end of Day 2, I had added 12 collaborators on my group WOL boardMany collaborators were new to Pinterest. Others mentioned that they were being invited to a group Pinterest board for the first time! During this process, I discovered many different boards created by other collaborators. I also learned a lot about collaborative boards and how to help troubleshoot when collaborators tried to add pins :)


Day 3: Make a Contribution - Generosity is a core element of Working Out Loud. With our purpose and communities in mind the best way to begin a relationship is by making a contribution to others.

For Day 3, I shared my own example of WOL in my current project - a transparent project monitoring technique using an XLS-based visual project tracker. I shared it on twitter and then pinned it to the WOL board.


Day 4: Share Progress - Real progress is not measured by our efforts but by the shared progress for others. Work out loud to better understand progress. 

For Day 4, I extended a warm thanks to all the collaborators and shared with them how the WOL board was coming along. 

But I wanted to do more. I wanted to have a conversation with the collaborators on how we ALL were doing and if the board was of value to them and to others viewing the board. I was also asking them if Pinterest was a good choice. 




Day 5: Share A Need - You need help. Your stakeholders need help. Working out loud is way to come together to share needs and solve them together in community.

On Day 5, I invited and reminded folks in my PLN to add to the WOL board to make it more valuable for everyone. I also heard from many folks about their own examples of working out loud and some of the articles, videos and posts that they have found useful along the journey. I made sure to pin all those resources on the WOL board.

Day 6: Celebrate Help - The best celebrations are purposeful. They are shared in a community. Reflect on your work. Whose contribution to your work deserves a shared celebration? Take 5 minutes to thank them properly, deeply and out loud. That’s a celebration that doesn’t fade, but instead grows. 

I spent a lot of time reflecting on Day 6 (and several days later). I thanked all the contributors who took the time and interest to pin valuable thoughts and ideas and examples of WOL on the WOL board including @chriscola @RobJefferson @MichelleOckers @ActivateLearn @sensor63 @elearningcoach @stipton 

I thanked all the folks who showered my tweets with Likes and RTs including @WOLWeek @STCAlberta @tmiket @LeadershipABC @simongterry @margiemeacham @lrnchat @claremil_BBS @SalmaAfzal_ @wol_de @ryantracey @brunowinck @eLearninCyclops @jenfrahm and many others.

I thanked @johnstepper > Through your work & ideas, I've been able to learn, contribute, connect and collaborate more than ever! #WOLWeek

I thanked @WOLWeek @simongterry for creating such a wonderful #WOL community that is ever willing to share and encourage!

I thanked @JaneBozarth for continuing to inspire and to always 'walk the talk' for #showyourwork #WOL #WOLWeek

Day 7: Plan Next Steps - At the end of a busy week take some time to take stock. Reflect on what you learned working out loud this week.

#WOLWeek Twitter Moment
To get a sense of everything that happened in that one week, I drafted a twitter moment (my first!).
To view a curated twitter story of my experience of participating in #WOLWeek 2016, please see “#WOLWeek 2016” twitter moment

Finally, here I am! I am now using this blog post to reflect on what I learned by working out loud during the #WOLweek and what I have learned about what is and what isn’t working out loud.

What isn’t Working Out Loud
  • WOL is not about the tools and technologies used for sharing and collaboration. You don’t need to be on social media to WOL.
  • WOL is not about pushing content and information to people who are not interested in receiving it or to those who don’t share a common purpose.
  • WOL is not about self promotion.
  • WOL is not about using one approach that’s always right.
  • WOL is not about fault finding in other’s work.

What is Working Out Loud
  • WOL is about starting with a purpose. If there isn’t a purpose behind sharing and collaboration, the act of narrating and sharing your work may not be very valuable.
  • WOL is about being generous and making your work visible and accessible. The idea is to enable and encourage others to have a conversation around your work to provide feedback and to share new ideas about what’s possible.
  • WOL is sometimes more about the process of sharing rather than the final outcome in terms of the actual work product.
  • WOL offers a way of establishing connections with others more easily using the common, shared purpose. These connections can lead to valuable relationships.
  • WOL is about an open mindset. It is an integral part of the working culture and it is about one’s willingness and attitude to share and to go beyond the fears of what others will say about their work product.
With this post, I would like to invite all collaborators of the WOL board to share their comments and feedback on working out loud with me during #WOLWeek. 
- What did you think about using Pinterest as a way to work out loud about working out loud. 
- How was your experience pinning articles and other resources on a collaborative board?
- Have you had a chance to visit the WOL board since #WOLWeek?
- Do you find the board valuable for yourself and others?
- Have you shared the WOL board with others?

You can now find 50 valuable pins that point to articles, blog posts, videos and examples of Working Out Loud in action all on one WOL boardWould you like to contribute and add a pin?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Rise of the Remote Worker

Source: Pixabay (CCO License)

More than 1.7 million paid employees — those not self-employed — worked from home in 2008 at least once a week, up almost 23 per cent from the 1.4 million in 2000, according to the Statistics Canada report on the subject in 2010.

In Canada, Telus found that teleworking increased employee productivity by about 20 per cent after a 2006 pilot project where 170 employees worked at home. Besides increased productivity and morale, it also saved 114 tonnes of greenhouse gases and almost 14,000 hours of time in traffic.

On the south of the border, in US, the stats as per GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com highlight that:
  • Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103% since 2005.
  • 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.
  • The employee population as a whole grew by 1.9% from 2013 to 2014, while employees who telecommuter population grew 5.6%.
Dell and Intel collaborated to produce the Future Workforce Study in 2016 that shows interesting trends about the future of workforce in America. For example, "The traditional workplace doesn’t have the same value for Millennials as for older generations of American workers. Increasingly, Millennials are looking to non-office environments for productivity. 3 in 10 Millennials say they do their best work outside of the office – whether at home, in public or outside."

I am not surprised when I review these stats. I am a full-time, paid employee and I am one of the 1.7 million in Canada that work from home for several days a week. After having worked in a 9-5 office environment for 10 years, I have been working remotely for over 7 years now.  I can't say that I work remotely all the time because I do go out for all my client meetings, corporate planning and other leadership meetings and to conduct stakeholder workshops and other facilitated sessions. But typically, I work from home at least 3 days a week. As someone who has experienced the benefits of working remotely, I can easily say that there are some critical skills and practices required to work remotely that help make it a sustainable and viable option for both the employee and the employer. The other day, at the end of a fabulous #PKMChat, I was reminded of this very fact.

Besides access to good technology including high-speed internet and collaborative tools that enable virtual project teams to work together, working remotely needs a fine mix of skills and work practices. In my experience, here are some of the things that make remote working work for me and my employer:

1) Communication - In the absence of daily face-to-face meetings, I rely on receiving and providing clear, concise and timely communication. Working remotely needs more protocols and processes around communication because I can't get up and walk to a co-worker's desk or a team member and speak to them when I feel the need. Also, there are no non-verbal cues to fall back on so communication requires more sensitivity. Since most communication is via email, phone, skype, etc., it has to be planned ahead and is usually more thoughtful and precise.

2) Trust - I trust my team to do their job as does my company trust me to do mine. Once we have a firm plan, each of us is free to plan our work and we report back as required. I don't like to micro manage and don't appreciate it for myself either. But developing trust takes time. So, I always start with a leap of faith and my default disposition is to trust everyone I work with. This has held me well. When you trust people and show them that you trust them, they do become more responsible and feel more accountable.

3) Discipline - This is a big one and perhaps the area where most new remote workers struggle. When you are working from home, there is no one to give you a task list and no one to police you. All work needs time management but remote work needs it even more especially if you want to make the leap from efficiency to effectiveness. Priorities can change when you are working from home and those are the times you have to figure out what's urgent versus what's important. It is critical to stay organized and continue to do meaningful work and be disciplined about it.

I have a schedule and I start and end work usually at the same time each day. I have built a level of predictability for all my work days for myself and for people I work with. On days, when I take advantage of the flexibility of working from home, I always let my project teams know in advance and add more hours to my work later that day or over the weekend. A big part of my work discipline is also the ability to keep a check on myself and self evaluate. In the absence of immediate feedback, I play the part of a reviewer and a critique of my daily accomplishments. People who work with me know how much I love work plans and tracking planned versus actual :)

Finally, having a dedicated work space with a well-equipped desk and a comfortable chair (not my couch), a big monitor desktop (not my laptop) and easy access to a printer and scanner makes my home office space always ready for work and helps me stay on track.

4) Motivation - I love working independently and creating my own work schedule. I can work with ambiguity and minimum direction and take responsibility for the outcomes. But I also really enjoy collaborating with teams all around the world and feeding off that creative energy. Working remotely needs an extra doze of self motivation and perhaps self inspiration too! Sometimes, working by myself in my home office tires me and I get that dreaded feeling of boredom all over me. Those are the days when I go to my company office (my boss is always open and very welcoming of me dropping by). I also enjoy working from public libraries and co-working spaces to get away from the routine and keep myself motivated. I would add that participating in a daily routine of exercise (I love my daily walks) also helps me stay happy and motivated. I get the opportunity to physically smile and have some polite, early morning conversations with fellow walkers :)

5) Problem-solving - Working remotely as a part of a virtual team calls for good technology skills and an ability to solve problems independently. Things go wrong, as they usually do, and I have myself to rely on. In the absence of an IT department or a colleague I can walk up to, I take on all required roles and solve daily issues. I also help troubleshoot the issues for my virtual team members. If I am unable to solve things on my own, I often pose my problems online into technology discussion forums and twitter especially when it is to do with technology that I am not as familiar with. The community always has a solution I can try! As a remote worker, I have to rely on my critical thinking skills and my resourcefulness to solve any challenges that may come my way.

6) Family - This is a very underrated aspect but clearly something that makes it or breaks it. The support of my family makes a big difference to maintaining my work discipline and a remote working lifestyle. Working from home comes with distractions but I plan as much as I can to avoid these distractions. Sticking to a schedule, keeping my home office away from the living area and keeping the door closed solves most of the distraction issues easily. I also mark my workdays and meetings and other 'no disturb' time blocks in a physical calendar and keep the calendar in an area where my family can view it. My family knows that when I am working, it is strictly work time. So, they stay away from my work space and wait for me to finish work and step out. And I really appreciate and value that respect for my work.

Obviously, it is not all rosy all the time. Just like a 9-5 job, working remotely has its own peeves mostly around not being able to talk face-to-face with other people and engage in deep long conversations or just hang around for a fun chat.

7) The human connect - Because I don't meet people as often, I try harder to participate in online chats, seminars, webinars and discussions to ensure I receive my daily doze of conversations and constructive stimuli to keep my brain going. I am involved with professional organizations that keep me engaged with my area of work and give me opportunities to participate in conferences, training and other face-to-face events. I am also an active volunteer in my community and keep myself involved with an immigrant settlement organization. As a volunteer workplace mentor, I get to meet people from various walks of life and this helps me get my energy back on days when working by myself really gets to me. Because I strive hard to have meaningful conversations, I end up with quality relationships that allow me to add value and in turn provide tremendous value and the much needed human connection.

Remote work is not for everyone. It does take a certain bent of mind and a specific way of working. But anyone can be successful at remote work if they are able to follow good work practices and stay motivated, committed and disciplined.

If you are a remote worker and have been able to successfully work from home, what skills and practices would you add to this list? How do you make remote work work for you?





Friday, October 28, 2016

The 'What Ifs' of Learning and Education



Recently, my 13-year old represented her school in a public speaking contest. The title of her speech was to begin with 'what if'; two simple words that caused her to stay up a few nights. In trying to identify the right topic for her speech, she explored many what ifs. After much deliberation, she chose a topic that was meaningful for her and where students her age could make a difference. 

Her speech triggered some what ifs in my own head. I started to think about the possible what ifs in the world of learning and education.

  • What if all learning is customized and individuals can select how and at what pace they want to learn?
  • What if all learning is personalized and individuals can select what and when they want to learn?
  • What if learning and education is focused on real-world application where individuals learn to create meaningful artifacts and develop learning networks rather than acquire knowledge?
  • What if learning and education is fueled by teachers who can quickly access learning data, track progress and design flexible learning paths?
  • What if learning and education is surrounded by mentors and coaches who are available at the touch of a button and provide specific feedback at the moment of need?
  • What if learning and education is supported by tools and technologies but all these tools and technologies are invisible and deeply embedded? 
  • What if the purpose of learning and education is to demonstrate credentials not degrees?
  • What if learning and education is democratic where anyone can be a learner and anyone can be a teacher?
  • What if learning and education is not about mastering a skill or knowledge area but more about a continuous journey? 

If you are looking to explore some more what if questions around the trends and shifts in technology, do check out this site

If you are more pensive and are looking to explore questions that can make the biggest difference in your life, this is what you should read.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My Top 10 Learning Tools (2016)

It has been 10 years since Jane Hart (http://c4lpt.co.uk/has been publishing the annual Top 100 Tools for Learning as nominated by more than 1,500 learning professionals around the world! 

For the 10th Anniversary, we will be able to see not just the Top 100 but the Top 200! Also, the tools will be categorized based on their context of use including Education, Workplace Learning and Personal and Professional Learning. Jane defines a Learning Tool as any software or online tool or service that can be used for your own personal learning or for teaching or training. The results will be out on 03 Oct. (Voting closes on 23 September.)

I submitted my vote via the form available on Jane's website. But I also wanted to use this blog post to share my submission with my peers and friends in the L and D community and reflect some more about this activity. 

Here are my Top 10 Learning Tools for 2016 (in no particular order):
  1. Google - My window to the world. I ask and it provides
  2. Tweetdeck - My access to my PLN; groups, lists and chats and a community who offers me fuel for thought 
  3. Blogger - My stage for reflection and continuous learning
  4. WhatsApp - My lifeline to stay connected with my friends and family around the world. I live, I learn
  5. Ted Talks - The tool that triggers out-of-the-box thinking and gives me access to diverse views, thoughts and ideas from people around the world
  6. Instagram - My tool of choice when I have no words but can use photographs to build connections
  7. Podcast App (Apple) - I listen when when I want to read less and imagine more. It is my walking partner and helps me connect dots where I didn't think was possible
  8. Skype - My tool of choice for conversations and collaborations
  9. LinkedIn - My tool for discovering people who share common interests and a platform for me to highlight my skills and expertise
  10. Facebook - My go to tool to catch news, views and fun stuff on a daily basis  

This annual exercise becomes a lot more interesting when I get a chance to read more about how my peers are using these and other tools for learning. It is also a way for me to reflect back on whether my list has changed from last year and what tools I am using more and why. 

There are other new tools that I try each year and some old ones that I continue to use but didn't make it to my Top 10. Some of the new tools that I have tried this year include Degreed, Pocket and Coursera App on my iPhone (as opposed to Coursera website). I am still exploring how best to leverage them for personal and professional learning. Some of the old tools that I continue to use are MS Office, Dropbox, Wikipedia, Mail App and Slideshare.

Of course, the Top 10 is only one way of looking at tools and technologies and it is always more in the 'how' rather than the 'what'. So, this activity also helps me reflect some more about the hows and whys of using one tool over the other and why some tools are more useful and valuable for me. 

Taking a step back and looking at this list, I realize now that it leans more towards the social aspect of learning - tools to connect, collaborate, share, learn and reflect. I think it is very indicative and telling of how I'd like to shape my personal and professional development in 2016. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Can Advanced Training Kill You?

Several months ago, I read an article about a new study that revealed that advanced driving schools that teach emergency manoeuvres only increase the risk of teen driving collisions. It seemed counter-intuitive that something that is designed to keep drivers safe - aka advanced training - can actually increase the likelihood of accidents.

"According to the International Road Federation (IRF), driver skills training — especially those emergency skill-based curriculums such as skid control, etc. actually increases the likelihood your offspring will be involved in an automobile accident. Counterproductive, says the International Road Federation (IRF), is what skills training does, namely imbuing “overconfidence [that] eliminates normally cautious behaviour.”

The overconfidence bias
Overconfidence is what prevents us from acting more cautiously when driving. But not just driving, we seem to be overconfident about many things. For example, our assessment of ourselves, our ability to meet tight timelines and stay within budgets, invest and make financial choices, forecast weather, predict the future of relationships, etc. This overconfidence bias creeps into all aspects of our daily lives.

As per Wikipedia, "The most common way in which overconfidence has been studied is by asking people how confident they are of specific beliefs they hold or answers they provide. The data show that confidence systematically exceeds accuracy, implying people are more sure that they are correct than they deserve to be." 

Werner DeBondt and Richard H. Thaler (1995) go on to say: 
Perhaps the most robust finding in the psychology of judgment is that people are overconfident.

Designing learning to manage the overconfidence bias
As learning designers, how can we avoid designing training that is counter productive? ARCS, Gagne and many other learning theories and models tell us that confidence is good. But when does this confidence turn into overconfidence? To answer this question, it is important to highlight that confidence comes from a deep understanding of the subject and validated expertise. In a state of confidence, beliefs match  abilities. Overconfidence is surrounded by speculation and is a result of beliefs exceeding abilities. 

As I read some more about confidence and overconfidence, I stumbled upon this very interesting article on the FBI page titled, Good Decisions - Tips and Strategies for Avoiding Psychological Traps. 
Brian Fitch, Ph.D, the author, talks about how law enforcement professionals can avoid psychological traps and make better decisions. It is a great read and some of the tips and traps apply rather well to the design of learning. For every tip by the author, I tried to reinterpret it from a learning design perspective and how we can help our learners avoid or better manage the overconfidence bias. (All items within quotes are from the article. My interpretations of the application to learning design are highlighted in blue):

  • "Examine assumptions carefully, especially those beliefs most strongly or confidently held. All people take certain beliefs and assumptions for granted—rather than checking periodically on accuracy, they simply assume these are true. Assumptions are dangerous, especially in police work." 

>> As learning designers, we can create lesson plans, self-check questions and assessments that challenge underlying beliefs and assumptions. It is important that we maximize the opportunities to check learners' assumptions within the safety of the course and the learning experience. In real-life, any mistakes based on poor or inaccurate assumptions might prove very costly.

  • "Try imagining all of the possible ways that something can turn out, especially all of the ways that something can go wrong." 

>> As learning designers, this speaks to me from a scenario-design perspective. We can create real-life scenarios where learners have choices and opportunities to make decisions. Scenarios can include different options or paths that learners can take and choosing a specific path can result in a specific consequence.

  • "Appreciate the limits of knowledge and abilities. Good decision makers not only make a conscious effort to investigate and verify information but also recognize what they do not know. In many cases, what officers do not know can be more important than what they know." 

>> As learning designers, we can create opportunities for learners to implement and apply what they know. During the practice and application phase of learning, we can provide feedback mechanisms that inform  learners about what they don't know and how they can acquire the missing piece of knowledge.

  • "Actively solicit input and ideas from others, especially those with different experiences and opinions. Being open to ideas and criticism is critical at every stage of the decision-making process and, in many cases, may save lives."

>> As learning designers, we can create opportunities for learners to be exposed to other learners in the community. Different views, new ideas and insights from others can help learners become more realistic about their own understanding of the subject and stay open to learning new things as they progress in their learning journey.

Perhaps we need to design learning experiences that encourage a degree of doubt rather than overconfidence. I leave you with this thought:


PS: This paper on 'A Survey on Overconfidence, Insurance and Self-Assessment Training Programs' is quite insightful! Also, in this discussion, it is important to distinguish between optimism and over confidence. Here's one way to see the difference, "Optimism is an attitude. Overconfidence is an error in calculating statistical probabilities." 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Diversity, Curiosity and Creativity in Learning

If you haven't seen Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talks, you must see them now! In his talk titled, "How to escape education's death valley", he talks about three principles on which human life flourishes:
1. The first is that human beings are naturally different and diverse.
2. The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity.
3. And the third principle is that human life is inherently creative.

Inspired by his talk, I reflected about some of the key instructional strategies that can help apply these three principles to improve the effectiveness of learning.

Diversity
  • Provide different ways and methods to engage with learners. Use Universal Design for Learning principles to allow for and to support individuality.
  • Provide individual and tailored feedback and guidance whenever possible.
  • Provide multiple ways or options to complete assignments, projects or in-class activities.
Curiosity
  • Provide basic information and then encourage learners to ask questions. Focus on helping learners ask the right questions about the subject matter and not so much on giving all the information about the subject. 
  • Provide time and space for learners to explore, think and reflect about what they are learning. Interweave learning with reflection.
  • Provide opportunities for social learning, group collaboration and activities. Engaging with other learners can peak our curiosity about things that we didn’t think about.
Creativity
  • Use case-studies, role-plays and stories that allow learners to engage with the content and imagine alternatives and possibilities.
  • Use real-life problems and keep the focus on tasks learners need to perform. Build opportunities for learners to practice and apply what they have learnt.
  • Provide diverse content and views that help break filter bubbles and allow for contradictions.

What are some of the strategies that you use to support diversity, curiosity and creativity in learning?



“Nobody else can make anybody else learn anything. You cannot make them. Anymore than if you are a gardener you can make flowers grow, you don’t make the flowers grow. You don’t sit there and stick the petals on and put the leaves on and paint it. You don’t so that. The flower grows itself. Your job if you are any good at it is to provide the optimum conditions for it to do that, to allow it to grow itself.” - Ken Robinson (Keynote Speech to the Music Manifesto State of Play conference)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Factors to Consider When Planning to Use E-learning

I am currently attending a program from The University of Victoria. One of the assignments asked the participants to think about factors to consider when planning to use an e-learning approach.

Here are some factors that I would consider when deciding whether to use an e-learning approach:

  1. What is the reason for choosing e-learning (as opposed to classroom training or other learning modalities)? 

    E-learning can be more expensive to develop than traditional classroom training but it is cheaper to deliver to a geographically disperse audience over a longer period of time. When choosing to develop e-learning, am I capitalizing on the strengths of the learning modality?

  2. What is the key learning outcome? What kind of skills do the learners need to develop? 

    E-learning is generally suited for cognitive skills. So knowledge, comprehension, application of procedures and processes are good candidates for e-learning. Soft skills like communication, sales, negotiation, etc. cannot rely on e-learning as the only learning modality. Similarly, hands-on skills such as singing, learning to play golf or flying an aircraft are poor choices for e-learning.

  3. What is the learners'/facilitators' motivation and attitude towards e-learning? 

    Are the learners ready for self-paced learning? Do they have the technical skills and learning maturity to stay motivated and engaged within the e-learning environment?
    Are the facilitators ready for e-learning? Do they have the skills to deliver learning online and leverage specific instructional strategies and tools?

  4. What is the existing technology infrastructure and what kind of tools can be used to develop e-learning? 

    E-learning requires specific equipment, software and hardware infrastructure both for development and delivery. Tools for synchronous delivery are very different from asynchronous delivery of e-learning. Technology decisions need to be made on the basis of the learners’ level of technical expertise, learning environment, interactivity, budgets, timelines, required technical support, etc.

  5. Who will develop the e-learning? 

    Creating e-learning requires collaborative work within many different areas/departments including Instructional Design, Course Administration, Course Facilitation, Graphic and Media design, User Interface Design, Project Management, Quality Assurance, etc. If a skilled team does not exist in-house then e-learning development needs to be outsourced. That poses several other questions that need to be answered.

  6. What will make the e-learning effective? 

    The nature of content, desired learning outcome, technology infrastructure and available budget will guide the types of activities and the level of interactivity in the e-learning. The content needs to be interesting and matched to the entry profile of the learners. The course duration and structure must address the learner’s availability (in terms of time and effort required). E-learning must provide opportunities for practice, feedback, assessment and evaluation.

  7. What will be the maintenance plan for e-learning?

    As compared to classroom training, updating and maintaining e-learning can be costly both in terms of time and money. E-learning tools and technology will frequently require content updates, system updates, version upgrades and general online site maintenance. All of this will need an e-learning maintenance plan that ensures regular updates so that content remains relevant and easily accessible for learners on an ongoing basis. The need for maintenance and updates may also have an impact on some of the instructional design decisions.

    What did I miss? What are some factors that you would consider when deciding to use an e-learning approach?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Metaphors as Instruments of Knowledge

 Taruna Goel Photos

Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace, it is a metaphor which most produces knowledge. – Aristotle, Rhetoric III

Back in 2013, I completed the 'Elearning and Digital Cultures' MOOC course by Coursera (#edcmooc). Week 2 of the course was all about metaphors and their significance to learning and other areas of our life. At the end of the week, students used metaphors to describe the MOOC learning experience. A couple of weeks ago, in the weekly #lrnchat, I got another opportunity to discuss the use of metaphors in learning and it triggered some more reading. 

The Oxford dictionary defines a metaphor as "a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract." The origins of the word are from late 15th century, from French métaphore, via Latin from Greek metaphora, from metaphere in 'to transfer'.

In the book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson say: The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. As a learning experience designer, I like this aspect of a metaphor as something that helps transfer and carry the meaning and connects what we know with what we don’t know. I find that metaphors are an important link between knowledge and cognition.

Metaphors are a part of our everyday language. 
In the last one hour, I read emails, blog posts, twitter feed and work documents and consciously identified metaphors I came across:

-          Warm welcome
-          Summer is around the corner
-          Hole in the theory
-          Drop in the ocean
-          Economy in motion
-          Scattered thoughts
-          Elephant in the room
-          Raining cats and dogs
-          In a nutshell
-          Deadline approaching
-          Working in the cloud
-          Brainstorming

Metaphors surround us yet they remain largely invisible. That’s how they add value. Good metaphors convey the meaning by staying transparent. In that sense, metaphors are not always poetic or extraordinary; they are plain and ordinary.

Metaphors are useful in many ways. 
They help make sense of the world and can simplify and make abstract more concrete. Icons on the web and within software applications are an example of metaphors for abstract concepts – a wrench for Tools, a star for Bookmark, a scissor for Cut, a thumps up for FB Like, etc. These icons have become the visual metaphors of our culture.

Metaphors are powerful.
They can quickly create common and shared understanding of complex concepts, systems and processes. They can help us imagine and visualize our thoughts and feel different emotions. But they can also create perceptions or alter existing meanings and structure the new understanding in different ways. Depending on the choice of words and existing meanings, metaphors can impact the imagery, thoughts and feelings and affect how we create new knowledge and meaning.

How can you describe ‘learning’ as a metaphor? Do these metaphors affect how you feel about learning?
Learning is:
-          A journey with plenty of milestones
-          A maze where one can easily get lost
-          An onion with layers upon layers
-          A walk in the dark
-          A spider web where everything is connected
-          A puzzle where some pieces fit perfectly and others don’t
-          A flowing river that never stops
-          A roller coaster ride with ups and downs

How about a metaphor for an ‘organization’? Is an organization like a machine, an organism, a brain, a prison, a family? Do different metaphors create different feelings? Changing our metaphors changes everything.

Metaphors change and evolve or... don't. 
The icon for a rotary dial telephone was quite common in many software applications. But slowly, the icon is changing to a handset. This evolution is continuous as the boundaries between a desk phone and a mobile phone continue to disappear. Sometimes, metaphors don’t evolve even though the meanings have evolved. The metaphor for Internet as an information superhighway does not offer the same meaning to us today as it offered 20 years ago. The Save button is MS Word uses an icon for a floppy drive. It was relevant at some point but not anymore. Such metaphors are ready to be replaced.

Metaphors also die.
When metaphors die, they are unable to generate the visual imagery or meaning they were created to do so perhaps because they have been overused. I didn’t catch your name or she grasped the concept are dead metaphors where we don’t visualize this physical action of catching something anymore. Or think of something like writing the body an essaywhich helped invoke the metaphorical image of human anatomy but now simply means the main part. Some metaphors die because we don’t quite know how they originated such as to understand meaning to stand underneath a concept. Such metaphors have become literalized into everyday language and have died as metaphors.

Metaphors can be confusing. 
Depending on the context and the culture, metaphors can be difficult to understand and can sometimes limit or block our understanding of the concept completely. Eastern cultures don’t fight the cold as much as the western cultures do. These metaphors that are embedded within a particular context can easily break communication and leave us confused. Phrases like rise to the bait, sell like hot cakes, wild goose chase, his eyes is on the sparrow, dead cat bounce, the camel's nose, turkeys voting for Christmas, being an albatross may not always ring a bell!

As Keith Basso (1976) said:  
For it is in metaphor, perhaps more dramatically than in any other form of symbolic expression, that language and culture come together and display their fundamental inseparability. A theory of one that excludes the other will inevitably do damage to both.

Metaphors are not universal even when they appear to be.
Metaphors may appear to have universal appeal but they are deeply embedded in our social constructs and are affected by our religion, beliefs and values.  'Life is a journey’, even though is a universal metaphor, conjures very different pictures in our mind depending on where we come from and what everyday life looks like. Do you see your life journey as a continuous cycle or do you see the journey as an arrow leading from one point to another?

What I have learned is that metaphors are not right or wrong but they can be good or bad depending on how they are used. Creating good metaphors is an art but there is some science behind it too.

“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man” 
― José Ortega y Gasset

References:

  • Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
  • The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes The Way We See the World, by James Cleary (NY: HarperCollins, 2011)
  • The art of the metaphor by Jane Hirshfield
  • Metaphor by Dr Rosamund Moon
  • Metaphor and Meaning by William Grey