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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mandatory Blogging?

Over the past two years, my thoughts around blogging as a learning and networking tool have been slowly evolving.

In Oct 2007, the LCB asked - Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging? I summarized the responses in: Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog

At the time, while I felt that blogging was something good to do, I didn't push all that hard. But, slowly I started pointing to:
Now I'm starting to feel that blogging is such a powerful learning tool that if I was going to send an employee to a conference, I'd want them to use a blog to enhance their learning. If they were starting on some new learning activity, I'd want them to blog.

Certainly in a few cases (formal learning), I've seen blogs be mandated as part of a course. But, otherwise, I've not seen anyone making it mandatory. I'm also thinking that a conference could be a significantly better experience if blogging was essentially mandatory as part of the conference. See Reframing Conference Social Tool Participation and think about the experience if people were blogging and we used an aggregator - ideally pre and post conference as well.

Has anyone else felt this transition from blogging as a nice thing for a few people to something that you want to find ways to force on people?

And Stephen, before you complain about the words force and mandatory, understand that this already happens in classroom settings. I'm extending that same notion to other settings. But I recognize that few (if any) conference organizers would actually go so far as to make it mandatory for attendees. (Although they might if they really wanted to help attendees learn and network.)

18 comments:

Dave Ferguson said...

Are you maybe confusing process with product? Or have you not had a chain of command above you in a while, with Those Who Know periodically lobbing another Great Idea for the masses to absorb -- in much less time than you did yourself, and without the motivation and experience you had?

I find a good deal of value in blogging, though it hasn't eliminated dandelions from my yard or freed me from having to floss my teeth.

When I look at specific activities that have been mandated, back in my corporate days, I think of five days of Six Sigma training and the doofus examples (how many newborn babies, in a one-sigma world, get dropped on their heads by the obstetrician). I think of California's requirement that supervisors undergo two hours of sexual-harassment training, and having to ensure that the online course took two hours to complete. I think of the productivity incinerator known as performance appraisal.

I think it's appropriate to encourage people to learn, and to ask people to demonstrate in some way the value of participating in a conference. But I can't think of anything likelier to turn blogging into the flavor of the month -- and last month, at that -- than to require that everyone do it.

Next steps: earn one CEU for every 38 posts.

Kevin S said...

Blogging is an amazingly powerful learning tool. Blogs can be used in creative ways to increase collaboration and networking, and enhance formal learning. But while it can be great as part of a formal learning solution, I think it is most powerful in an informal and self-directed context.

Blogging is most effectively used for learning when I use it the way I want to use it, not how someone tells me to. As soon as it is mandatory, it is no longer a tool for informal learning but another "remedy" pushed at me by a boss or learning professional.

For me, the empowering thing about most all the 2.0 technologies is that it breaks from the "push" approach to learning and enables me to "pull" and network.

Is there a place for "mandatory" blogs in formal learning? Sure...just like any other homework assignment. It's just another tool.

Guy Boulet said...

I must agree with Kevin that as soon as you make blogging mandatory, you are formalizing what is designed to be an informal learning tool.

The key about blogging, and any other informal learning tools, is that they are available to be used "on demand", whenever required. Forcing people to blog is like forcing them to talk even if they have nothing to say. You might end up with some irrelevant posts made only to satisfy the requirement to blog.

I'd rather make the tool available and let people use them if they feel like it than forcing them to use it.

V Yonkers said...

By making blogging mandatory, you are assuming there is one use for blogs. However, in a business environment, blogs may be used for communication, the creation of a record of work, and/or learning. The learning part is more unusual especially if the blog is no more than a record of thoughts without any reflexion.

So how do you think the idea of giving each employee 20 minutes of reflection (which could include blogging) would fly? Not well in a corporate setting I think.

By the way, according to an article I read in the Financial Times a few months back, some companies are requiring their managers to blog. They do this to maintain corporate communication. However, many of the managers think it is a waste of time they can spend more productively nor do their employees read the blogs.

Tony Karrer said...

There are some really good points being made here, but let me push back on a few things.

When I'm thinking of "mandating blogging" - I'm thinking that it would be "mandated" in a couple of contexts:

a. Attending a conference - As a replacement for the report that some companies require. In other words, we expect that going to the conference you will reflect on why you are going, what you are learning there, what others should get in terms of value. I am absolutely convinced people will get significantly more value from a conference if they do that.

B. Formal Learning Setting - instead of doing written assignments - do them in a blog - get collaborative with other students via blog posts and comments.

C. Sustained Learning Activity - an employee who is going to undertake a sustained learning activity such as getting up to speed on a new area. This would journal their learning. Again a great opportunity for reflection.

-----

Dave - you are right that some people will not like it as a tool and it will just be another form of having to do the report/assignment. But for many its this kind of push that's needed to have a chance of adoption (and I think that adoption is way below where it should be).

Kevin - I partly understand your argument but I think that it's really easy for people to take the easy way out and then not get the value. Don't you have to push somewhat? Why have assignments as part of formal learning in the first place? Why require a report for the conference? I know that this is a spectrum - but still isn't pushing MUCH harder appropriate based on your statement "amazingly powerful learning tool".

Guy - don't we force people to talk / write quite often? If they don't have anything to say - isn't that a problem? I'm okay if it's not the greatest stuff in the world, but they should have something to say. If I pay for their conference or they are trying to learn a new area - they should have something to say. Right?

Virginia - "assuming there is one use for blogs?" Not really. I think there are lots of uses. And, yes, I somewhat agree that maybe there are other ways that you could go after each of the above items (much like everyone here is arguing). But my feeling is that by not pushing hard on blogging - you somewhat cop out around the rest as well and then people do none of the above.

I completely agree that a blog that is only a record of what happened without reflection is not very valuable. I do expect reflection and thought. And, yes, that's a hurdle. But for an Instructional Designer inside a corporation - shouldn't I expect them to be capable of that reflection?

"forcing managers to blog" is probably a good argument since if people resist this (and any real work of reflection and capture) then the blog becomes just another tool for them to fill out the report.

But, I feel like there's a bit of cop-out going on here. Yes, it's a bit of a hurdle and fairly demanding. Still do we believe it's an "amazing learning tool" or not? Then if we aren't comfortable with "mandatory" how far are we willing to push?

Debora Gallo said...

As soon as i read this post i thought "hey yeah!!!" but i then took a step back and i must say that going down the mandatory road takes away from the informal - self directed aspect of blogs that make them so powerful.
I do agree that we need more blogging from conferences for example! I was looking at a recent conference here in Australia and i checked their site to see whether the presenters had blogged or even put their presentations online - nothing! All you live bloggers from US conferences have led me to expect it as a norm now ;)
I'm speaking at 2 upcoming Australian conferences and i will be posting my presentation online and I'll be trying to blog from the conference as much as i can!
Something i wouldn't have thought to do before actually starting my blog. And i started my blog thanks to you Tony!

Andrew White said...

Hi Tony, on 28th April you said

"What's the learning objective associated with this blog? I hate to be so self serving, but the objective is really to help my personal learning. To a lesser extent the learning objective is to help other people learn."

Would mandatory blogging really "help personal learning" or would the blogging just happen out of fear of the consequences of not blogging. Lets face it in the corporate world the vast majority of people would rather be home "eliminating the dandelions from the back yard" than attending training or be forced to write a blog.

I for one have just started blogging because I have seen the potential through reading this one and others. If I had have been told that I had to blog before I discovered the power of blogging for myself I would have been turned off for life. I think it’s a bit like forcing a child to eat vegetables vs. showing them that vegetables taste good by enjoying them yourself.

Thought provoking never the less.

Regards

Andrew

Karyn Romeis said...

Nope. No forcing. Not ever. That would be no different from linear navigation and the "course" compulsion.

Lori Reed said...

I think it depends on the context of the learning and what your goal is by having learners blog. I don't think it is a good idea to require blogging for bloggings sake, but if you can tie it back to the transfer of learning and make it meaningful then it is a wonderful tool.

But employees need to be given time to do this if it is required. You cannot require people to do something and then tell them to find their own time. As trainers we must make sure that supervisors are aware of the extra time commitments we are placing on people outside of the classroom.

All this said I think most people shy away from mandates. Andrew had a great analogy with children and vegetables. It's better to teach by example than mandates.

For a great example of this look at the success of Learning 2.0 by PLCMC. Blogging in itself was part of the learning. This was a highly successful program and many staff still continue to blog even though they have completed the program.

Tony Karrer said...

Deb - thanks for chiming in. Nice to know that at least one person was "convinced" to blog (as opposed to mandated).

Andrew - "Would mandatory blogging really "help personal learning" or would the blogging just happen out of fear of the consequences of not blogging?"

I actually think your analogy on how to get kids to eat vegetables is right on the mark. I must admit that I somewhat force my kids. We have some kind of vegetables at every dinner and they must eat them. It's not a discussion anymore, but we did have to mandate it. 2 of the 3 kids - no issue - they've always eaten and enjoyed them. 1 of the 3 - not so much.

Now, when it comes to blogging - I would want everyone to try it - and I'm even willing to mandate it in certain context (see my comment above for examples).

Now blogging is different in that it may be limited in time frame - vegetables last a lifetime (especially lima beans).

Karyn - Really? Never? (Sidenote: I tell my kids to never say never because then someone will always have a counter example. Of course, its a bit like saying mandatory. :) Do you even get close to the line sometimes? What about if you were designing training that teaches people about blogging as a learning tool? What about if you were teaching people about collaborative learning?

Lori - no fun coming in and giving such a rational response to a polarizing question.

I agree that figuring out how employees have time is critical. Of course, if I expect that they are going to spend time learning in one way or another (see my examples) then blogging should be part of that time.

Great point on 23 Things as an example. I did something similar. And like eating vegetables, it was just part of the experience. And, I don't think that everyone needs to decide to do it after the experience - only when/if it makes sense.

Dave Ferguson said...

What a surprise that you'd "mandate" that your kids eat vegetables. Personally, I'd starve to death in a room filled with cucumbers. No doubt my disdain for sushi stems from my pre-Vatican II Fridays and my parents' fondness for salt cod and codfish cakes.

About the worst way in the world to get me to do something is to require it. (Especially if from my perspective it seems to add no value.) The IRS can manage (though I do use an accountant to keep them at bay), and in my consulting work I've had to work with more counterproductive client systems than Kansas has combines.

It seems to me that you could tease out the valuable product that you see blogs delivering -- deliberate reflection, revisiting of key issues/interests, etc. -- and highlight those ends, rather than one specific means.

Instead of a push, why not a pull? Do you mandate that people engage in professional development, or do you encourage it by, say, underwriting memberships, conferences, or workshops on a case-by-case basis?

I remember one manager who hounded me for a one-page report on every session I attended at a three-day conference. I'm pretty ready to share things I've learned; this exercise struck me as entirely about control. To my knowledge she never did anything with the reports -- other than bring up at my review that I'd been three days late in completing them.

Mandating (and I realize you were mostly musing) is much easier than, say, encouraging managers to talk with people about the conferences and formal learning they attend; to follow up; to encourage deliberate experimentation ("was there anything in the Flange Divot Management course we could use here?").

Karyn Romeis said...

Tony "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Mandating something for your kids is an altogether different matter - you have a duty of care. But our learners and colleagues are not kids, they are adults and we need to treat them as such.

So, in respect of blogging, I stick by my guns. No mandating.

Kerry McGuire said...

Tony... I can't agree with mandating blogging - even if it would likely benefit the "learner". However, I can see benefit in requiring conference attendees (sponsored by their employers) to share back their knowledge. Whether that happens on a blog, wiki, team space, podcast, lunch and learn, etc. doesn't really matter. But there should be an obligation to share back with their peers.

And.. in my opinion... although this isn't widely shared (I don't think)... the share-back should go beyond just regurgitating the info.

Tony Karrer said...

This has been a great discussion. I'm now struggling a bit with some of the thoughts being expressed.

1. I'm still not sure what people think I should do to get my kids to eat their vegetables. Especially the one who doesn't seem to like anything green.

2. It seems that a lot of the disagreement is with the word mandate /mandatory. There's a spectrum from influence to mandate right? Part of the difference is how you present something. Part of it is expectation for what people will do. I've cited a few context where I think it makes a lot of sense. And I would just make it part of the experience. Is it mandatory? Well as long as the person reflects and publishes to get feedback from inside and outside the organization then I don't care how they do it. Oh, blogging sounds like a good way to do that. Is that better? Go change the word mandate to strongly influence (or give me the appropriate words) and let me know if that sounds better.

3. It seems that also it depends heavily on the specific instance and how each person judges the value of blogging in that instance. Generally it seems that you can require students to use blogs as part of a formal learning activity? Some dissension around using blogging (internal/external) part of any request to attend a conference and reimbursement? And in the case of using it as a personal learning tool for a sustained learning event (like getting up to speed on a new topic) there's less comfort in heavily influencing. Doesn't that seem backwards? Isn't the blog almost the most important in the last case. After all, the person going through the learning experience likely doesn't have anyone to really support them in the organization. Isn't blogging a fantastic tool for that? Why wouldn't you encourage people to do it? And, BTW, you can't ask them to get up to speed on a new topic and then not give them time to do so.

Doesn't this make us all pretty wishy-washy? We think it's a great tool for us - but if other people don't think it's a good idea - that's okay. Maybe it won't be good for them.

Sorry - I'm ranting now.

BTW, Kerry, I absolutely agree that regurgitating (which you often see in live blogging) is not what you are going after. As Dave said, it's reflection and conversation.

Karyn - I now have a mission to push you (and others) closer to the edge of getting people to blog. I feel like I'm failing so far.

How can I do that?

Kate Foy said...

I'm very much joying this discussion which is focussing my own reflection on a just completed project with students (higher ed). They kept a blog on their process with a final reflective round-up; I asked them to pull some quotes and focus their reflection in part on these. The results were some of the best I've ever received from a group. As one said in the reflection: 'I'll use this again. You think you remember, but you don't.' I was also able to have a conversation with them on their blogs during the project.
Yes, it's a tool ... a dynamic tool that I'll be using again in a formal (assessable) context.

Dave Ferguson said...

Tony, what you do with your kids is really your business, and I didn't mean to tell you want to do instead. That would be another unenforceable mandate...

(My own children are adults, and so any "don't want that" battles are long past. My approach most of the time was not to bother trying to make them eat anything they didn't want to. Didn't you ever read Bread and Jam for Frances?)

I think we're in agreement that management should encourage behaviors that support learning. That can include discussions about what activities to actively pursue (inside the organization or outside it), the goals of that pursuit, connections between those goals and the individual's current or desired job, and so on.

I'm not convinced that blogging is the royal road to learning, any more than Toastmasters is the royal road to speaking in public. Can it help? Sure, but there's no guarantee. I'd bet dinner for four that a vanishingly small percentage of people ordered to join Toastmasters have significantly built their speaking skills.

Here at your own blog, you often have extended discussions. Of the 15 comments here before I started this one, 12 were from 10 people other than yourself. That's a terrific exchange, though I doubt that's the norm. For me to get 15 comments, I have to go back a month, and half those are my own.

I'm not complaining (much); I'm just saying that blogging doesn't work the same way for everyone, nor does it automatically deliver the same benefits.

Tony Karrer said...

Kate - thanks for the comment - and for backing me up a little. :)

Dave - funny you would mention that book - my oldest daughter's name happens to be Frances. Love those books. Unfortunately, my middle child - who happens to be the one I mentioned in 10 Year Old's Wikipedia Update - also is the one who doesn't like any vegetables other than those loaded with carbs (corn, potatoes, etc.). Okay - to the actual topic. :)

I agree that "blogging doesn't work the same way for everyone, nor does it automatically deliver the same benefits." ... There's much more to it - and I'm sure Kate could tell us things she had to do to make it effective in her environment.

I hear you on the issue of dialog/comments. Not sure how you can get more interaction, but for me a lot of it was initially interacting via other forms.

You actually have quite good content on your blog. However, I never feel like I want to comment or post responses. Even when you cited my post. It didn't spark a response from me. Although obviously your comments here do.

Hold it, I feel a post coming on. :)

Dave Ferguson said...

You actually have quite good content on your blog.

Thank you. From the viewpoint of writing about what interests me, my Whiteboard works just fine. I'm more conscious about finding stuff, about reading elsewhere, even about commenting.

However, I never feel like I want to comment or post responses. Even when you cited my post. It didn't spark a response from me. Although obviously your comments here do.

On the one hand, it could be I'm not writing about anything you feel like commenting on. Seems reasonable. You may also prefer the conversations you launch. That's equally reasonable--if they didn't interest you, would wouldn't launch them.

Which ties back to the main theme. I think you like whacking a stick against a topic to see what happens. In other words, you value the "blog" part; the "mandatory" was the stick-whack.

Having been what GE called an individual contributor for most of my career, I'm wary of such stick-whacking when it comes from on high.

Suppose to comply with my boss, I start a blog. Amazingly, nobody comments. (Though if I comment on the boss's post, he replies...)

Have I failed in my selections? If a post is an invitation for discussion, and for six weeks straight no one discusses (except 1200 spammers), how is my Boss Blog better than a paper journal?

I know, there's the content-management part and the hyperlink part, all of are features of blog software. But they're not necessarily benefits; benefit is something defined on my own terms.

I hope it's clear I think blogging is a useful tool and can bring benefit. But mandatory blogging as part of a conference? I can think of two or three dozen colleagues who'd attend the same conference I would, and not one, so far as I know, has a blog. And quite a few don't have a laptop, which is a real impediment to blogging at the conference.