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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Personal and Group Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools

In my previous post, I examined Personal Learning for Learning Professionals - Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Reading & Research More Effective. That post focused primarily on how Social Bookmarking tools such as or Yahoo My Web can be used as part of Personal Learning. In this post, I want to focus on a specific scenario that involves Personal and Group Learning and how Web 2.0 tools apply to this need.

Scenario – a learning development department in a mid size corporation has five staff members. They want to define an eLearning strategy that will look at (a) the business needs of their company and internal clients, (b) their performance and learning needs, (c) their learning strategies, and (d) what they need to do from a services, technology, process and people perspective to support this strategy. They will be creating this strategy over the next few months and have many strong feelings among the group about different things they can and should be doing. The strategy will ultimately be presented as part of the fall planning cycle and be used as part of budget justification. It will also be used to help communicate with internal clients about the services they provide and how they can work with these clients. They also want what they define in the strategy today to live on and evolve over time. In order to accomplish this, they need to learn quite a bit about where things are today in their business and in eLearning and where they are going in the future.

Hopefully this scenario sounds familiar to many people. Now let’s focus on how several Web 2.0 tools could be used as part of a system that would support them in this challenge.

For this scenario, I’ve chosen tools that (a) I’m most familiar with, (b) are provide as Software Services, (c) are free – a big part of the reason I’m familiar with them. :) The tools are:

I’m also making an important early decision about what and how much we will share publicly vs. keep internal. We will keep all content on PBwiki internal only. We will intentionally make our Blogger conversations and Yahoo My Web links public. Of course, links to internal PBwiki pages can be seen but not accessed. It will be important for all staff members to keep this in mind as they use the systems.

To get this going, the department selects one person (who likes playing with systems) to first go through and set things up for themselves. They will help make it happen for the rest of department. Overall, the set up steps are:

  1. Create one PBWiki account with appropriate settings and they will use a single shared password – but changes will be tracked back to the individual. Initially only simple edits to the home page are made.
  2. Each person on the team creates a Blogger blog account
  3. Each person registers their blog on Technorati. I would recommend that you have one of the more technical person on the staff help make this happen.
  4. One person creates their blogline account and subcribes to (a) RSS feed from PB Wiki, (b) various eLearning Blogs, (c) all Blogger blogs from department. Finally, the technical person will provide the OPML link from bloglines and put it on the Wiki with instructions how to import it so that everyone else can import the same subscriptions.
  5. Each other person in the department creates a blogline account and imports the OPML so they are automatically subscribed to the same blogs
  6. Each person in the department signs up on Yahoo MyWeb. This includes downloading and installing the Yahoo Toolbar which won’t work in some corporate environments. Consider in these environments. Add each other member of the department as "contacts" in Yahoo MyWeb.

Now let’s consider what happens after things are set up. As part of an initial brainstorming discussion, it becomes clear that the business wants to be able to create quick hit eLearning pieces on their own with little to no involvement of the learning department, i.e., they need some kind of rapid eLearning tool that can be used by SMEs. The expectation is that some of the content will be sent around via email and sometimes it will include a brief quiz and they’ll want it tracked under the LMS. The department needs to figure out:

  • What do they need to provide to support this? What are the service offerings? How will it work?
  • What tools will work?
  • What do they need to do now to be prepared?

Again, hopefully this sounds familiar. Let’s look at some of the things that happen out of the meeting using the tools that were set up previously.

  1. One of the people on the team creates a page in the Wiki on Rapid eLearning. They put a quick note on the page to ask that everyone uses the tag “rapid” on things that relate to this topic. They go to Yahoo MyWeb and create a Web Badge that will show all recent links to pages tagged with “rapid.” They embed this on this Wiki page. The assumption is that over time, some of these dynamic links from the Web Badge will be copied and made permanent on the Wiki.
  2. Each of the members also should add a subscription in bloglines to Yahoo MyWeb tag “rapid”. You do this by going to MyWeb and doing the appropriate tag search and then grabbing the RSS link at the bottom of the page.
  3. The first task is to try to define the requirements, so a couple of the people in the department start searching for related content (in another post I’ll talk about how Web 2.0 tools might help you find better content).
  4. Each time they find an interesting page, they save it to My Web and tag it with “rapid” and sometimes add notes that the other members will see along with the link.
    They also copy and paste into the Wiki as the find interesting possible requirements.
  5. As they run into interesting issues (challenges, questions) around the requirements, they create blog posts. These are public so they get comments or feedback from other members in the department, but occasionally they get feedback from people working on similar issues or with relevant experience.
  6. Once they feel they have a good list of requirements, they post it again as a blog post and ask for anything they’ve possibly missed that was important.

Again, no doubt a lot of this process will sound familiar and will be only slightly different than what you already would do when you face this learning / work challenge. That’s a good thing. But let’s consider what’s happened here that’s a little different:

  1. You have collected links that are:
    • Easily shared between your group members (as easy as saving a favorite today)
    • Full-text searchable for everyone in your group
    • Published via RSS out to the group so they can see what’s going on
    • Available from any computer
  2. You have a collaborative editing location in the Wiki that can be shared with internal clients at an appropriate point
    • No need to shuttle around word documents with version numbers
    • No need to figure out how to post on your intranet
  3. You may have receive outside feedback / input on what you are doing
  4. You haven’t added one additional email unless you really wanted to send an email to the group
Except for item #3 above, I wouldn’t claim that this is revolutionary. Even item #3 you could do today using current technology such as a discussion group (and maybe still should). However, the net effect is much better support for this process.

Finally, there’s an important side note here. As part of your eLearning Strategy development, you should be learning how to use these tools to figure out if they should be part of your eLearning Strategy…

Let me know what you think. Are you going to try it? If so, please blog about your results. If not, why not? If you find good resources that give more detailed instructions or have problems, also let me know.


Lee Kraus said...

Do you think the combination of the technologies is going to be too much for new users? Technology adoption is just such an issue to try to get these systems to work. I totally agree with the value, but there has to be participation. Great post!

Tony Karrer said...

Lee - you are correct that there's adoption, learning curve issues here. On the other hand, I've found that these tools have the lowest learning hurdle of any I've seen/used. So while there are definitely some adoption issues, and that's why I recommend having a person in the department take the point on this to help others - I don't think it's a high enough hurdle for people not to try it out.

Have you found much of a barrier (learning curve) to adopting these technologies? FYI - you can see a simple model of technology adoption at:

eLearning Technology: Web 2.0 Adoption in the Enterprise - It's Personal
eLearning Technology: Enterprise 2.0 - What's the PU?

While adoption is going to be slower than the hype would indicate (it won't be radio), I think adoption will be steady (more like web itself) and I think it's inevitable given how easy the tools are to use.

But maybe I'm wrong?

Tony Hirst said...

Finding sensible blends of "web2.0" tools for use in a particular project/activity is something that I think will become clearer over time as people become more comfortable with using these tools/apps and start to learn what their independent strneghts/weaknesses are, as well as the powerful 'emergeent' benefits that arise when tools are used together (wwiki change feeds feeding int a feedreader alongside recent bookmarks, for example).

I have started working on a rapid prototyping tool that will allow users to easily pull several different applications under the same roof, as well as identifying some of the ways they can be wired together.

This work in progress can be found at StringLE.

Anonymous said...

We're in the planning stage of starting an informal group to study informal learning. Probably a closed group and one with a relatively fixed timeframe because we want to test a model. Given a closed group of 5-6 in a fixed timeframe, is having individual blogs and a collective wiki necessary?

Tony Karrer said...

Frank - you are right to be concerned about the overhead of adopting a couple technologies given a small group and a limited timeframe.

It's hard to know the right answer. It will certainly depend on your group.

Do they already blog? Do they have any experience with Wikis? How about Forums?

Short answer is that I don't see using individual blogs for what you describe. Overhead is too much for value.

Options I'd consider:

A. Email and Attach a Word Document with Track Changes on

-> People understand the techs, but it gets messy pretty quick and clutters the inbox.

B. Create a private Google or Yahoo Group

-> It at least will shield you from individual emails. Allows file sharing.

C. Use the group for discussion and create a private Wiki for editing a shared document.

D. Use the private wiki for both discussion and editing.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tony,

My co-planner and I are both bloggers, and he is a techy and experienced with wikis.

Our goal is to hit two birds with one stone. 1) Gain knowledge about informal learning and 2) Test a different model. Our current thoughts include a private wiki, (per person), and chat.

Upon completion, the wiki may become public.

Tony Karrer said...

If you are looking to make the results public, then a Wiki is a great idea. is public, so you might want to look at Yahoo MyWeb if you are concerned about privacy, but it sounds like that's not an issue.

Probably getting folks to use those two would be enough to swallow for a short run thing.

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