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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LMS and Social Learning

As a follow on to the discussion of social learning and formal learning in Long Live … great post by BJ Schone - Have LMSs Jumped The Shark?

I constantly hear people (across many organizations) complain about their learning management system (LMS). They complain that their LMS has a terrible interface that is nearly unusable. Upgrades are difficult and cumbersome. Their employees’ data is locked in to a proprietary system. Users hate the system. It’s ugly. (Did I miss anything?)

We’ve recently seen LMSs shift to include more functionality, such as wikis, blogs, social networking, etc. I think they’re heading in the wrong direction. I don’t really understand why LMS vendors are now thinking they need to build in every possible 2.0 tool. If I want a great blogging platform, I’m going to download WordPress (it’s free and has a huge support community). If I want a great wiki platform, I’m going to download MediaWiki or DokuWiki (also free and they have huge support communities). And when it comes to social networking, as a co-worker put it, “Do they really think I’m going to create a ‘friends’ list in the LMS? Seriously?”


I've wondered the same thing. Mzinga seems to have jumped out early with a strong social platform that also has an LMS capability. But there does seem to be a difference between what you expect with an LMS and what you expect from your social learning / work platform. Dave Wilkins from Mzinga talks about the two models of social learning as depicted by the diagram on the right.

There's social learning wrapped around the formal learning resources. He calls it the Amazon model with the learning being like a book. Lots of stuff wrapped around the book on Amazon. Then there's a model when the community is first and foremost and the formal learning is part of this overall model.

BJ's point is that trying to get people to spend enough time in the LMS so that you have a vibrant social learning community is problematic. We will see some level of social interaction going along with a formal learning event. But you really are much more likely to success when the social tools are the same tools that will exist beyond the formal learning. And I don't think that many of us expect our LMS vendor to provide the solution that organizations will adopt more broadly.

Thus, the question …

Why aren't the LMS vendors looking at deeper integration with other offerings?

In some ways they are. SharePoint and LMS seems to be a more common discussion:

Likely this is the beginning of a wave of this kind of approach.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Long Live?

Just got through reading - Long Live Instructor-Led Learning - by Saul Carliner, who is a person I know, like and respect. Wow, did he step in it on this one. Was his purpose link-bait by putting up something that is so horribly wrong as to cause us to want to respond? He had me scratching my head about Long Live what?

Long Live – is actually an important issue being raised through this discussion that I'll get to below…

Let me start with the fact that Saul and his article made no attempt to directly engage with any of the "bloggers" who he so quickly lumps together and dismisses. His article included citations with links, but included no links to the Learning Circuits Blog, nor to the post Workplace Learning in 10 Years that he discusses, nor to any of the individual responses several by well known and respect people from the industry.

Death of the Classroom?

You sometimes will run across posts or presentations that have the title – the Death of the Classroom. I'm guessing that Saul somehow assumed that this is what people were saying in their posts, but didn't actually read the 20+ individual posts when he said:

Nearly all of the contributors predicted the death of the classroom

For a person who is claiming to have done a better analysis and thus has a better prediction of the future he completely botched that.

Instead, what the common theme was that organizations will likely have reduced the amount of classroom and courseware times.

I would argue that today all classroom or courseware should be questioned. Can you reduce it by 50%? Can you make it 5 minutes long and just teach them how to use the rest of the resources? – Tony Karrer

Formal learning will still be going strong but somewhat de-emphasised. Clive Shepherd

we will continue to see ILT, eLearning courses (some of them page turners), and all the other stuff that we see today – Upside Learning

And the list goes on. There were a couple of outliers who predicting bigger change, but that "nearly all" "predicted … death" is flat out a gross misrepresentation.

To be fair to Saul, he points us to some important numbers from the ASTD State of the Industry Report:

Despite a steady climb in the availability of e-learning, the overall percentage of instructor-led training is nearly unchanged: 71.97 percent in 2003 and 70.58 percent in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). What has changed, though not as significantly as one might expect, is the percentage of instructor-led training offered online, rising from 2.92 percent of all training in 2003 to 6.39 percent in 2008.

This aligns with the eLearning Guild's numbers that I discussed last fall in Training Method Trends.

However, the question was not a current state question – it was a future question. Saul seems to believe that total instructor-led training (f2f and online) will remain essentially unchanged as an expenditure or hours.

I don't know that any of us has a perfect crystal ball. All we can look at is what's been happening and what the environmental forces are and try to predict what will happen in the future. Saul seems to think the future – 10 years from now – will be relatively the same. I believe that most of the voices you will see responding to the big question predict (for a variety of reasons) that time and expenditure on instructor-led classroom workplace learning will be lower in the future (again almost no one said dead, but many predicted lower). A few said relatively unchanged.

I do think it's worth diving into some of the specific posts and thinking about it yourself.

What do you think?

Informal Learning

After his questionable call on levels of instructor-led, classroom training in the future, Saul then tells us…

More flawed than the analysis of the numbers is the proposition that formal classroom learning will be replaced by informal learning, which will primarily occur online through blogs and social computing tools. Although it sounds exciting at first, and certainly appeals to the emotions, several practical issues—all of which are ignored by the contributors to the ASTD 2019 discussion—limit the likelihood that organizations would primarily rely on informal learning.

Hmmm …. don't organizations already primarily rely on informal learning? Is most of what we learn via formal learning or informal learning today?

But I think I understand what he is trying to say with this, but again it's his tone that gets in the way of actual discourse. The common theme in the responses via the ASTD blog are:

  • We are already seeing organizations look at how they can enable greater informal and social learning opportunities.
  • As compared to today, there will be greater emphasis on support for informal and social learning in the workplace.

So, it's a fair question – do we see a greater emphasis in the future for informal and social learning in workplace learning?

Oh, actually, that was the question being raised and soliciting input from various sources.

Blogs and Informal Learning Are Unreliable?

Probably the funniest aspect of Saul's post is when he tells us that informal learning is unreliable.

Another flaw is that informal learning can be inaccurate. In some cases, it's the learner's fault. Research on reading suggests that people tend to read inaccurately, especially online. So someone might interpret a point incorrectly, or mistakenly remember a fact. (As a result of this lack of credibility, people like President Obama don't rely on blogs [2]).

But sometimes the errors in content result from the publication of erroneous content or opinion that is not properly labeled. The potential for those is high in blogs, which many people cite as an excellent learning resource.

In her qualitative study of people who keep blogs on training and development topics, Kristina Schneider found that few of the bloggers differentiated between fact and opinion; nor did they verify the information they published; nor did the bloggers provide disclaimers about the nature of the content they published [3]. As a result, readers might believe the content they're reading is true when, in fact, there's also a chance that it's not.

This is first funny because he's writing an opinion piece himself that is not properly labeled. If anything it is completely mislabeled. eLearn Magazine suggests this is some kind of vetted "Feature Article". But I know that T+D would not have let this out as an article without series editing. It's an opinion piece with no human editor vetting some of the statements that clearly don't pass muster.

A few things from Schneider's thesis -

all 5 bloggers write in the first person and none of them write in an academic style … The bloggers write in a mainly business writing style which is direct and open to opinion-based comments

some blog posts are more editorial in fashion. However, there are rarely no statements such as “in my opinion” or “these are my own thoughts” to indicate what is opinion and what is fact.

None of the bloggers studied have PhDs, yet many want to be seen as, or perceived themselves to be, experts There is no data to validate or invalidate their expert status—the only thing that can be garnered from the interview is their own emic perspective; that is, what they say about themselves and the permission they give themselves to analyse and give their opinions about certain issues within their area of knowledge.

Though some participate in conferences, they speak more about their experiences holding conferences or speaking at them rather than about participating in them to learn. In these cases, then conferences serve marketing purposes first, not professional development purposes.

Should we give her a pass on PhD implies expert? Should I assume that this means that Saul himself goes to lots of workplace training and attends lots of conference sessions himself. Kristina doesn't realize that she's describing most of the consultants / authors who have been in the industry for 20+ years.

Saul should be a bit embarrassed citing this stuff without big time caveats around what the piece is and what it is really saying. Basically, she accurately describes blogging as not having the same quality control standards that a well-edited publication or professional journalist has. That's about it.

When you read the responses to the ASTD Learning Circuits Blog Big Question – these folks are all writing their responses in a blog. I would claim the labeling is actually much better than eLearn Magazine and particularly Saul's piece.

Yes, you should be suspicious of any content you find anywhere (including in a classroom). Oh and when it appears in a magazine and in a presentation at a conference. Did I mention that many of us bloggers are also people writing articles and doing presentations.

Do we really need to revisit this conversation?

How Do We Learn?

Saul later tells us …

Another flaw with informal learning is that people only learn it when they find it or stumble onto it, which might not occur when people actually need the material. In the case of getting to content when they need it, one of the problems with material on the Web is that people do not find it when they need it, or they find material that seems to be appropriate, even when it is not. They might not have assistance in verifying the selection or they might not seek it because they might not appreciate the need.

Saul is right that if you need to ensure that someone has learned something specific – like you need to ensure that they meet a compliance requirement, then formal learning of some form (like courseware) is probably a good bet.

What I don't quite get is how Saul proposes that formal learning can be used. The whole problem is Long Tail Learning. There is just way too much stuff that people need to learn that we have to make choices about what we spend our time publishing into formal learning events. The audience has to be large enough. As concept workers, we quickly go past formal learning opportunities. There's no course on what I do every day. And you cannot Separate Knowledge Work from Learning.

One option is to say that limit of training / workplace Learning Responsibility is formal learning. Once you go beyond formal learning, then there's an immediate question of what else you will provide. I know from Data Driven performance improvement solutions that often informal learning can be very effective in driving results. To me, the answer is pretty clear. You've got to look beyond formal.

Saul is right that it's sometimes hard to find the right information on the web when you need it. I would claim that we need to help people with their Search Skills. I would also claim that this is exactly why Network Learning is so important.

I just don't get what Saul thinks is the alternative here?

Similarly, informal learners might need the information, but can only learn when their time permits. Too often, however, the time set aside for learning is interrupted by something more immediate. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the completion rates for tutorial-style e-learning are often disappointing.

I'm guessing that Saul wants us to learn absolutely everything via classroom instruction before we ever do anything? I know he doesn't mean this, but … I would claim that if anything, Saul is pointing out the importance of teach informal learning skills so that they can get the information when they need it.

Network Learning?

Next up for Saul is questioning the value of social networking tools for informal learning…

The contributors to the discussion also suggest that social networking tools (also known as Web 2.0) will play an important role in training. But that, too, might be an overstatement.

… even the experts admit that the numbers merely indicate the quantity of people who have access to these tools; the numbers do not indicate the quality of participation. For learning purposes, it's the latter that matters.

I had to check back. Yes, Saul is on LinkedIn and has 226 connections. And he's a first level connection for me.

Saul can you Network Learning and get back to me on the value of being able to reach into a network like LinkedIn to reach high quality individuals for help with specific needs.

Saul tells us …

No single social computing tool is likely to meet every organization's learning needs.

That's some pretty incredible insight. Did anyone suggest that there was a single answer or that any of this wasn't a terribly messy, complex problem? Further, I believe that this is highly personal. Different people will find different styles of use that are effective. But my point is always, that doesn't mean you can/should ignore them.

Long Live?

The real question that is behind the Big Question – Workplace Learning in Ten Years is where we should be putting our time and attention today. I had the opportunity to work with Stedman Graham and one of his favorite lines that I will paraphrase:

We are all equal in this world. We all have 24 hours. What makes us different is how we choose to spend it.

The problem I have with Saul's Long Live article (? or is it a blog post that was not edited ?) is that he's suggesting … what? He exhorts Long Live instructor led. Yes, go team go. You should double your bets on instructor-led training. Don't worry about reducing your spend on instructor-led for the next ten years. And ignore all that informal and social learning stuff. What? Long Live what?

He cites an example of a public foundation that is the primary source of funding for more than 300 nonprofits in a metro area. They use a blended classroom, social learning and performance support solution to helping them. When I think about the particular situation I realize that it would be important for whomever is defining the specifics of the approach to be very much aware of things beyond instructor led learning. For example …

There's a wonderful social learning solution that I believe would fit this situation very well from America Learns. As part of this solution, the normal kinds of reporting done by the individual nonprofits feeds into a knowledge base that then can be tapped by people in other nonprofits. It helps share effective patterns.

I'm sure that there's already a fair bit of informal and social learning that's occurring. I wonder if there's more that could be done to help them better share beyond the formal learning opportunities that Saul describes? My guess is that the answer is very much a yes. Or maybe even it would be that we should give them more classroom training on how to become better social learners. Or maybe it's more time networking. It could be a lot of different things.

And therein lies my main criticism with Saul's piece. He didn't help me understand what he believe is the important places we should spend our time. His main points seem to be:

  • Don't worry instructor-led training is okay (hence the title - Long Live Instructor-Led Learning)
  • Ignore social and informal learning. It has a lot of flaws.
  • Bloggers produce poor quality and misleading information.

Long Live what? If his point was only to say that people claiming the death of the classroom in 10 years are wrong … and that the classroom will still be around in ten years … then I agree. But it just seemed that his argument quickly left that and into a bunch of dubious statements.

I would claim that it's probably much more instructive to go look at some of the individual posts cited and make up your own mind. And I would still ask you to answer the core question:

Where will you spend your time?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is Social Learning Fun?

Robert Kennedy recently posted 100 Conversations and Hot Wheels where he addressed one of my 100 Conversation Topics that you can find aggregated on eLearning Learning as 100 Conversations.  He chose to write about how he works differently from 10 years ago … one of my favorite topics.  Some good stuff in his post, but something that caught my eye was:

Have my work skills changed? Well, I use different tools now and I think my general approach to things has morphed slightly.  However, I still look to incorporate the “oh that was fun” factor into learning.  As I learn new software and new technologies, in some cases that becomes a bit more difficult.  The video game factor has made it harder to have the “wow” factor in some learning software.  But there are still ways to include some fun still.

This is always a good reminder to make sure that while we are moving towards smaller pieces of content, self-directed learning, informal learning support, social learning solutions, etc. – we don't lose one of the aspects that I believe learning professionals often possess.  They know how to make learning fun.

It also made me realize that I've not thought a whole lot about social learning and fun.  Do I even need to make it fun?  Isn't it already a kind of fun – interaction and conversation?  But maybe that's me?  What do you think?

Is Social Learning Fun?

eLearning Learning – March 1 – 15 2009

Here are the top items via eLearning Learning.

Top Items

  1. Communities of Practice
  2. Online Education - Introducing the Microlecture Format — Open Education
  3. Tips for facilitators in Ning
  4. Social vs. Not - Pictorally
  5. 50 Practical Tips & Tricks to Build Better E-Learning
  6. Desire2Blog: Student Introductions in Online Courses
  7. IRIS Model
  8. New roles for former trainers
  9. Aggregation Types
  10. Workplace Learning in 10 Years
  11. Manchester United embraces m-learning
  12. elearning, strategically
  13. M-Learning: Challenges to E-Learning Pro’s
  14. Are you playing the role of the Subject Matter Expert instead of the Instructional Designer?
  15. Adult Learning in the Workplace – Research Findings

Top Keywords

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Workplace Productivity

One of the favorite quotes I used to use during presentations was Drucker -

The most important contribution of management in the 21st century will be to increase knowledge-worker productivity.

This is a big reason that I started Work Literacy.  I firmly believe that all management and workplace learning professionals need to be constantly looking at how we can improve the performance of knowledge workers.  This is probably THE challenge of the 21st century.

But about six months ago, I started not to use this quote.  When I look at concept workers and measuring their performance, I've come to realize that "workplace productivity" is not the right term and is not exactly where we should focus.

Complexity of Productivity for Knowledge Work

Productivity is defined as:

the ratio of the quantity and quality of units produced to the labor per unit of time

For some knowledge workers, we can reasonably define things this way.  For example, in a call center environment, it is reasonable to look at handle time, customer satisfaction, total sales, etc.  These numbers can be used with a Data Driven approach to supporting performance improvement.

However, when we look at concept workers, workplace productivity seems to be a fairly limiting phrase.  It seems to be equated with activity.  And Ben Franklin tells us:

Never confuse motion with action.

A couple of recent posts reinforced the complexity for me.  In Defining Productivity for the Knowledge Age, Jonathan Spira -

The wide range of tasks that knowledge workers undertake, combined with the fact that there are different levels of knowledge workers, ranging from those with a single skill to highly skilled workers who exercise independent thought and action most of the time, makes both the task of defining productivity and developing a management science somewhat tricky, to say the least.

In The Fun of Productivity Measures, Jack Vinson looks at the complexity of looking at knowledge worker productivity -

It's still an open question for me as to how to turn these business-level measures into something useful for knowledge workers.  There are obvious abuses you want to prevent, but beyond "don't be stupid" and "work as quickly as possible and pass it to the next person" how do you calculate how much someone has contributed to the successful completion of Project X?

I'm not quite sure what the replacement term is for workplace productivity or knowledge work productivity, but I'm that the current implication is somewhat misleading.  It also causes us to confuse activity and effectiveness.

Confusing Activity and Effect

One of my favorite examples of the challenge of activity and effect is from one of the people who I consider to be a guru on Knowledge Worker Effectiveness.  See Tom Davenport and Blogging - He is Wrong! for some more details, but basically in his book Thinking for a Living, Tom Davenport tells us:

Perhaps the biggest problem for blogging is the time it takes to read and write blogs. If anything this tool has detracted from productivity, not increased it. ...

In his blog (I guess he doesn't care about his own loss of productivity) he tells us (details in Getting Value from LinkedIn) -

I’ve been on LinkedIn for several years. I never initiate a connection. I can safely say that I have gotten nothing out of the site.

It's easy to look at something like blogging and fail to see how it can increase quality / quantity of output in exchange for the time involved.  Same thing is true for LinkedIn, especially if you don't know the right ways to use it.  I discussed a room full of management consultants who had the same feeling as Tom around LinkedIn (see LinkedIn for Conversations).  My guess is that someone like Tom is in a different league from most of us Knowledge Workers.  When we need help with a question, using our network is very effective (see below).  Having a well built network is very important to us.

As a side note on this whole story, I had forgot that in my Thomas Davenport and Blogging from back in 2007, I mentioned meeting Bill Ives via blogging as part of that post.  Coincidently, I recently engaged with him again because of some work I'm doing around social media for businesses.  The fact that we had met through blogging and then reconnected through a LinkedIn search with virtually no activity (other than reading blog posts) in between, is a great example of what happens with these tools.

I wonder if Tom has changed his opinion, but my guess is that lots of people will tell you that blogging and LinkedIn may seem like they take lots of time, but that they are critical for their workplace productivity.

Workplace Effectiveness and Networks

In Evaluating Performance of Concept Workers, I suggested that the way most concept workers are evaluated is by looking at signals such as:

  • Process - They went through a reasonable process to arrive at their conclusions.
  • Reasonable - Their conclusions are reasonable in your opinion (if you can formulate one).
  • Compare - If you took what they did and compared it to what you would expect from other similar performers, would they have arrived at the same result.

When you combine this with things like Alex Pentland - How Social Networks Work Best -

A recent MIT study found that in one organization the employees with the most extensive personal digital networks were 7% more productive than their colleagues

This actually does not come as much a surprise to me.  Concept workers need to reach out to people for knowledge work tasks in order to ensure they they are arriving at answers that will pass the evaluation factors above.  Thus, Leveraging Networks is Key Skill and likely is the most important Knowledge Worker Skill Gap. Knowing how to access Networks and Communities and tap into your Social Grid are keys.

Concluding Thoughts

It's a bit scary to me that while I consider our biggest challenges of the 21st century is improving the effectiveness of concept workers, I'm right now only able to say that there are meager methods of evaluating performance and a few (slim) known patterns for improving performance.  Certainly, this is going to be something that we will all need to be studying.

I look forward to some very interesting conversations and learning about all of this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Social Network Tools

I'm hoping you can help a reader with thoughts and likely help others of us …

A medium size nonprofit and lobbying organization is working on a designing and creating a social / work network for experts, students, volunteers who are willing to help through campaigning, lobby, sharing knowledge, working on solutions (writing documents).  They currently don't have any kind of solution.

Via the network people will be able to communicate with employees, organize activities, collaborate on documents, communicate with each other, etc.

They are considering a variety of solutions but are willing to balance functionality vs. cost.  In other words, they could live with a lesser solution if they can save a lot of money.

  • Document sharing and collaborative editing
  • Custom branding / image
  • Ability to create groups and control access to those groups
  • Shared calendars
  • Invite other people into the network
  • Moderation of content
  • Exports (users, content)

Some questions:

  1. What do you call this kind of solution?
  2. Given this high level description, what would some initial questions/criteria that might differentiate what solutions to consider?
  3. What do you think some of the safer choices would be in terms of solutions, i.e., who will have the biggest market share in the future?
  4. What tools might be on your short list for them to consider?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Share Best Practices - Patterns

Interesting post by Jane Bozarth - The Myth of "Best Practices".

A "best practice" is best only in the precise, specific context in which it exists. …

What works in my marriage won't necessarily work in -- and may even damage -- yours.

Even if moved from one situation to another very close one, the odds of transfer being made with practice intact is nil.

How do we address those who pressure us to produce a list of, or abide by, "best" practices?

The comments are also interesting but focus primarily on the word "best" vs. "leading" or "better" … overall the suggestion was to be very careful about assuming because something works in one situation it will work in others.

So, the first thing I did was to quickly search my blog for any mention of "best practice" – whew, I don't use the term much.  Dodged that bullet. :)

Patterns and Knowledge Work

I understand the concern that when you share best practices, you may come out with very different results.  That said, I also understand exactly why people ask for "best practices" and why our organizations ask us to help "share best practices".  

In Rethinking Knowledge Work, Kirby Wright describes Gary Klein's model of decision making:

sense-makingStudies of health workers, executives, military, firefighters, pilots and others have found that sense making, pattern recognition and mental models are essential components of decision making.

As an individual encounters a situation he/she makes sense of the issue. Making sense generates cues and allows one to recognize patterns, both in the nature of the problem and response. Through pattern recognition, the problem solver identifies actions to address the issue. As one begins to act, they are also assessing, in real time, the potential impact of their actions. In particular, highly skilled workers demonstrate the ability to reflect-inaction (Schön, 1987), to conduct mental simulations as a way of imagining possible outcomes. As problem solvers do this, they adjust their actions on-the-fly.

This really rings true to me.

And this suggests that there is big value in providing knowledge workers with ways to assess a situation, to find the cues which link to possible approaches and actions.  I think that we all somewhat inherently know this.  It's why it's so great to go to sessions where you hear what other people have done when faced with similar situations.

Patterns Defined

While Klein uses the term "pattern", there is another definition of Patterns (or Design Patterns) which is a great example of the kind of information that we can produce which is valuable and maybe is not a "best practice" but is close.  From the above definition, a Design Pattern is defined by:

  • Pattern Name and Classification: A descriptive and unique name that helps in identifying and referring to the pattern.
  • Intent: A description of the goal behind the pattern and the reason for using it.
  • Also Known As: Other names for the pattern.
  • Motivation (Forces): A scenario consisting of a problem and a context in which this pattern can be used.
  • Applicability: Situations in which this pattern is usable; the context for the pattern.
  • Structure: A graphical representation of the pattern.
  • Participants: A listing of the classes and objects used in the pattern and their roles in the design.
  • Collaboration: A description of how classes and objects used in the pattern interact with each other.
  • Consequences: A description of the results, side effects, and trade offs caused by using the pattern.
  • Implementation: A description of an implementation of the pattern; the solution part of the pattern.
  • Sample Code: An illustration of how the pattern can be used in a programming language
  • Known Uses: Examples of real usages of the pattern.
  • Related Patterns: Other patterns that have some relationship with the pattern; discussion of the differences between the pattern and similar patterns.

I often use less formal patterns and you can see examples of patterns in Using SharePoint or at the WikiPatterns site.  But the goal of these definitions is similar.  Look across examples of practices and abstract out the common structure of solutions.  Define where it might apply and what it is.

Going back to the "myth of best practices" … yes you still need to evaluate if this pattern will work for you, figure out how you might need to modify it.  But what's the alternative – start from scratch each time?  I don't think that's what is really meant, but I would claim that:

Patterns are extremely high value and we should look to produce patterns whenever we can.

Better Patterns

Taking this even further, in Data Driven (one of the few posts that uses the term "best practice") I talk about a model where we take data (e.g., customer satisfaction data) and provide knowledge workers (e.g., store managers) with specific possible actions that they can take to try to improve.  We allow them to modify how they will apply these actions as we know that it often is best to have it modified to better fit the store.  We also allow them to use alternatives.

This is something that certainly would be called sharing best practices in many organizations.  I guess we could also say that it is Patterns that we have identified and we have tied them to specific situations based on metrics.

We have the added benefit in this case to measure the impact of applying these patterns to determine the impact.  This means that we are able to determine better and worse performing patterns.  While the organization involved used the term "best practice", I can understand an argument for not using that term.  But, I do think that finding, distributing and helping to apply better patterns is an incredibly effective approach to performance improvement.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wiki Owner

Stewart Mader points us to Sarah Denman's look at the four groups most likely to be involved in a wiki or other enterprise 2.0 implementations. The list is:

  • IT
  • HR - and no it doesn't include learning or training - it's more the compliance side of HR.
  • Business
  • Executives
Obviously, I'm posting because most people reading this will say that learning or training is missing from this list. The responses to Lead the Charge suggested that we should be leading this, but we don't seem to be even involved.

From Masie's recent social learning survey it appears that there is a lot of adoption by learning professionals.

Do you use any of the following technologies in your organization? Choose all that apply
Technologies Used Percent %
Corporate Collaboration Portal (eg. Sharepoint) 57%
Peer Coaching/Teaching 52%
Media sharing (images, videos) 48%
Collaborative Spaces - Wikis 47%
Blogs 45%
Learning Systems for Social Learning (LMS/LCMS) 42%
Social Networks 41%
Employee Profiles 33%
Content Ratings and Reviews 13%
Twitter and Mobile Content 12%

So I'm not 100% sure I get the disconnect. Why are we not seen as a player when it comes to Wiki or Enterprise 2.0 ownership? How come Stewart and Sarah left us out?

LinkedIn - Prospecting No - Conversation Yes

I recently did a presentation in Los Angeles on Web 2.0 for Professional Services for the Institute of Management Consultants. The focus was on the two main things that management consultants do with their time: Reaching Prospects and Serving Clients.

Serving Clients

In terms of serving clients, I covered parts of Tool Set, specifically Work Skills Keeping Up, Better Memory, Information Radar, Processing Pages with Links, Networks and Learning Communities, Collaborate, and Twitter as Personal Work and Learning Tool.

I didn't really have time to go into, but wish I could have covered: Search and Browser Short Cuts.

The reality is that management consultants are very much concept workers and as such have to shift how they perform their work and how they serve their customers.

I went through examples similar to LinkedIn for Finding Expertise and Searching for Expertise - LinkedIn Answers to show the basics of how LinkedIn works. This was more about getting help with questions. I also discussed being more or less open as a LinkedIn Networker: My LinkedIn Open Connection Approach.

Reaching Prospects

By far, the more interesting topic to the audience was how to reach prospects. The earlier presenter had talked about LinkedIn and someone in the audience asked for a show of hands for people who have got business through LinkedIn. Mine was the only hand raised. Great set up for my presentation.

Prospecting vs. Conversations

Here was the fun part – I asked:

If I could put you into a networking event where there were 100 people who fit the profile of your prospects and they had their resumes taped to their chests so that you could pause at any time to read the resume, what would you do?

One of the participants said that they would ask questions of the person about how they are dealing with issues that relate to their services. Ask interesting questions and get them to talk.

That's what I think of as the right answer and fits with what I learned about effective networking 20 years ago. Other people would suggest more social conversation, but that's not my style nor the style of the person who answered. I don't think anyone would suggest trying to hard sell at a networking event.

People are interested in interesting conversations not in prospecting.

Engaging in Interesting Conversations

Let's get back to the room full of prospects who you are trying to engage in interesting conversations. Well, first that never actually happens. Even if it did, it would be really tough because you often don't get past the resume level in a networking event. You also have to weed out people who are not prospects. Live networking is incredibly inefficient. The good news about the networking event is that by being there, participants have signaled a willingness to network according to the cultural norms of the networking event.

Let's compare that to LinkedIn. It does contain many more than 100 prospects. Most people on LinkedIn have signaled their willingness to network according to the cultural norms of LinkedIn. And you have their resume right there. You can pause the action to read it. It's much more efficient than live networking. Think of it as the biggest networking cocktail party in the world.

But the challenge is that there are subtle differences in the networking culture. I personally find that people on LinkedIn are Hungry to Connect around interesting topics just like the rest of us. But you have to make sure that you are engaging in an interesting (to them) conversation.

Ask them for help on something that's challenging you with a client. Are you running into X? How are you handling it?

When I was thinking about this during the presentation, I realized that I've almost completely stopped prospecting. I don't think about the person that I talk to in terms of whether they are a future prospect. I think of them in terms of their ability to engage in an interesting conversation. The natural byproduct: I meet and talk to interesting people about interesting things.

Business has and will continue to result from this over the long-term.

Oh, and this provides high value to my clients who are getting the benefit of these conversations.

For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.

With a focus on service professionals such as accountants, attorneys, consultants, take a look at Social Media for Service Professionals and Social Media to Build Reputation and Reach Prospects – More Ideas.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hungry to Connect

Nancy Devine has been really helping me recently with comments on my blog on posts Topic Hubs, Good Writing, Search, Corporate Training.  But it was a twitter comment (side note: Twitter Forces us to Transmit the Big Idea) that really made me pause and go – wow, I need to think about that:

@tonykarrer people are hungry to connect w/others, to talk about things that matter to them, to learn.

This is so very true.  Look at the speakers in SharePoint Update who came and willingly pitched in and helped.  And most thanked me for the opportunity to spend 3 hours plus preparation and time in discussions.  Why – because it's a topic that matters to them and they could connect with others to learn.  Nancy nailed it!

As Learning Professionals, we should be constantly thinking about creating opportunities for people to connect and learn. 

When I think about the SharePoint Micro Virtual Conference, that's what it was all about.  Creating connection points for myself.  Inviting others to join.  It was really a set of conversations that I wanted to have on my own.  I just included others.  And they wanted to have that same discussion.

I'm hoping I can get the total effort down a bit to continue to put these things on.  It was a huge help to have Kim Caise, Steve Tuffill and Scott Skibell.  If we get this figured out, I think we are onto something.

Give them opportunities to connect – as Nancy says – they are Hungry to Connect.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

eLearning Host List February

Using various social signals we came up with the following as being the hot items during February 2009 via eLearning Learning. You can find a bit more on this capability in the post Hot List. Enjoy.

Top Posts and other Items

Hot Keywords During February -

MyAllTop and Topic Hubs

I had just finished posting about Networks and Topic Hubs when I saw the announcements around the launch of MyAllTop (1, 2, 3).  The reviews are somewhat mixed, and I'm certainly sitting here scratching my head.

I always perceived Alltop as a way to build Topic Hubs.  This is a similar, but limited, form of what we are doing around sites like eLearning Learning, Mobile Learning, Informal Learning Flow, Communities and Networks Connection.  The goal of a topic hub is to bring quality content together around particular topics to make it more accessible to people who are not familiar with the bloggers and other information sources in the space.  If you look at AllTop itself, that's the value proposition they talk about as well – but using the magazine rack – casual browsing – metaphor.

But why MyAlltop?

What's confusing to me is the value of providing a means for person oriented topic hubs and the limitation to only feeds that already exist?

Are people going to adopt this as their new start page?  Doubtful – there are much better tools for this.  And MyAlltop forces everything to be public.

Instead, this is definitely a way for you to broadcast your interests.  But, there are also lots of other ways to do this.

I really don't get this.

It must be on a trajectory towards something more like what's happening with Topic Hubs.


Networks and Topic Hubs

I recently read a very interesting post by Terry Anderson, Edublogers as a Network of Practice.

Network of Practice - a distributed aggregation of members who share some common interests and values, but their correspondence and especially face to face meetings occur much less often or not at all. Leadership and activities in a NoP are emergent and usually informal. NoP members interact sporadically and develop their network in an informal and spontaneous manner that is occasioned through blogs, social software based communities, perhaps a face-to-face or online conference, newsgroup, mailing list or other shared social networking interactions. Membership in a NoP is voluntary, usually open, often transitory and likely many of the NOP members are strangers to each other.

There are some good discussion in the comments about whether or not you would consider Edubloggers to be a Network of Practice (NoP). I must say that I don't know enough to really comment on whether it is or isn't.

The realization I had as I read it is how complex networks become. They are incredibly rich and often there is no clear boundary. Is someone or something like a blog part of the network – often it's not at all clear.

This is both a good thing and a challenge for Topic Hubs. I think it's good because for many people, they cannot easily understand this complex network. As I say in that post –

It's hard to understand a single blog. It's even harder when you try to understand a network of bloggers.

The discussion that goes on in Terry's post really points out how it's so hard to that you can't look at an individual blogger and neatly put them into a network and especially not a Network of Practice. Scott Leslie says -

there is no singular “network of edubloggers,” indeed what I find constantly amazing is when I come across another self-styled edublogger with whom I share absolutely NO points of connection.

Of course, that's the claim of Terry in his response to Scott Leslie -

edubloggers do have ONE thing in common - they all are interested in education - else they wouldn’t describe themselves as EduBloggers. Now it could be that their conception of education and likely the larger ideas of learning are very different from yours, but I still argue they do NOT “share absolutely NO points of connection” with yourself.

My personal experience is really someone who tries to define Topic Hubs. Topic Hubs are based on networks and require a defined topic with a particular lexicon or way to make sense of what's being discussed. There's a real challenge to find the edges and define who should be consider inside or outside the network. The reality is that the complexity of networks don't really work that way. When I looked at creating a Topic Hub around edubloggers, I gave up because the network and topics are so big, diverse and messy. There likely are many good Topic Hubs within the space, but most edublogs blog about all sorts of topics. If you try to define a more narrow topic, it doesn't seem to work.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Workplace Learning Professionals Next Job - Management Consultant

The Big Question this month is Workplace Learning in 10 Years:

If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see? What will the mix of Push vs. Pull Learning; Formal vs. Informal supported by the organization? Are there training departments? What are they doing? How big are they as compared to today? What new departments will be responsible for parts of workplace learning? What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years?

The answers to this have been very interesting. I like that the predictions are all over the place. Some people are suggesting getting rid of training departments and starting fresh. Others, including myself, don't believe training departments will go away any more than educational institutions will no longer exist. There will always be some level of training/education required. ut I think it's fair to say that most every response expects the role of training to either diminish or to change significantly in the next 10 years. But there was another significant trend in the answers…

Learning and Work Converge

In a world where Knowledge Work and Learning is Inseparable, finding ways to support and improve work is the same as finding ways to support and improve learning. Jay Cross in Ten Years After puts it:

In a knowledge society, learning is the work.

Who in an organization is responsible for supporting and improving work?

Isn't that the definition of management. Well not quite, but it is pretty dang close to the definition of Management Consulting in Wikipedia:

Management consulting refers to both the industry of, and the practice of, helping organizations improve their performance, primarily through the analysis of existing business problems and development of plans for improvement.

In this world, you can't really distinguish the mandate of Management Consulting from the mandate of:

  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Knowledge Management
  • Learning & Development

I do think there's a slightly different historical mind set and skill set, but Training Departments are going to need to think and act quite different or they will be marginal.

Take a look at some of the responses with this context in mind.

Supporting Concept Workers

In The Future of the Training Department by Harold Jarche and Jay Cross, they discuss how work models are changing. This is very similar to what I discuss around Concept Workers and Work Literacy but they attack the change based on complexity – which is truly why concept workers are so important.

The main objective of the new training department is to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within this new work model is connecting and communicating, based on three core processes:

* Facilitating collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
* Sensing patterns and helping to develop emergent work and learning practices.
* Working with management to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for workers.

…redeploying training staff as mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs.

In 2019: A workplace learning odyssey

Performance support will be built into the workflow and take the form of online tools, networks and coaching.

In Minute Bio's Post -

We will see much more informal learning and knowledge management. There will be a need for trainers and/or knowledge managers who will guide, coach, be a catalyst for, and monitor social media and informal learning.

In The Big Question the folks from Bottom Line Performance say:

The challenge for instructional designers is no longer finding some relevant information on an obscure topic. Wikipedia does that for us. The challenge becomes identifying the most important content, the facts and information that will best support the performance the organization needs to drive business results. Ruth Clark tells us that people learn more from a short description of how something works than from a longer description of how something works. Learning professionals can weed through the nice to haves and create a program that best meets the needs of the business and the learner.

Matt Moore in an article Learning & Knowledge = ? (PDF) and his associated blog post Learning + Knowledge = ?

L&D and KM share something simple: an interest in improving the performance of an organisation through increased capability.

Jacob McNulty responds in a comment -

The KM + L&D merger is bound to happen - they’re both fundamentally about ensuring people have the information they need to perform…whether that’s obtained through a knowledge network or rapid elearning shouldn’t matter.

In my post Corporate Training

I do think that each and everyone one of us should be out understanding the ways in which you can support concept workers to be better at their work and learning. We should be looking to shift some resources within our corporate training department in that direction.

Changing our Understanding of Management

After thinking through what I expect to see inside organizations in 10 years, I think there's a very interesting change that's going to occur.

Drucker told us that productivity of the knowledge worker would be the primary challenge of the 21st century. I'm not quite sold on the term productivity, but if you put in performance and change it to the concept worker then it sounds right:

Performance of the concept work is the primary challenge of the 21st century.

But if learning and work are inseparable for a concept worker, then

Effective learning is part of the definition of performance.

This is central to the very definition of how to make organizations more effective.

Individual work and learning will be the focus of all levels of management.

When I look at the definition of management, I don't really see this called out. In Wikipedia, it's defined

Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.

In 10 years, this definition is either going to change or it will include support for concept work and learning.

Workplace Learning in 10 Years

If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see?

The idea that work and learning are inseparable will be mainstream and CEOs will have spread responsibility for workplace learning far and wide. It will be part of management.

What will the mix of Push vs. Pull Learning; Formal vs. Informal supported by the organization?

There will still be Push/Formal, but most of the real learning will be Pull and Informal. Heck it's what everyone is doing every day.

Are there training departments? What are they doing? How big are they as compared to today?

Training Departments will still exist. They are responsible for delivering content that is for large audiences at a novice level. They are smaller and marginal players.

What new departments will be responsible for parts of workplace learning?

This is going to start with interesting new departments that focus on things like community management or enterprise 2.0. But since this becomes central to management, there will be other kinds of services within the organization that focus on particular needs. Management will be the primary owner.

What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years?

Half of the current members of training departments will still be there. The others will have first jumped into these new departments. These will be the individuals who focus on performance, who get informal/pull learning, and who take the lead on understanding the role of technology.

I would predict that this half becomes some kind of management consultant within the next 10 years.

Hence my overall prediction -

50% of Workplace Learning Professionals will call themselves Management Consultants in 10 Years

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Skimming and Learning Design

One of the common themes on my blog is the world we live in with availability of trillions of web pages, millions of people, and thousands of tools, has meant a significant and continuous change in our work literacy.  It also has an impact on Learning Design and Learning Organizations … more on this below.

Read the Whole Thing2009-horizon-cover-320?

A little bit ago I was skimming through a presentation that asked the audience whether people read the whole thing.  (Sorry, but I've forgotten where I saw this and my Better Memory strategies didn't easily find the right source.  Note to self, figure out how this could have worked.) 

Many of us are familiar with the Horizon Report for 2009, The World Is Flat, and Stephen Downes - The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On.  And if you aren't, you should be familiar with these.worldisflat

But, how many of you who are familiar with these have read the whole thing?

In the audience, very few people read the whole thing.  I have not, but I've done a lot of Skim Dive Skim on these.

I've had this discussion before in other forms, and certainly there are a mix - some people who are much deeper readers – some skimmers.  And likely the answer is that it also depends on the topic, length of the item, the timing, and way too many other variables.  So, let's just say that we need to assume varied depth of content consumption.

This also means that a key skill is develop better memory methods that help us individually deal with the fact that we are skimming more stuff and will have an ever increasing need to quickly get back to it.

Implications for Learning Design

If we know that people are likely to consume information in this way, what does it mean for Learning Design.  I've often focused more on issues of Good Writing and Write for Skimming but the reality is that the implication is bigger than that.  No one will sit through long detailed pieces of information.  They quickly tune out or quickly skim through.  Learning Design must accommodate this and I particularly believe that we should Shift from Courseware towards Reference Hybrids – put as little as possible in the courseware and provide well-organized, well-written, easily saved, easily accessed reference material.

Of course, this is assuming that Learning Organizations are still in the position of being a publisher who is pushing content to learners.

When we talk about the Long Tail Learning and Corporate Learning Long Tail and Attention Crisis, the focus is on how to help learners when you cannot possibly get in front of all the information.  Part of this is helping them to learn skills and adopt practices to make them more effective in self-serving their knowledge work and learning.

However, this is also where Learning Organizations can jump in to help by playing an aggregator role.  There's a lot of content that is likely being skimmed or even possibly is not being seen.  There's opportunity to make it more easily found and skimmable.

This is a topic I'm pretty sure I'll be revisiting quite a bit.  After all, this is pretty much the question I'm often asking:

What does Learning Design look like in a world of eLearning 2.0?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Questions Before You Ask

I need some help with appropriate way to handle a somewhat common situation.  Let me set this up a bit …

I've said many times in presentations and on this blog that I really like to get questions.  To me, that's the fun part.  It's so much fun that I spend time on posts like Social Grid Follow-up just going through and answering the questions that came up during the presentation.  I also have an open invite to engage me around Conversation Topics.  Both of these helps me learn, understand what is interesting to others, and where people find challenges.

Linked In Question Template

One of the things that I mentioned in the Social Grid Follow-up post was a particular template for asking for help via LinkedIn:

Hi <X>,
I'm hoping you'll be open to a brief conversation. From your profile you have a great background and it seems like you'll have lots of thoughts around my issues.

I'm working on XXX.

I've spent a fair bit of time researching and have been finding YYY.

I'd like to set a time to discuss this with you and get your thoughts.

The Questionable Question

Possibly because I had just written this, when I received the following inquiry:

I was wondering if you could provide me with your definition of a “Rapid Elearning Tool”.  I cant find an industry definition for this only examples of tools.

There was a bit more around the context for this question (why they were interested).  I sent the following response:

You will find varying definitions, a couple of posts:

You can also take a look through:

It's pretty rare I won't respond, but I think there's something important in the template above – show that you've done your basic homework and turn your question into something more interesting.

Question Homework

Before you ask me (or anyone) a question you should:

1. Search My Blog

Clearly this person had not searched my blog for definition rapid eLearning.

There are a couple of ways they could do this:

1a. Use site: on Google

1b. Use eLearning Learning to search my blog

The exact posts that I cite come up pretty easily.  FYI – there's a search box under the eLearning Learning logo that goes directly to search results on the eLearning Learning site which is much better than blogger's search.

2. Search Other Blogs and Web Pages

In this case, it's pretty easy to see what other people are saying via eLearning Learning:

You can also use plain old Google Search:"rapid+elearning"+definition

When you ask me a question, it's good to cite what I've already said, but it's MUCH BETTER to also mention some other sites and what they have to say on the matter.

3. Keep a List of What You've Found

4. Read through What You Find

5. Compose What You Find Into a Preliminary Answer

6. Figure Out What the Real Question Is

7. Ask the Real Question

Good Question Basis

If you go back to the template above, it's quite intentional that I'm saying:

I've spent a fair bit of time researching and have been finding YYY.

This is where I include what I've found so far and what it's been telling me.  If I was going to ask someone about the definition of Rapid eLearning I would certainly cite some definitions out there.  In fairness, they said that the definitions they found were lists of tools.  But they didn't put in links to those posts and they clearly had not searched my blog and read through my existing posts.

My Question to You

Now here's my question -

If I receive a question from a person that has clearly not done these steps, is it appropriate for me to simply send them a link to this post?

Others must run into this right?  What do you do?  Are these appropriate steps to gently providing guidance on how to ask better questions without offending and discouraging further questions?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Skills Training

Skills Gap

There's a great post by Catherine Lombardozzi - Learning 2.0 that discusses the skills that "many employees … well beyond school … could use help in developing … skills are different." She goes on to list out the skills and I think it's quite a good list.

When I combined this with a common theme across a lot of my writing and on Work Literacy:

I'm more convinced all the time that there's a gap in awareness and skills among Concept Workers. I describe this as the Tilde Effect.

Skills Training?

As I was thinking about this week's: SharePoint in Corporate Learning - Free Micro Virtual Conference and my presentation March 17 on Web 2.0 for Service Professionals, it made me start to really question -

Do Concept Workers need some kind of Skills Training to keep up?

Of course, I happen to strongly believe that various kinds of Skills Training is needed and that it is something that every Corporate Learning department should be doing. But, its a bit curious that we've not seen much more than presentations and scattered skills training workshops (Work Literacy Workshop). Maybe it's partly that I'm recommending fairly traditional learning (skills training) approaches? Maybe it's because employees will be able to figure this out on their own?

I'm going to be curious to see what is described during the SharePoint sessions. Most training associated with SharePoint rollouts are more aimed at features and functions and it is up to the individual to figure out how that applies to their work and work group.

I'm not so sure that really works. And I'm not sure that the pace of this meets the needs of organizations.

What do you think – should Corporate Learning organizations be planning Skills Training to help address this gap?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Cursive Writing - Outraged?

A little more than a year ago, I published a post Touch Typing - Cursive Writing - Why? that asked why they would spend so much time teaching my kids cursive writing and not teaching them touch typing. The comment that I just received on this post was great and I couldn't let it be buried ...
I am as perplexed as you why many schools do not see the need for students to learn how to touch-type. In my daughter's school, they spent time learning cursive and then were not required to use it except for limited projects. Are they expected to type their reports, though? YES...without learning how to type beforehand.

I am a business teacher who has taught keyboarding in Grades 9-12 for many years and who taught keyboarding in Grades 3 & 4 for two years. Our school did not want to have to hire an extra teacher, so when a high school business teacher resigned, I was moved back to the high school and the keyboarding program was dissolved.

My daughter is now in fifth grade in the same school district as I teach. It drives me crazy that the administration does not value proper keyboarding skills. In fact, our superintendent deleted keyboarding in Grades 9-12 WITHOUT placing it anywhere else in the district. He believes students do not need to spend a class period learning to "doink" on the keyboard.

We teach students how to properly hold a golf club, football, tennis racquet and such...however, we do not teach them a skill that they use everyday of their life. It amazes me that more people are not outraged by this. However, many believe that people can learn to type their own way and that is sufficient.
Within two years, none of my older kids are still using cursive writing. And now my youngest is about to go through learning cursive writing.

I believe we have pretty good schools here, and I really like some of the things they do (writing starts immediately in elementary school). But this does make me wonder:
  • Should I be outraged?
  • And if I was outraged, is there actually anything that can be done if you believe things in schools should be changed?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Aggregation Types

Great article in Wall Street Journal - Information Wants to Be Expensive (found via Big Dog Little Dog) suggests that more people should be charging for content online. There was definitely some good points about what people will pay for:
People are happy to pay for news and information however it's delivered, but only if it has real, differentiated value. Traders must have their Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters terminal. Lawyers wouldn't go to court without accessing the Lexis or West online service.
For years, publishers and editors have asked the wrong question: Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?
American Lawyer founder Steven Brill argues that "local newspapers are the best brands, and people will pay a small amount to get information -- whether it be a zoning board or a Little League game -- that they can't get anywhere else."
So people will pay for differentiated, quality content that they can't get anywhere else.

Journalists as Human Aggregators

As part of working on Topic Hubs, I've come to realize that there's a lot of very high quality content already out there. It's free. But there's friction finding it, organizing it and making sense of it.

Many of the people who write the blogs who are included in Topic Hubs are the same people who are being interviewed by Journalists for articles. Take a look at the recent hub around Electric Vehicles. This includes folks like Chris Paine - Who Killed the Electric Car - who is regularly interviewed. In thinking about this, I realized that:
Journalists are human aggregators.
They go look at the information, often in areas they don't understand that deeply and pull it together into a meaningful piece. They are quite good at this aggregation role. And no current automation is able to produce as high a quality result as a good journalist. But ...
The information behind the article that a journalist produces is already available for free somewhere.
There are cases (the local little league game) where no one else has captured that information or where the journalist truly creates something new. But it's like the old adage ...
In order to bake a cake from scratch, you first have to create the universe.
It's pretty rare to be working on truly new, differentiated, high value content. Most of what we work with are derivatives. I think of everything I'm writing now as being new - because it's new to me - but I'm sure that there's discussion of all of these issues out there somewhere.


It's pretty rare when I disagree with Stephen Downes, see Stephen Downes is Wrong. But he left a comment on my Topic Hubs post:
Topic hubs are not the way forward. Focus on being a network, not being spikey.
I found this to be quite interesting. I think of Stephen as being one of the biggest topic hubs out there. His OLDaily is Stephen doing amazing things by finding interesting articles and tagging them; he also has technology that pulls it together and organizes it. This helps to make sense of a large network of bloggers and other information sources and organize it for consumption by folks like me who are not going to subscribe to all of those blogs individually. He also helps to organize the information for you via tags that allow you to find stuff on topics at a later time.

I think that Stephen provides tremendous value on top of a network (and is part of the network himself). And I guess I think of him as a human-centric aggregator. Maybe a better term is provided by Robin Good - he calls this - NewsMastering.
Newsmastering is the process by which a human being identifies, aggregates, hand-picks, edits and republishes a highly-focused, thematic news via RSS.
It's interesting to see the term "human being" - both human and singular.

I believe that Topic Hubs like eLearning Learning, Mobile Learning, Informal Learning Flow, Communities and Networks Connection provide a similar kind of value as Stephen and Robin - but attack it differently. In this case, social signals (human activity across the network) surface posts such as shown in eLearning Learning Hot List Feb 1-14, Work Literacy Hot List - Early February, Hot List from the Communities & Networks Connection, Mobile Learning Hot List.

Each of them combines human decision making about what should be brought in (Thanks Judy, Nancy, Jay) and social signals, activities across the network - thanks everyone!, to determine what's likely good stuff. This relies much more on automation and doesn't have the editorial that Stephen or Robin provide. There certainly is a difference when you have a single individual (or small group) providing editorial control. Robin puts it this way:
The real added value is specifically in the ability of the newsmaster to manually pick the very best and most relevant stories for its target audience.
You can argue that none of the information provided by a Topic Hub is new. However, it is new in that it provides value on top of existing information much like Stephen's OL Daily and a journalists article. They use different methods to surface what's interesting or relevant. They create additional information and structure on top. And there's value in that additional information and structure.

Aggregation Types

As I'm thinking about this, there's likely a few different forms of aggregation implied by looking at systems like Social Media Today, OLDaily, Communities and Networks Connection, Techmeme, Sphinn and Digg.
  • Centralized content or distributed content. Do they pull all the content into the central site or leave it distributed on the original source?
  • Organization and Access - how do they organize the content. Human tagging? Automated? How do you access it?
  • Editorial Distribution - Single person, small group or widely distributed control of what comes in and what is best?
Each of the different approaches has a reason and rational. I look forward to trying to figure out what makes sense in what situations.