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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Presentation Backchannel Multitasking

Some great responses to this month's big question New Presenter and Learner Methods and Skills.  I'm learning a lot from the posts.  A few random reactions and a few of the nuggets I've pulled out from the discussion.

Caveats to Multitasking is Generally Bad for Work and Learning

See my post on Multitasking for a summary of this.  Or better, take a look at Ken Allan - Binge Thinking.   Or Clive Shepherd's How should presenters address multitasking? simple statement:

Multitasking is an illusion – we are simply not capable of doing it.

But some caveats to this general rule.


Doodling and Notetaking are good.

Binge Thinking

I have learnt to take notes while giving nearly full attention to a presentation. It’s one multitasking practice that I’m good at.

Better Presentations = Less Multitasking

A log of the responses point out that a distracted audience is first a symptom of the presenter's ability to engage the audience. 

Kristine Howard October Big Question

If you are going to present online or in person, do what it takes to do it well.

Clive Shepherd - How should presenters address multitasking?

  • The very best presenters will always hold attention.
  • Presenters tackling issues which are highly relevant to the participants will always hold attention.

Be Aware of What the Audience / Learner is Doing

Multitasking learners? Opportunity, not threat

I may very well be back channelling, bookmarking, googling, or even writing notes in my blog a a draft.

I like learning through dialogue. I enjoy the conversation around what that sage on the stage is talking about.  My “multitasking” devices are a way to have that without being disruptive, so I’m not convinced they are a bad thing, just a reflective tool.


If a presentation is not engaging me, I will multitask in a less presenter pleasing manner, and by that I mean I may do some admin, catch up on what’s been going on.

Claudia Escribano: Presentations Re-Imagined

Why do people multi-task?

  • They’re distracted by other obligations.
  • They’re bored.
  • They’re sharing your presentation with their network.
  • They feel they learn better when they’re flitting between several activities.

Which several of these lead into the following.

Plan Better and Communicate Expectation with the Audience

I think Max Bezzina What presenters could do when the audience multi-tasks says it well:

Embrace the fact that people will be tempted to multi-task. If this is an issue for you and/or for the success of the presentation, tell them about it in the beginning of the presentation.

Kristine Howard October Big Question has some great specific suggestions:

  • If you can’t handle the constant laptop action while you are speaking, say so. 
  • Don’t dictate, but negotiate a reasonable solution with your audience of adults.
  • If the backchannel doesn’t bother you as long as it stays in the back—for instance, you’d love a transcript for the evaluation aspect but can’t be involved with it while you are presenting–say so. 
  • Suggest a hashtag for tweets right at the beginning and then move on and let it take care of itself. 
  • Ask for a show of hands whether anyone is going to publicly share a summary or comprehensive notes via a blog (just like you share whether you will be providing copies of your materials). 

Rani Gill: Social norms, expectations, attention, a game?  also has some great suggestions:

  • Establish a new norm in your learning environment – via ground rules or other means. Discuss and create the norm up front.
  • Discuss how the backchannel can be used. What appropriate to say and not.
  • Expect the back-channel conversation – bring it to to the foreground occasionally during the presentation or have someone moderating it and bring it up.
  • Give the audience the #hashtag so you can let them know that you  know and so that you can follow.

Claudia Escribano in Presentations Re-Imagined really provides an interesting way to handle this including asking people to volunteer to be distracted.  Interesting thought.  See her post for more detail than I'm providing.  But I really like the thought and a good way to help establish the norm along the lines of Rani's post.

Tell participants upfront that your presentation is a little different from what they may be used to. It’s not just you talking to them; it’s a total participatory event in which everyone plays a role. Then present the roles and ask them to identify what role they’d like to play:

  • Listeners
  • Sharers
  • Note-Takers
  • Questioners
  • Activity Leaders
  • Distracted People

You could ask for a show of hands for each role. Or you could set aside parts of the room for each role and have people select their role as they come in and sit down.

This idea is somewhat echoed by Geoff Cain 

You are still thinking of this as a problem instead of an opportunity - you have to learn how to harness the Google jockeys and tweeters.

Clayn suggests:

Each class period I randomly select a student to be the back channel moderator for that day. I see the moderator as filling the same role as an assistant sitting on the phone during an auction. They act as a proxy, voicing the bids of individuals over the phone. The back channel moderator will strive to respond to comments made, if they can, or voice the question -when appropriate - for general class consumption. Not only does this free me from trying to do this myself, it forces students into a more active role in the classroom.

Great idea to assign moderator to someone else during the session.  This is maybe a role to add to the list the Claudia gives.  And directly addresses the concern raised in Multitasking learners? Opportunity, not threat

I have presented online without a moderator before, and after a reasonable amount of experience, still find it hard to listen and read a backchannel, or talk and read a backchannel.

Which is how I feel.  In fact, that's often my recommendation to anyone presenting at an online event.  Of course, I'm moderating in most of those cases for people.  When I myself am presenting, I know to ignore the back channel for periods of time and then tune back in.  But having assigned a moderator, I can quickly ask them for help with what I should address.


My general sense is that people are split on whether "bad" multitasking is disrespectful. 

Multitasking learners? Opportunity, not threat

I’ve heard many trainers complain online that it’s disrespectful to them when people multitask. I counter that it’s disrespectful to learners to present something that does not meet their needs, not wonder why they are not paying attention, then get offended when they don’t listen.  If people aren’t paying attention, or multitasking in a bad way, it shows you that something isn’t working, and if handled well, can perhaps highlight some areas for improvement, whether they be with you, the content, the venue etc.  It may also highlight that sometimes life just takes over and it’s got nothing to do with you as a presenter.

Clive Shepherd - How should presenters address multitasking?

I don’t mind this as long as they are polite about it: show some interest when the presenter starts up; look up and smile once in a while; try not to look as if the presenter has somehow intruded on your personal office space. Personally, if I’m paid to speak, I’ll put up with a lack of politeness; if I’m not, I’m quite prepared to walk off. Life’s too short.

What I recently saw was the audience being much more upset than the presenters about backchannel discussions that are straying being rude.  I prefer an active audience myself.  Of course, there are boundaries such as being offensive to the presenter in any backchannel.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Changes in Knowledge Work and Implications for Workplace Learning – The Keynote That Wasn't

I was supposed to be in Vancouver right now for the eLearn Conference.  The conference has a diverse attendee list and I was very much looking forward to my keynote presentation: Changes in Knowledge Work and Implications for Workplace Learning.

Unfortunately, some very sad news in my family as my wife's father, a man beloved by everyone who met him, passed away on Thursday.  So, I won't be able to go and make my keynote presentation.  I do want to thank the conference organizer, Gary Marks, for being incredibly understanding.  And if you've been a long-time reader, you know that I'm not particularly adept at things like What to Say When a Colleagues' Family Member Dies.  So, I'm not sure what to say or do in this situation either.

But I had to do something because I had scheduled a series of tweets to coincide with my keynote presentation time slot.  This is something I did before and it was both great as a planning tool and received great feedback from the audience (see Twitter Conference Ideas).  So what do I do with the tweets?

At first, I just planned to delete the tweets, but it seemed like a waste of the time I had spent.  But I also realized that if I didn't do anything then right during the replacement keynote, I would be sending out competing tweets – which would compound the problem I created for the conference.

So, with my mind admittedly operating at less than full capacity this Sunday morning, I decided to just choose a particular time on Monday and have the tweets come out at that point.  So, Monday, Oct. 26 at 12:30PM Pacific Time, all the tweets will fire off.  Each points to content that's relevant to what I'd be talking about during the presentation.  No idea if they will make sense without the context of the presentation.

I would very much welcome any thoughts or feedback on the content that is being referenced and the general themes.  Feel free to do it via twitter or comments or whatever is easiest for you.

I'll try later in the week to pull together any feedback and some more thoughts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Twitter Contest Winner

The first round of the Digital Habitats Twitter Contest had 94 entries and the winner was:


Congrats Christy!  I'm now a bit jealous as you are getting a book that's going to be sitting by your desk for many years and it's signed by John and Nancy.

I think that the contest has already been successful, but there's still another chance to win. 

Go here: to find out how you can still win.

By the way, even if you don't win a copy of the book, you can still come hear Nancy and John at LearnTrends 2009.  In fact, John is doing two sessions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Defending 2.0

I saw an interesting post by Mark Oehlert "Learning 2.0" and why that name suddenly is torquing me off...  Mark's main complaint and one that I've seen voiced before is that people are not really learning differently:

I really don't believe that humans are learning differently - meaning, I think we are constituting memories, adapting behavior, practicing new skills - those activities that typically make up learning from the human standpoint - in much the same way as we have for hundreds if not thousands of years. I'm talking about our internal processes.

This is pretty much what was discussed in New Way of Learning and the general answer was that it's doubtful that there's really a new way of learning, but there certainly are many related metacognitive tools and methods that have changed and that we need to adapt.

Still, I believe the crux of Mark's concern and where the disagreement comes …

So there is no "Learning 2.0" from the learners' view - there could well be "Instruction 2.0" or "Teaching 2.0" but think about what is really different there - those last two (and you could throw in Government 2.0, Education 2.0) address organizations and not learners and this gets to my second bothersome point about "Learning 2.0."

Let's put the burden on us and not on the learner.

That's exactly it.  We aren't really talking about the learning itself, but rather the way in which we support learning within an organization.  What is the role of the Learning Professional?  And I would claim that there's a fairly substantial change when you go from eLearning 1.0 to eLearning 2.0 solutions.

The reason you can't call it "Instruction 2.0" or "Teaching 2.0" is that the very point of eLearning 2.0 is that it's learner driven.  We are no longer in charge.  We take a supportive role.  We create an environment.  We foster.  We coach.

To do this, it requires a considerably different mindset.  It makes sense for us to discuss this as 2.0 just to indicate that there's this substantial shift.

Certainly this has been debated quite a bit (see Is eLearning 2.0 Meaningful? - You Vote and 2.0 and Interesting Times).  But I think the discussion is over.  We've come to accept that we'll use the 2.0 moniker.

Mark – how about if we agree that if your Oregon State Beavers go down to defeat this weekend, we'll just agree that it's okay to use the terms Learning 2.0 and eLearning 2.0?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rapid LMS

I've been asked numerous times over the past couple of years by various types of people and companies a very similar question:

I plan to or have been conducting and charging for training workshops for clients. I'd like to creating this as self-paced eLearning possibly with other capabilities as well. And I want to charge for this. How can I do that?

Two years ago, after quite a bit of discussion with most people who had this general question, I would figure out that it was going to be relatively easy for them to figure out how to author the eLearning courses, but it was going to be a harder decision on how to get that posted somewhere and available to their existing or new clients.

I was just asked the question again the other day. It's a company that has been offering 3-day workshops and now they want to put some portion of that content online. Ideally, they would offer it both publicly for fee and as well to particular clients.

While there are a lot of different Learning Management Systems with very different features, the requirements in this situation are a bit different. So here are some of the requirements I see for this customer that are a bit different from what you would find in a normal corporate LMS RFP.

To me this is a new kind of system. I'm temporarily calling this a Rapid Learning Management System. It's hosted. It's easy to use. It's a bit like rapid eLearning authoring tools, but aimed at the learning management side of this equation. If you know the right term for this, please let me know.

White Label

For their existing customers, they should be able to point them to a system that looks just like their own site.

Company Clients / Groups of Learners

Many of their customers (companies) come in with several learners. They need to be able to have these learners grouped together and provide reporting over those learners. The company will have a single administrative contact. The system should look and act like an individual LMS for that administrator. Also, if they make changes to the LMS overall, the company should inherit those changes.

Marketplace for Content

While they are going to need to take the lead on driving traffic to their courses, the system should allow for individuals and companies to find and sign up for their content.

My impression though is that despite the claims that the marketplace will help you get new customers, you should plan to do the work needed to get people there. Thus, you probably should be thinking about all the normal internet marketing approaches to driving people to sign up. And once they get to your landing page, it should be easy to get them across to the marketplace and have it transact with them.

Instructor, Virtual Classroom and Social Learning Support

In some cases, all that is needed is for the self-paced eLearning to be hosted, but in this case, they also still want to be able to interact with the learners. Instructors will still be there for the companies. And there should be some basic capabilities for asking questions, getting answers. Possibly some forums. In this case, it's limited, but I've run into situations where the plan was for 8 hours of self-paced online and then 1 day of online virtual classroom.

Authoring Support or SCORM?

A lot of the systems on the market seem to start with some kind of basic rapid authoring tool. I personally believe that it would be better for these systems to accept SCORM content from a few of the top authoring tools. Of course, that implies additional cost. However, if you are really authoring several hours of content and are going to take this seriously as a business, it would seem like that should be a good investment. Or maybe you just use an open-source or free. But I'd rather not have to learn all the quirks of one of these platforms. And I'd want my content to be transportable in case the platform goes away.

Other Requirements?

What am I missing? What other requirements are important in this situation?


I'm currently pointing people to the following rapid learning management systems. I'm not claiming these address all of the above requirements. Rather that they generally are a hosted LMS solution that roughly corresponds to most of the requirements:

What other systems should be on the list?

Monday, October 19, 2009

LearnTrends Speakers and Topics Announced


We've put up a preliminary schedule for LearnTrends 2009. You can find the conference description, preliminary schedule and session descriptions at:

LearnTrends 2009 Conference Agenda

Topics and Speakers include:

Register Now – Its Free - To register, you must first register on the LearnTrends community and then register on the Conference Event Page.

Innovation Awards - The conference will also include the LearnTrends Innovation Awards 2009. Please see that post for details.

Win the Twitter Content - And don't forget that you have until tomorrow to help promote the conference and win a free copy of Nancy and John's book. Contest - Win a Free Copy of Digital Habitats via LearnTrends 2009. Please help promote the conference and maybe you'll get a great book as a result.

I think this is going to be a really great online conference and discussion.

One of the things we are doing this year is asking speakers to keep their presentations to 25-30 minutes so that we have lots of times to have discussions.

I'm particularly looking forward to discussions around:

  • How information services and enterprise 2.0 are intersecting with Learning / eLearning?
  • Where does social really fit? Are social features really heading in the right direction or do we need to be thinking about stitching things together?
  • How are people thinking about structuring organizations with all of the stuff going on?
  • How and where do networks and communities fit in?
  • How the heck am I supposed to come up with an eLearning strategy when there's so much change going on?

One thing I should remind people is that a big part of the genesis of this conference was George, Jay and myself lamenting that while we go to conferences all the time, the presentations and discussions were most often aimed at broader audiences and more introductory topics. The purpose of this discussion is to dive into meatier topics that the three of us are interested in exploring. If you are a beginner, this may be a bit of a fire hose. If you've been in the industry for a while, but are grappling with some of the questions I've listed above, then please join us in the discussion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

eLearn 2009

Just a quick note that I will be up in Vancouver for E-LEARN 2009 - World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare & Higher Education. If you are attending and see this post, please drop me a note. It's always good to connect with people face-to-face at events.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Convert ILT to eLearning - Estimating

I received an inquiry from a reader and I'm hoping that people can chime in on their thoughts. It relates to my post about eLearning Costs, which bases cost estimates on seat time of the eLearning course. So, the basic question is:

We current provide a two day (16 hour) classroom training course for our employees. We are planning to prepare an e-learning course based on this classroom course. How should we estimate the e-learning course duration for this lesson? What are the important criteria in estimating eLearning duration when its based on a classroom course?

Conversion Estimation

Some resources on the conversion of Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to eLearning / Web-Based Training (WBT) – found through eLearning Learning using Convert ILT as the starting point:

In What Training Costs Part I: Converting Content from ILT to WBT, they discuss compression of ILT when its converted to eLearning:

Compression ratio: What would the length of the course be if it were online vs. classroom based? There's been a lot of research on this, and answers vary anywhere from 20% to 80% of the original length, but there's general agreement that an average compression ratio is typically about 50%, or a four hour course in the classroom should take the student 2 hours to complete online.

In Costs, Donald Clark talks about seat time during conversion:

Seat time is the time spent by the learner in a learning environment. For many types of content, elearning clearly offers an advantage. The research generally shows that there is at least a 50% reduction in seat time when a course is converted from classroom learning to elearning. Brandon Hall reports it is a 2:1 ratio.

"Brandon Hall, editor and publisher of the Multimedia & Internet Training Newsletter, cites an overall 50 percent reduction in seat time required for a student to learn the same content using online training as compared to in a classroom (Puget Sound Business Journal)."

Of course, a lot of this has to with the type of content. For example, we normally read at least twice as fast as compared to someone speaking. Thus such courses as compliance training offers a seat time advantage due to rather than having an instructor do all the talking, we can now just read it. However, if we are practicing a new skill, then there is normally no real time advantage as we need the same amount of time to practice in an elearning environment as we do in a classroom.

And Donald makes a good point about the fact that it takes more time when you are listening to audio as compared to reading (or skimming).

The 50% compression ratio is similar to what I've heard, but in almost every case there are a whole lot of factors the come into play. In Case Study: Converting an Existing Course to E-Learning, they detail a series of factors. Quite a good article when you are thinking about this conversion.

  • If there is an existing ILT course, how complete is it?
  • Are there any hands-on labs in the ILT course? Will these need to be converted? Is it feasible to do so?
  • Is the person doing the conversion already familiar with the ILT course?
  • Is the person doing the conversion already familiar with the product or service being taught?
  • Will subject matter experts (SMEs) be available for consultation as needed?
  • Will the person doing the conversion be dedicated to this project exclusively?
  • How many people will be working on the conversion team?
  • How much animation is required?
  • Is the scope of the conversion effort clearly defined?
  • What is the approval process? Who will sign off on the project?
  • How will the finished product be implemented within the organization?
  • Does the organization use a learning management system (LMS)? If so, will this product be required to interface with that LMS?
  • How will learning be measured?
  • Is the person doing the conversion familiar with the e-learning software? Does the person doing the conversion have prior experience with similar projects?

What factors do you consider? Do you think rules of thumb are okay to use?

Cost Comparison

The other question the reader asked is about calculating the value of doing the conversion:

For example, the current ILT course takes 2 days (16 hours). There are 10,000 employees who will take the training. Travel is not as much the issue as it is time away from the job and trainer costs. How do we go about calculating the possible return of delivering this as eLearning instead of ILT?

I'd recommend using some of the resources from a fairly old post ROI and Metrics in eLearning such as:

They look at a whole series of cost comparison factors and the last of these compares outcomes and costs in a research study. Quite good.

Again, I'd welcome pointers on this topic.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

eLearning Portal Integration

I've had a similar discussion several times over the past few months.  These discussions center on what requirements should go into an LMS RFP and more broadly how the LMS should really be integrated into the organization.

Initially, the conversation was about having learning content appear on the enterprise portal.  Many LMS vendors provide portlets, gadgets or widgets that allow for access of learning content (most often meaning courses and courseware) through the corporate portal.  Assuming that your learning audience regularly visits the enterprise portal, then its great to be able to show employees upcoming learning events, training requirements, content that might be of interest, or other similar things.

This has been a common requirement for a number of years.  And it's definitely a nice thing to have done.  It's certainly better than putting a static link to your LMS somewhere on the corporate portal / intranet.

But this only scratches the surface of what it means to integrate the Learning Management System (LMS) into the systems that people use day-to-day in an enterprise.  And this whole question is becoming more complicated as we look at the integration of the LMS and Social Learning.  There's a question of whether social tools will be part of the LMS or outside the LMS.  My gut says these tools are going to be separate from the LMS, e.g., SharePoint.  So, this naturally brings up how you integrate the LMS with social tools as well.

So, when I'm thinking about eLearning Portal Integration, I'm now thinking about:

  • Exposing links to learning content in the enterprise portal
  • Searchable learning content integrated with enterprise search
  • Integrating social tools with learning content
  • Integration learning management with other day-to-day tools

Links and Searching Content

The first two items are a bit more common today and it really starts with the question: Is there content and knowledge in the LMS that would be useful day-to-day?  In the post What Goes in the LMS? the general conclusion was that the LMS was really about housing finished course materials that need close tracking.  But generally some of that content would be useful in a day-to-day context.

The first stage of integrating this content is to simply provide links to individual content items that are housed in the LMS.  This requires the simplest kind of deep links.  You can refer to a SCO from outside the LMS and launch directly to that SCO without the user needing to do anything else.  FYI - deep linking is the ability for learning content to be linked to and launched from outside the LMS.  Many LMS vendors provide this capability.  And it can be really important if you want to create web sites outside the LMS that might provide context to a set of courses in the LMS. 

For example, a Plateau case study (PDF) talks about:

The biggest benefit Reuters has seen from its Plateau LMS to date is from deep linking functionality. Previously it took users up to 15 clicks to go from system access to content launch. With deep links in Plateau, users can launch content in two or three clicks. Deep linking also enables Reuters to have a centralized, single point for all content.

Which also addresses why we don't really want to plan to send the user directly to the LMS for day-to-day access.  See also:  Tools for On-Demand Information - An LMS? 

But the next level of content access from outside the LMS is search.  The idea is that the course content should be integrated into enterprise search so that it can be found and used when the person needs help with something.

This is a more complex requirement as it means requirements for enterprise search, the LMS and most often the content as well.  The content must  content must be indexable, in other words, the search engine must be able to run through the content to see what's in there.  For web pages, wiki pages, PDFs, Word Docs and other standard content that's easy.  For courseware it can be hard.  First the search engine may not be able to index the content because it'd buried in a proprietary format.  Second, even if the search engine can find it, it may not know how to get a user to that piece of content.  Launching a user to the beginning of a one-hour course because there is something in the middle that relates to the search is not a great result.

I would definitely like to hear from people who've made this level of integration happen – search level.

There are some off-the-shelf content vendors that have done a pretty good job around search integration.  For example, Skillsoft along with its Books 24x7 provide good hooks for search and deep linking. 

And what's interesting about both of these requirements is that we really are talking to exactly the issue that David points out in Who wants to see the LMS anyway:

Afterall, with the exception of the LMS vendor and the team who put it in, who really wants to see an LMS anyway....?

Integration with Social Tools or Other Day-to-Day Tools

A couple years ago, in New Kind of LMS?, I raised the question of whether we are headed to a new kind of LMS that will be much more integrated with day-to-day activities.  What seems to be happening in the market is that LMS vendors are integrating social capabilities, but I'm not sure that gets us where we need to go.  It somewhat relates with the issue above around search.  Is the LMS only aimed at big pieces of content that will be used separate from the job?  Or will it try to integrate into day-to-day. If it's separate from the job, then having embedded social tools might not make a lot of sense.

Other vendors are looking at taking things a different way.  For example, SumTotal Systems recently announced SumTotal Stream that provides integration with particular tools:

  • Microsoft Outlook: SumTotal's integration allows access to Talent Development tasks within the widely adopted Microsoft Outlook email client.  Not only will employees be able to react directly to Application alerts, they will be able to view Profile Information and provide real-time feedback to other employees with the SumTotal profile launch button that is available next to each User within the email view screens.
  • Facebook: With SumTotal's new Facebook Application, employees who typically use this Social Network will be able to receive Talent Development alerts and connect with colleagues all while in the Facebook site.
  • LinkedIn: SumTotal's LinkedIn API integration will allow employees to maintain their Portable Career Profile in LinkedIn, and then make this information available through SumTotal's ResultsOnDemand Performance application. 

I applaud SumTotal for recognizing that these tools exist in a network of other systems.  The interface is not really even the enterprise Portal.  The interface is all of the places where that user goes and does things.  Great move SumTotal!

This is really all about the issue I raised 3 years ago in terms of strategic choices for LMS Vendors in a few different posts such as: Moving from One to Many - LMS Products are Two Generations Behind and Point Solutions vs. Suites and Composition.

Of course, the challenge is deciding what you really want from your LMS today. The reality for today in most cases is to try to keep solutions relatively simple and hence keeping these requirements to a minimum.  However, I am very curious what other people are doing around all of this today.  Please chime in.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sales Team Portal for Content and Expert Access

I wanted to share some discussions I've recently had around an interesting project where the company provided the sales team a collaboration, content distribution and expert access portal. 

Do you have a case study for me?

I'm hoping to do a lot of case studies over the next 6-12 months looking at interesting examples of the use of social/informal/web 2.0 learning.  If you have an example, please drop me an email:  Another example of this is: Discussion Forums for Knowledge Sharing at Capital City Bank.


I can't reveal the company used in this case study at their request.  They are a large, distributed organization.  Their large sales team sells a diverse and complex set of products and services to multiple markets.


Traditionally, the sales team searched for information on topics such as government regulations, product support and technology through a confederation of five Web-based collaboration and document management software systems.  The sales team often would find themselves spending time navigating the many software systems for archived knowledge and often found documents that did not exactly address their question.

So, they would then go straight to the experts by phone and email for answers.  And then they would sometimes take these answers and create new pockets of information which made the situation even worse.

This is a fairly common situation that many organizations face.

And a big part of the genesis for the project was when an executive was asked by a colleague about where to go to find a particular piece of information.  The executive realized that they needed "One place to find all of our information.”  That's where things really began to take off.


They did a lot of exploration before landing on a solution.  They went around to ask employees what issues they had with existing systems and what they needed.  They asked what web sites the sales teams liked.  “MSNBC, CNN and ESPN were good Web sites and simple to use. They could find just about everything from the home pages. If they didn’t, they could easily find what they needed by searching the site.”

Clearly, they wanted/needed the  knowledge-exchange platform to be easy to use. Employees needed to be able to find information with a few clicks of a mouse. If the information did not yet exist in the system, employees wanted to be able to route it to an expert and get a timely response. They also wanted the expert’s responses to the sales team’s questions to be captured by the system. If the information already existed, employees should be able find information without repeatedly asking the experts. The software would also need to appeal to a cross-section of demographics.

The team went around to other companies to explore how they had addressed similar issues, what their solutions looked like and what their experiences had been.  One particular conversation was with McDonalds where they found that a similar kind of system took several years before it really took off.

Initially they considered just doing the solution as a search solution that would be able to find content across the various systems.  But the need was really for more than that.  They needed to make sure that content was consistent.  They wanted to be able to access experts and begin to build better communication.  They really felt they needed more of a portal.

They looked at several different portal options and chose OutStart Participate.  Part of the decision was also based on that they had good experience with Outstart products previously and they knew that it would be easier to get approval from IT and information security – which it was.

They then went around to executives within the sales organization to talk about what they wanted/needed.  Of course, a big part of the conversation was making sure they had executive support and to set expectations about what was going to happen.  They coached the executives around the need to point people to the system.  They talked about patience.  They discussed iterations.  And they set reasonable expectations around the system.


The heart of the site is the document repository.  Most all of the sales materials that sales people need are found on the site.  This makes it a mission-critical part of their work.  It means that sales people can upload selling documents or pass best practices back and forth easily without relying on e-mail. 

The site is segmented into eight communities based on different departments.  Those departments have some flexibility in their design and can have their own documents.  Each community has several team members responsible for that community and certainly some communities are more active and creative with the site than others.  For example, the clinical team uses the portal to share updates on new clinical offerings and services as part of their roll-out package.

One of the key features of the portal also is the “Expertise Exchange,” where sales people can communicate with experts.  If you have a question about a particular product, just type in that question and get an answer from an expert or from the existing knowledge bank.  The portal promises to get answers back within 48 hours, but the median time is roughly 4 hours.

The system has a section dedicated to looking at current news and what it means.  For example, if a major publication does an article on the company or their specific part of the industry, it's important that a sales person is ready to address questions on their next sales call.  So, a few directors in Sales Communications continually look for interesting news and then create a piece that links to the article, provides a bit more background and helps the sales person have a good answer to questions around the piece.

Originally this system started out as a replacement for several existing systems that had lots of content.  Unfortunately, during the planning of the system the team came to realize that much of the existing content would not be usable in the new system.  A lot of it was outdated or never approved.

Branding, Marketing and Roll-Out

One of the areas that I personally think the team did extremely well is in the branding, marketing and roll-out of the system.

The Sales Operations team branded the new system with a catchy name. They designed a nice logo for it.  Came up with various associated things like the popular pen.  They spent time making sure that the site would come across as something different and fun.  Posters were funny.  Yes, they highlighted useful features, but also made sure it was different from the posters they were used to seeing.  This goes along with the nature of the site in that it's designed to be social.  It's not complete (iteration required).  And while it has a serious purpose, we can celebrate the fact that its not perfect.

To roll-out the project, they went on a road-trip where at each stop he led the users through a game based on "Who wants to be a millionaire?"  The game required people to tell him how they would find some piece of information, get help, etc.  Basically they had to show how they would use the system.  They gave away prizes.  And everyone had a good time.

If you look at the case study Discussion Forums for Knowledge Sharing at Capital City Bank, you can find some similarities in how this system was rolled out and the need for a lot of help for users to get things moving. 

The team clearly recognizes the importance of branding, marketing and roll-out.  A lot of similar kinds of sites get launched with an email.  People just won't adopt if they don't really understand it and don't think about it.


There are approximately 1,500 employees now relying on the portal for information, expertise and knowledge exchange. These employees are mainly comprised of sales executives, account managers, clinicians and consultants.

The collaborative nature of the portal is starting to change the culture. More and more people are using the portal as a place to update the sales organization about industry or product news and to share their latest experience.  This practice eliminates much of the mass e-mailing that has gone on in the past, and experts are receiving fewer and fewer of the same kinds of questions.

After unveiling the portal, surveys were sent to several hundred members of the sales team to gauge reaction. Ninety-three percent felt the ability to ask for documents or support was “very or extremely helpful.” Ninety-five percent said the “training was clear,” and they “enjoyed learning about the portal.” Ninety-two percent said they would “visit the portal regularly each week.”

On a weekly basis, there is more than four times the number of active members on the portal versus the old patchwork of tools.  The portal handles 17 times the number of questions from employees that the old tools fielded. All the answers to the questions are immediately available.

In addition, sales people can ask a question using their wireless devices and get immediate answers if the data is available. If the question goes to an expert, the sales person will get an e-mail when the answer is available.

Where's Learning and Development?

You may have been wondering as your read the case, where's L&D in this?  In this company, L&D falls under the same unit as Sales Operations where the team sits.  Yet, interestingly, L&D was not really involved in project. They have another tool they use to put up learning content.  They are discussing merging some of the content going forward.  And they are discussing how we can merge learning tools inside of the portal.

To me, this may have been a missed opportunity for the L&D organization.  If they want to be seen as providing day-to-day value, they need to get into the flow.  And the flow is now going through the portal.  Likely there are some fairly simple technical solution as to get learning content to come through the portal.

Have Patience

Executives, users, and other stakeholders often go into this kind of project having the expectation that as soon as you launch, everyone will immediately jump in and use the system.  Even with the great job that the team did around rolling out the system, he still preached that everyone needed to be patient around adoption.  You will get an initial burst, followed by a lull and then slow adoption.  Be prepared for that.  And know that you can provide real value even with partial adoption. 

You also should expect to iterate to make it better.   The team regularly conducts focus groups with 6-8 users in a room (no executives).  You need a thick skin during this, but you will get some real nuggets.  And again, you need to set the expectation that this is a work-in-progress.  Lots of changes will be required.  For example, discussion boards and blogs have not been used that much in the system.  The team has some ideas on where these might go.  They also expect to have lots of changes to the UI over time to make it easier to use and easier to find information.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

ePorfolios Blogs and Audience Response Systems at Back to School Night

I must say that many back-to-school nights are a bit painful.  For those of you who are not familiar with this, it's an evening where you go to the school (without your children) and the teachers tell you a little bit about how they will approach the year.  This year, I attended three different back-to-school nights for my three children (elementary, middle school and high school). 

Most teachers hand a sheet with all the information they plan to present (which is good because there are often lots of links and other helpful information).  And then they proceed to walk through it.  I'm sure most of you can relate.  You are sitting there while the teacher reads what's on the sheet to you.  You could have got the sheet delivered to you and then just visit the teacher another time.  Of course, I'm not exactly the best audience and there's no Session Hopping available at back-to-school.

I believe that many teachers will tell you that it's equally painful going through from their side.  My wife used to dread both back to school and open house nights.  Not sure how my mother felt (a school teacher for 35 years).  I should really have asked her before I posted this.  But my guess is that she didn't really like it that much either.  The nice thing about being a professor is that you never saw parents except on rare visits (shake their hand, exchange pleasantries) and at graduation.  You never had to do a presentation to them.

So while I was really dreading having to do three different back-to-school nights, I must say there were two very pleasant surprises.  And, just in case any of the other teachers who have my children in their class this year read this, I must say this whole year was an exceptionally good back to school night.  Still there were two standouts.

ePortfolios and Blogs

My oldest daughter, a freshman in high school, has a fantastic teacher, Ms. Gerber, for Honors English.  Ms. Gerber has the class creating ePorfolios and Blogging as teaching tools!  I honestly almost fell out of my chair when she casually mentioned this.  And I was struck by the stares of the other parents who clearly had no idea what she was saying.

Now I know that many of my fellow bloggers who come from education will be saying "no duh, Tony" this is happening all over the place.  But it's a bit different when you see it really being applied.


As an example, the students watched the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men.  Ms. Gerber asked the students to post comments in the class blog: Assignment Two.  Certainly, seeing what the other students said in their responses is a great thing.  There wasn't much interaction among the students as in Assignment One.  But it was still good to see answers.  And it was funny to see my daughter say:

I used to have a feeling I would be a good lawyer, because I have a lot of arguments with my dad, but now I'm not so sure. If that's what it's like in a courtroom, I wouldn't last very long!

Ms. Gerber also has started the students on a journey of creating an ePorfolio using Google Sites.  They aren't much to look at yet, but having recently run across a few examples of ePortfolios that students have pulled together across several years – I'm sure that it's a great idea to have them starting on one now.


I'm quite curious what recommendations people have around how to effectively create an ePortfolio that will help you get into college.  Currently, my daughter's portfolio is oriented around Years and Subjects.  That doesn't seem right to me, but maybe it doesn't matter at this point.  Any pointers?

Audience Response System

The other pleasant surprise was Mr. Luke Olesiuk, at the middle school.  He teaches math and went through all of the normal stuff that all the teachers do.  However, he made it quite enjoyable because he used an audience response system in the classroom and presented most everything that way.  As we walked in, he provided each parent a clicker.  It's from TurningPoint Systems – see it below:


Then he spent what I have to believe was a fair bit of time designing his presentation.  Instead of saying, my goals for the year are X, Y, and Z.  He would put a question on the projector that said - "My goals for the year are all of the following except one of these …" and he would list X, Y and Z and at least one funny response.  I was surprised how effectively it kept everyone engaged.  Most parent intentionally would get wrong answers (at least I hope), but it gave him opportunity to talk through why those were the goals or whatever.

Truly he turned something mundane into something fun.  And he ended exactly on time (used a timer in his hand to track).  Clearly he spent time designing this out, but the result was great.  It made me think that with the advent of audience response via web solutions, this is going to make in-person presentations a lot more interesting in the future.  Quite topical given: Narrowing Gap between Face-to-Face and Online Presentations and New Presenter and Learner Skills and Methods.

The only drag was the following note that we received:

Parents - I'm still missing Clicker # C14 from Back-To-School night last night...if you accidentally borrowed it after the presentation yesterday, please send it back with your student on Monday. Thank you!

Amazing that he doesn't lose them with kids, but does with parents.

Maybe if Turning Point Systems sees this post they can send him a new one. :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


As way of background for this month's big question - <Insert link to Big Question>, I went to eLearning Learning and looked up Multitasking.  Found some great posts.  But the basic gist is that

Multitasking Generally is Bad for Work and Learning

Clive Shepherd - A challenge to the multitask assumption tells us:

According to work conducted at Stanford University and reported by Constance Holden in ScienceNOW Daily News under the heading Multitasking muddles the mind, "cognitive performance declines when people try to pay attention to many media channels at once." Clifford Nass, co-author of the study, claims "the study has a disturbing implication in an age when more and more people are simultaneously working on a computer, listening to music, surfing the Web, texting, or talking on the phone. Access to more information tools is not necessarily making people more efficient in their intellectual chores." Also disconcerting, he notes, is that "people who chronically multitask believe they're good at it."

Will Thalheimer - Younger Generation NOT Good at Multitasking Either!

Read this great article in the Monitor on Psychology by Rebecca A. Clay.

It says:

  1. People in general are not good at multitasking.
  2. Young people are no better than their elders at multitasking.
  3. Multitasking actually takes longer. It is NOT a time saver.
  4. Learning done while multitasking is shallower learning, leading not to deep understanding (and flexible mental models) but only to an ability to regurgitate rote information.

George Siemens – Multitasking

A report on multitasking (via Mark Bullen) states “heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set”. BBC provides more commentary.

Ray Jimenez - Over-rated - The Myth of Multitasking

Christine Rosen writes on The Myth of Multitasking,, on the different studies debunking the idea that we learn best by multi-tasking.
"Discussing his research on National Public Radio recently, Poldrack warned, “We have to be aware that there is a cost to the way that our society is changing, that humans are not built to work this way. We’re really built to focus. And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, we’re driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.”

Doodling and Note Taking is Good

Lars Hyland - Doodling, multitasking and memory

doodling doesn't detract from concentration. On the contrary, a slightly distracting secondary task may actually improve concentration during the performance of dull tasks that would otherwise cause a mind to wander.

I did a cursory summary of note taking and found that most research suggests that effective note taking practices with appropriate summarizing generally results in greater retention.  I didn't find a really good summary of this, so would appreciate any pointers that provides a pretty good summary.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Contest - Win a Free Copy of Digital Habitats via LearnTrends 2009

I've known Nancy White and John Smith for quite a while. Nancy has been my go to person for all things Communities and Networks and worked with me to create Communities and Networks Connection. So naturally when Nancy and John (with Etienne Wenger) put out the book Digital Habitats; Stewarding Technology for Communities I was very excited. And I've got to say that I agree with the recent comment in a post I saw:

Whenever I get stuck I’ll contact my friends at CPSquare: Etienne, Nancy and John. And while I know they all have a deep understanding of CoPs I tend to ask Etienne the theory questions, Nancy the technology questions and John the group dynamics questions. Together they are a formidable team. Sadly I think their new book, Digital Habitats, will give them strong cause to suggest I should RTFM: Read The Flipping Manual.

This is a really awesome book. I almost think it's more a performance support tool than a book. You really should get a copy and put it next to your computer. So, if you don't win the free copy, then you should go buy it.

So I'm very happy to announce to make two announcements:

1. Nancy White and John Smith will be doing a session at LearnTrends 2009 (a free online conference – you should definitely go register). And as a bonus, John will be doing another session with Jack Merklien of Xerox Global Services on communities. You can see details below on these two sessions.

2. Nancy and John have generously offered TWO FREE SIGNED copies of their book to people who help promote the conference and their sessions.

Entering the Contest


1. Follow me - @tonykarrer on twitter.

2. Tweet and include a link back to this post.

I will use BackTweets to find people who link to this post. It handles short URLs. You can test to see if your tweet appears here.

Suggested tweets:

Twitter Contest – Free Copy of Digital Habitats – Stewarding Technology for Communities - #learntrends

Twitter Contest - LearnTrends 2009 – Free Online Conference - #learntrends

Retweet to enter contest: Free copy Digital Habitats – Stewarding Technology for Communities #learntrends

Retweet for chance to win a free copy of Digital Habitats #learntrends


Post an entry in your blog that links back to this post.

I will use IceRocket to search for your post. If you don't come up in the search, then drop a comment here to let me know about your post. Sorry if that turns out to be extra work, but I wanted a way to enter for those who don't use twitter. You can test that search here.

We would really appreciate if your blog post can also mention the conference and the innovation awards and the Digital Habitats Contest:


LearnTrends 2009 - Free Online Conference


LearnTrends Innovation Awards


1. We will accept only one entry per blog and per twitter account. If you have a blog and a twitter account, you will have two chances to win.

2. We will do our first drawing on October 21 based on all entries to the contest prior to Midnight Pacific Time on October 20.

3. We will do our second drawing on November 11 based on all entries made after the first drawing deadline and prior to Midnight Pacific Time on November 10.

Yes, that means that you will need to blog and/or tweet again on or after October 21 to be entered for the second book.

Feedback? Questions?

This is the first time we've ever tried something like this. I know that most of you have been nice enough to promote the conference even without any kind of a reward. So, I hope this is fun and seems like a good possible reward for helping get the word out. I'm certainly open to feedback on the idea, how we could do it better, etc.

And, of course, happy to answer any questions.

Session Descriptions

Below are the descriptions of the sessions that Nancy and John will be involved with at LearnTrends 2009. There will be a bunch of other sessions that should be announced by October 15.

E-learning outside the training box with Nancy White and John Smith

Once you've mastered enough of the new social media tools, training and development professionals are figuring out that technologies can change the boundaries around training itself, just as they can interrupt organizational boundaries. We offer two cases that illustrate the benefits and opportunities of these changed boundaries. In one, Nancy White talks about triangulating internal training and capacity building with external actors who part of the training and who validate it; that leads to more connections between people and has gained manager support. In the other, John Smith talks about a workshop that brings social activities into the center of the training experience, investing time in making the social connections a lasting and practical resource. We use the polarities that are developed in Digital Habitats to tie these examples together and give you design ideas for program development.

Nancy White, Full Circle Associates ( white
Nancy brings over 25 years of communications, technology and leadership skills in her work supporting collaboration, learning and communications in the NGO, non profit and business sectors. Grounded in community leadership and recognized expertise in online communities and networks, Nancy works with people to leverage their strengths and assets towards tangible goals and meaningful process. Nancy’s blog and Twitter stream are regularly recognized as leading sources on online communities and networks, knowledge management and knowledge sharing. Nancy is a respected speaker and workshop leader. She is a chocoholic and lives with her family in Seattle, Washington, USA.

John David Smith, Learning Alliances (
John brings over 25 years of experience to bear on the technology and learning problems faced by communities, their leaders and their sponsors. He coaches and consults on issues ranging from event design and community facilitation, to community design and evaluaJohn Smithtion, and technology selection and configuration. He has worked in the communities of practice area for the past 10 years and is the community steward for CPsquare, the international community of practice on communities of practice. He's the host of com-prac, the longest-running conversation about communities of practice on the 'Net. He is a regular workshop leader in CPsquare and elsewhere. He grew up in Humacao, Puerto Rico and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Common tools for diverse communities at Xerox Global Services, with Jack Merklein and John Smith

Communities of practice are a well-established part of Xerox Global Services' knowledge strategy. Over the years, the tools that Xerox communities use has evolved through experimentation, innovation, and technology stewardship. All Xerox communities have access to a common set of tools: standardizing on that set of tools helps reduce the learning curve as staff move from one community to another. But communities choose a subset, evolve their own conventions and habits, and individual preferences determine what communities actually do. The current the mix of tools that are available includes blogs, wikis, document repositories, live meeting software and a calendar. Using the community orientations framework from Digital Habitats, we'll talk about some of the different communities at Xerox and how they use the standard tools in ways to fit their individual styles and needs. We'll also talk about how the different tools work together (for example, about community vs personal MS-Outlook calendars or how a wiki and a document repository overlap in some ways but serve different purposes at the same time).

Jack Merklein is with Xerox Global Services where his responsibilities include the development and care of communities of practice, internal knowledge management training and knowledge sharing initiatives. He also consults privately, and his client list covers both the public and private sector. Previous assignments include being the Director of Knowledge and Learning for Xerox Global Services. He is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, with degrees from West Point and Golden Gate University. His service assignments included Director of Knowledge Management and Distance Learning while assigned as a senior faculty member at one of the Army's schools. He has served as a board member and chair of the Knowledge Management Certification Board, was a founder and first president of the Knowledge Management Professional Society, and was one of the original members of the U.S. federal government's Knowledge Management Standards Committee under the federal CIO's council. He has written articles for several magazines concerning how knowledge sharing initiatives can impact learning.

John David Smith, Learning Alliances (
John brings over 25 years of experience to bear on the technology and learning problems faced by communities, their leaders and their sponsors. He coaches and consults on issues ranging from event design and community facilitation, to community design and evaluation, and technology selection and configuration. He has worked in the communities of practice area for the past 10 years and is the community steward for CPsquare, the international community of practice on communities of practice. He's the host of com-prac, the longest-running conversation about communities of practice on the 'Net. He is a regular workshop leader in CPsquare and elsewhere. He grew up in Humacao, Puerto Rico and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Curator Editor Research Opportunities on eLearning Learning

eLearning Learning continues to improve, but I'm hoping to find people who want to work with me to make it even better.

How eLearning Learning Works

I've described all the elements of eLearning Learning before, but never in that much detail.  I've pulled together the following diagram to hopefully help explain it a bit better.



Topic Hubs like eLearning Learning start from a group of Curators deciding what content should go in.  We currently have several different groups of Curators.

Combined this forms the body of content that the topic hub aggregates and organizes.

Everyone and Social Signals

The second very important group is Everyone.  We don't divulge all the details of how this works, but basically we are looking for social signals that indicate that someone thinks this content is good stuff.  I've discussed some details of this in Social Filtering.  The gist is that as everyone interacts with the content by:

  • Interacting on the Topic Hub
  • Viewing content
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Tweeting
  • Linking
  • Searching

We obtain signals that indicate Valuable Content.  See also An Aha Moment - as Indicator of Valuable Content - Importantly My Content.

Eventually, we will get more sophisticated and treat some people as being more important, but for right now, everyone is treated the same as they interact within the network.  We will definitely get more social signals over time.  And as more bloggers add the widget to their blog, we should be able to get more information that helps bring their best stuff to the top.

Topic Hub

The topic hub brings together content that its told about by the Curators, organizes it based on keywords that act a bit like tags, and uses social signals to figure out the best stuff.  This all sounds pretty simple, but there's some real complexity to managing all that's going on in a scalable way.  But rather than focusing on that, I think the key is some key decisions we've made around Aggregation:

  • 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?

For Browse My Stuff and eLearning Learning, I've made some very specific choices about how we approach aggregation.

  • We believe strongly that this is part of a distributed network of content and people.  The goal is to help people find good, relevant content.  But to make sure that they ultimately arrive at the source of that content.
  • Our content is organized around keywords that act a little like automatic tags.  This is not perfect, and we hope to improve it over time.  Still we believe this does help people find relevant content.
  • We allow for distributed curators and editors.  I'd like to see more of this.  Hence this post.


Each week I generate a Best Of post that uses the social signals to tell me what the best content is for that time period.  This results in posts such as:

These posts are sent via email to people who have subscribed to the Best Of.  I won't rehash the discussion in Subscribed to Best of eLearning Learning – but just let me say that I believe this is a really valuable subscription that everyone should subscribe to if they are interested in eLearning.

Certainly, the Best Of can and will improve.  I've received feedback on these posts that they are much better when there's a bit more editorial to them. 

Today I saw this post: Best of Tony Karrer’s E-learning.  Sophie has added editorial to my Best Of post.  I'm hoping that I can maybe get other people to produce Best Of with additional editorial.

There are lots of other opportunity for editors.  The Top 100 Learning Game Resources by Upside Learning is a human edited (think editor) that came from a process where the person went around collecting web pages and articles on games and simulations.  They then used the Best Of capabilities within the system to pull back out the top items.  This is the approach I used to create: 100 eLearning Articles and White Papers which is a fairly popular item on my blog.

Opportunities to Get Involved

If you've read this post in detail, then you probably noticed that there are several places where you can get involved in eLearning Learning:

  • Calendar Curator:  Look for events that will be of interest to the audience and add them into a calendar.
  • Content Curator:  Look for interesting content or as you see interesting content bookmark it into eLearning Learning.
  • Best Of Editor: Help with posts about what's the best stuff for the week, month, etc.
  • Research Curator/Editor: Pick a topic you want to research.  Find good content and bookmark it to be included.  Then edit a Best Of post with all the good stuff you found.

I want to really highlight the last kind of involvement.  If you are about to research just about any topic, this is a great way to do it.  While not related to eLearning, you can see me doing it to learn about professional speaking with posts like:

Contact me by Leaving a Comment or by email: if you are interested in any of these opportunities.