Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Presented with Path A or Path B

I needed to take a short hiatus from my blog to respond to a little chaos that showed up. You know the kind when you find yourself on Path A knowing that you are supposed to be on Path B, but the exit signs aren't well marked?

Well, eventually the signs began to reveal themselves. Now then, as we know being the learners that we are, picking ourselves up wherever we are (be it a professional or personal situation) takes a bit of effort. To rise from inertia of our every day practice, even if it's unhealthy in any way and doesn't fully serve our highest good and best self, isn't so easy. We form habits and rationalizations to make peace with and/or tolerate whatever reality we are in.

Oddly, while the human body with millions of cells changes every day, we can be so adverse to adopting new behavioral approaches and outlooks. We are prone to staying right where we are, strapping ourselves in for a ride within our comfort zones by our own fears and insecurities.

But I do believe we all inherently know when another path offering greater happiness is before us. We all know when we need to put the blinker on and edge our way to the exit sign to the other path.

If you find yourself in this situation, as a lifelong learner, here are some tips to assist you as you course correct and map out a new direction for your personal or professional life:

1. Take notice of your surroundings. Are you in an environment, on a road, that feels right to you? We all have an inner compass that directs us. Notice where yours is pointing due north. Double check to see if the compass is working properly by asking some question about how you feel about certain situations where you know yourself well. Ask your inner compass to answer. Does the answer align with what you know? If not, double check that your inner compass isn't being magnetized and pulled off by someone or something else. Calibrate your own compass with your wisest self.

2. Once calibrated, watch the landscape. Are you in territory that you WANT to explore but makes you really uncomfortable for whatever reason? If "Yes", proceed and notice what is making you uncomfortable and why. Lean into the discomfort. You could be at the edge of your comfort zone. Ask for support from those you trust for a reality check that you are learning and growing in a way that serves you.

3. If you are on a path and you are not sure whether you want to stay on it, and you are in territory that makes you uncomfortable and have noticed this is a repeated experience, ask yourself this very important question: Do I need to learn anything further by being on this path? If the answer is "Yes", then ask: Is there anyone or anything that can assist me in making this feel more comfortable? Seeing that you are in uncharted territory, get the support you need to stay on the path until the answer to the prior question is, "No". If you have learned everything you needed to on this path, if you have taken it as far as you can, then prepare to leap with faith.

3. Start to look for the signs that show the way to your next path. Explore options that make good logical and intuitive sense over emotional comfort. You will know you are on the path that serves you best when you feel a sense of invitation, less resistance.

Remember, growth comes with discomfort. It requires effort. All paths lead to deeper awareness of self and contentment when mindfulness is practiced. When faced with Path A or Path B, listen deeply. Redirect and adopt a new path when you see the road signs that indicate you are indeed ready for a new landscape.

And, always be grateful to those with whom you have travelled any path. They have been instrumental in your growth.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Drive Behind Advances in Learning Technologies

I just returned from the Learning Technologies Conference in London. Amid dozens of vendor booths, I found myself wandering the exhibit floor halls asking this question: What's driving the advancement of learning technologies? Is it technology itself or the needs of learners?

What I enjoy most about the LTC is that the conference keynote speakers and presenters often ask the attendees to consider why we are doing what we are doing and how is it impacting pedagical and andragogical practices. For example, Nicholas Negroponte from One Laptop Per Child shared his research about children receiving tablets without any instruction in remote parts of the world. Within weeks, these children were singing the ABC's sans facilitation by a teacher or preacher. The children also discovered how to hack into the system within 2 months. His keynote reinforced the human nature and desire to learn, explore, and investigate unprompted by an authoritarian figure.

Gerd Leonhard shared his futurist examination of technology and how it is shaping and driving our capacity to interact with each other and information in ways that the Matrix asserted. We are downloading apps and data to have ready at our fingertips for immediate command and execution in carrying out our primary roles and responsibilities at work or play. We are realizing a world where technological innovation is only confined by the limits of our own imagination. What we can dream we can now manifest at least virtually if not in real time and space.

Tony Buzan who brought us the mind map reminded us that we come into this world innately curious. We are scientist, poets and artists. All we need do is watch an infant explore a sheet of paper to reconnect with this fundamental nature of being human. The infant will examine through all senses what a sheet of paper can do: does it make noise or music, can I use it to communicate, does it provide shelter, can I eat it?

Sadly, up until the last 15 years, we have been hobbling along though with outdated pedagogical and andragogical approaches, stemming from the industrial age.  I humbly submit, we have been funneling youth and workers through prescribed content like widgets on the assembly line for too long. We have designed curriculum with content in mind over context.

Thankfully, we are now entering this age of connectivism supported by technology because the human spirit is predisposed to seek, find, and explore; to hypothesize, synthesize, and analyze concepts; to share, connect and collaborate - all without imposed limitations. Witness the increase in home school programs for youth and online programs for adults; all self-directed learning.

We are stepping into an era that is going to turn our educational systems upside-down and our authoritarian management principles inside-out. Think about it:   Today we have 100,000's of apps being tapped by children in Ethiopia to executives on Wall Street. Academic institutions and professional organizations are inundating the World Wide Web with enough content for any person with an internet connection to get an ivy league education in their home, at a library or coffee shop for the mere cost to acquire broadband connection. We are moving into an era shaped by our natural born instinct to learn and thrive --- to be scientists, poets and artists -- without the confines of school fences or corporate firewalls.

Learning technologies, pedagogy and andragogy are inexplicably intertwined at this point. One is feeding the other; there is no division or separation.  It is a fluid dynamic. And it is all stemming from the best source: the human spirit's desire to learn, adapt and thrive!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Three Training Tips for Turbulent Times

Last night I flew from Boston to London for the Learning Technologies 2013 Conference. At one point the captain turned on the seat belt sign and ushered the command, "Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts, we are anticipating a bit of turbulence."

Oddly, I like turbulence. It reminds me I am flying. Without it a flight is, suffice to say, a bit banal. As the cabin rocked like a jeep over rough terrain, it led me to wonder: How often do we hear the captain of an organization bellow a similar warning?

Every now and then strategic-thinking leaders will forewarn their teams of unexpected vertical winds.
Management will in turn prepare staff for making any appropriate adjustments to associated projects, their timelines and resources.

While some passengers grip the arm rest with white knuckles, others stay cool and calm. Similarly, some employees panic when they learn of a sudden change in strategic direction, while others breathe through and ride it with ease.

What makes it possible to do more of the latter and less of the former? Here are three top tips that came to mind last night as we jostled about:
1. First and foremost, in the field of instructional design and training, we must expect turbulence will happen. Long gone are the days when an organization is going to be strong and steady. Rather, unexpected winds of change are likely to happen more often than not for any organization to stay innovative. So our design and development methods must be flexible and responsive.
2. We need to pay attention to providing contextual based on-demand training. Like the passenger sitting in the exit row who is approached with pre-flight instructions on how operate the bulkhead door, employees need on point training options. Thankfully today's learning technologies make it possible to rapidly produce these.
3.We need to buckle up and calmly ride out any turbulence. If an organization opts to scrap a major project that consumes 85% of our time, we needn't worry our professional plane is going to crash. Rather, we need to stay committed to repurposing the work and design knowing that could be the case.

In a nut shell, the key to riding through the turbulence is staying agile. As instructional designers and trainers, we need to find ways to handle such situations with resourcefulness, reassuring employees that turbulence makes learning a fun ride.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Create a Learning Culture ~ Adopt a Lil' C.O.L.O.R.

The ability to learn rests on many factors, from biological to environmental. As we step into an era that requires and enables individuals to assume and demonstrate a high degree of responsibility and/or self-motivation to acquire new skills, what does that beg of organizations?  Creating a learning culture is fundamental to an organization's success in attracting top notch highly motivated learners willing and ready to contribute to the organization's success.

Theory Y, postulated by Douglas McGregor, outlined a set of conditions that inform and infuse a culture where human performance thrives.  Today, we're seeing more and more companies adopt these values, which include:
  • Giving individuals an opportunity to freely explore areas of interest on company time.
  • Encouraging play and creativity to inspire collaborative spirit, imagination, and ingenuity.
  • Using rewards over punishment to encourage individuals to assume more responsibility and accountability.
In theory of course, this all sounds great.  But how does an organization actually implement these values while still meeting the challenge of getting the work done, on time and on budget?  By adopting a new lens, one with COLOR.

  • C - Create opportunities for individuals to collaborate during down times. For example, place in the company cafeteria board games and other games that inspire intellectual curiosity and camaraderie. Put a ping pong table in the exercise/fitness room. Have quarterly competitions between departments for various activities and games that contribute to a larger organizational goal.
  • O - Offer incentives for getting projects done on time. Simple gift cards and/or on-the-spot SHOUT OUT notices go a long way in making someone feel appreciated.
  • L - Laugh off the mistakes. Celebrate the wins more often. Take advantage of the human capacity and desire to make a right from a wrong. 
  • O - Operationalize learning.  Ensure that a learning plan exists for every employee. Over time, formalize these plans and associate them with the organization's LMS (learning management system) if you have one. Create learning portfolios for employees to use and demonstrate their own goals and progress in meeting them.
  • R - Reward and recognize the talents of those who exceeded their own goals and objectives. Set the bar high.  Equally so, find candidates who are willing to explore and review errors made and what was learned from the process.  
At the end of the day, we aspire to greatness when we are given the opportunity to stretch beyond our comfort zones with support, demonstrate our capabilities, take risks without the fear of judgment or punishment, and be acknowledged for the positive contributions we can make and/or the lessons learned from our mistakes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lessons Learned ~ Not to be Deleted

We often hear of "life lessons not to be repeated."  The adage, "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" is one we hear frequently enough in response to someone's reflection on something gone awry.

Where's the T-shirt that reads, "Been there, done that, would do it again in a heart beat?"

While we are still in the month of New Year's resolutions, have you ever given thought to which life lessons you would repeat, over and over?  That is to say, the ones not worth deleting, and why?

I dare suggest in this post that the lessons we are consciously and readily willing to repeat over and over again, are the ones that have brought us joy or reward over discomfort and negative consequences.  For example, if you work hard on a project and it leads to promotion, you're likely to work hard on another.  However, if you err in a way that affects the P&L negatively and end up demoted, you're likely to avoid making that mistake again.

The risk with this orientation to life's lessons is overlooking one's fundamental capacity and drive for growth. The greatest learning happens when we are most uncomfortable; when we can tolerate living in a state of confusion; when we don't rush to the solution or conclusion; when we can learn from a mistake.

So, how do we reconcile these two facets of the human condition: The desire to experience joy and avoid being hurt or even worse embarrassed, yet the perpetual experience and likelihood of screwing up, which promotes learning?  Moreover, as instructional designers, teachers, instructors, organizational coaches, how do we weave this understanding of the human condition into the design and development of new learning content and experiences?

Here are some of my lessons learned, not to be deleted:

1. Count on learners bringing their prior expectations, interests and knowledge to any learning experience.  Whether you are designing an e-learning module or an instructor-led seminar, attendees will always bring their full selves to the experience.  One of the best ways to ensure that your engagements meet their needs is to attempt to "personify" who they will be.  Make a list of their anticipated characteristics and possible inquiries.  Design your learning engagement with this in mind at all times.

2. Learners need something complex that challenges them to explore. Don't spoon feed anyone anything. When designing e-learning or instructor-led sessions, give thought to ways in which you can create an emotional and mental challenge.  Keep in mind, the training environment is where individuals ought to be able to make mistakes and be applauded and rewarded for their risk in taking and sharing them.  The greatest learning comes from the "ah-ha" moment, otherwise known as transformational learning. When the light bulb goes on, it's a result of the synthesis, analysis and conclusion of outcomes and consequences from prior experiences, likely ones where mistakes occured.
3. Do not confuse being a teacher or trainer with being an expert just because you have the podium, mic, or LCD remote control.  Given the rate and breadth at which new information is available today, the likelihood that you will have someone attending your lecture, webinar or e-learning with knowledge in one area or another that exceeds your own is pretty high. Move away from the tendency to be didactic, imparting information to the masses, and more towards facilitative, eliciting and directing knowledge within the masses.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Self-Directed Learning & Your True Purpose

Ever wonder why some folks wake up thrilled to start their day?  Others don't?  Some wake up feeling alive and eager to contribute?  Others don't? 

Is it a matter of a good night's sleep?  A well-rounded and healthy diet?  Prayer at night?  A great cup of joe?  What lends to this sensation and inner motivation to greet the day with a smile? To carpe diem!

While I suspect many factors can influence this, I reckon the natural will we all possess to wake up enthusiastic about life has to do with one thing and one thing only:  Knowing your true purpose and feeling as though what you do has purpose.  To know that you are contributing your unique talents and assets and that they are being utilized to their fullest potential in a way that brings greater good.

Yesterday I came upon this clip presented by RSA-Animate on Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.
Being able to master a skill and apply it is now recognized as a primary leader in motivating employees at work and thus influencing a company's success. 

At the heart of this lies the ability for self-directed learning and the freedom to exercise this in one's work place (aka on-the-job), which in turn leads to greater job satisfaction that has large scale implications for one's sense of value, in a way that goes beyond financial remuneration.

So, what does this mean for organizations? For individual contributors? Context-based training -- the opportunity to learn what you need to know, when you need to know it, in a way that challenges you to master a skill you need to apply -- must be woven into the cultural organizational learning fabric.

As a learning organization, if you haven't already, commit 2013 to giving employees the keys to identify, access, participate in and discover new knowledge at will -- even when it looks like it goes outside of their normal functions, role or responsibilities. Explore how e-learning (both synchronous and asynchronous) can support this mission.

As an employee, commit to discovering a new asset or talent that aligns with your purpose. Talk to your manager, director or VP about what that is and how it fits in with the larger company goals. Take 20 minutes a week to find and take the course that inspires you. Demand more of what your HR team makes available in your e-learning library.

Then, sit back and watch how the energy and enthusiasm to greet the day percolates like the best morning brew!