Real Life Learning

Category: Learning Technology

When do we know it is time to learn new tricks?

In some of the recent commentary about the sacking of Martin O’Neil from Sunderland Football Club a theme seemed to be that the methods he had always successfully used were no longer working and did not have the same impact.

This has made me reflect on how easy it is as we get older and more experienced in our careers to continue using the skills that worked before. Most professionals will find a method that works in most situations and we are employed for our experience in the past of successfully using that method.

But what happens when it no longer works as well? Do we notice the change? Do we blame circumstances in our context for the lack of result or do we take a big step back and review whether we need to completely overhaul our approach?

This weekend I was at the MOL CIPD tutor conference and another tutor asked me what I thought about Smart Boards. I was fairly negative about their usefulness but the real answer is that I don’t know much about them!  I have never needed to get to grips with them. My old and familiar methods work well, and most of my corporate clients do not have rooms equipped with anything smarter than a projector and a flip-chart. This is a classic example where we can deny that we might need to learn new tricks!

Tips for Refreshing Your Skills

  1.  Be honest about your own evaluation of your practice. Ask yourself if you are getting the same good results as you got a year/a decade ago and be open to exploring the answer.
  2. Do a review of other people in your profession and find out what they are doing and identify any tips from this.
  3. Watch out for all those things you automatically dismiss and revisit those reactions with an open mind. I did a course on Twitter two years ago after dismissing Twitter as unnecessary to my profession, it was a revelation to me. I can see I am going to need to do a similar U Turn on Whiteboards!
  4. Try to make small differences in your existing practices, they might not work but you will find the experience of designing, implementing and reflecting on these changes will make you more consciously competent.
  5. Spend time with children. My nephew is 9 and provides me with valuable insights on the future generation of learners.

What other tips can you add to the top five? How do you keep on top of your skills and keep learning new tricks to future proof your career?

Linked In Learning

Using Linked In for Learning

 I joined Linked In about four years ago and have found it a helpful way of developing my social network in the business world. I have also found it a really valuable learning tool and I am often surprised how under used it is by the managers I work with as a way of increasing their knowledge and skills.

The most obvious learning from Linked In is how it can work as a social networking tool. It is not as “in your face” personal as Facebook and the connections that you generate will be work orientated connections and you are unlikely to be updating with information about professional contacts’ drinking habits!  For people who are nervous about on line communities I think it is a good entry point application.

I have blogged previously about using group forums for questions http://bellthompson.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/the-power-of-learning-in-on-line-communities/.

The Linked In Questions element is worth emphasising. The great thing about Linked In is that you can ask a question to any of the groups you are a member of, you can ask a question just to your own network or you can broadcast a question to the whole of the Linked In membership. It is this variety of options which I think makes Linked In such a valuable tool for learning. If you want to get replies which are more personal in nature then sending a question to your own network will often generate some really insightful comments. You can choose whether you want to send it to all of your connections or just choose the connections you think may be able to contribute some useful information.

The benefits of asking a question to everyone on Linked In will be the range of responses you will get . I find these responses help me to think about the question in a wider manner and can help prevent “silo thinking” that can so easily happen when we get locked into our own little world of reference points. The insights which others may share can challenge the thinking you originally had on the topic. This happened to me when I was asking some questions about customer service with non native speaking customers.

Joining groups in Linked In can also be a good way about learning about current themes within your professional and interest groups. There are thousand of groups and one way of finding relevant groups is to explore the groups that your connections are already members of; this may also help you to find areas in common.

The other areas where Linked In can help individual learning is through the recommended book link. You can sign up for this free application and it means that you can recommend books you are reading to others and can get the insight of others on books you are interested in reading.

I would be interested in hearing from others about how you use Linked In to help  your own learning?

The Power of Learning in On Line Communities.

 In a traditional training situation there is a knowledge exchange between the participants and the trainer. It is often expected that the trainer will give their expert input and this will be discussed by the participants. This approach can create a spoon feeding type of dependency from the learners who expect the trainer to have the answers. It also puts the trainer in a dangerous position of being an expert in subjects which they may not have sufficiently researched. I have seen a number of trainers use the same old material which they reshape into the different topics they are training. A typical example is the “fact” about the proportion of communication that is due to body language, tone and words. This is a distorted modern myth based on some context specific research done in the 1960s and yet in the past year I have seen it used by 5 different trainers without referencing the research but just giving out the information as a fact. http://tinyurl.com/Myths-in-training

 I think we need to be more honest about the extent of our knowledge in the training and learning field. We are not usually in-depth subject specialists; our skills are about taking some concepts and making them meaningful so that individuals can apply the learning into their work. We are experts in the process of getting groups to communicate with each other and in facilitating problem solving activities. We cannot keep up to date with everything we need to so this is where the on line communities can help us and help our groups.

I was facilitating a group who wanted to look at how to reduce the number of complaints they were getting from their customers. We had a half day session and then a follow up session three weeks later. One of the questions they ask was about how to handle calls where English wasn’t the first language of the caller. The suggestions I had on this topic felt insufficient and so I used the time between the two sessions to pose this question on the Linked In Answers Forum. http://www.linkedin.com/

The answers I got were fascinating. I shared my findings with the group who were amazed that people from Canada, America, Brazil and Netherlands had listened to their concern and given feedback. For a group of workers in a city council this made them feel really important and valued. We reviewed the answers provided, along with my input and the group were able to identify some possible options to take their service forward.

The second way of using the communities is to ask the group to generate a question they might ask about the topic we are focusing on. This activity can not only highlight their knowledge needs but can also highlights interesting issues about how to ask a good question! I then set participants the challenge of finding a suitable forum to place their question and to come to the next session with an analysis of their results. By doing this the group are developing some life long learning skills about the value of on line communities. It is also a way of assessing the advice given.

Another approach I used was with a group of law lecturers.  We were exploring some employment law questions on a forum and designed an activity for students which would require them to analyse the advice given and compare this with the advice they might give based on their understanding of employment law.

 The forums I like to use are the CIPD, Linked In, TrainingZone and Training Journal.

Learning Technologies – Using Photographs to Enhance Learning

One of the requests I hate to get from events is “can you type up the flipcharts?” This request means that I have to carry lots of paper with me and then balance it on my desk as I try to type it into some kind of coherent order.  With the aid of Google’s excellent free on line photo album, Picasa (www.picasa.google.co.uk) I no longer need to do this.

 As I facilitate a group I take photographs as we go along of any “outputs” This could include activities involving sticky notes, it could be group activities where each group has written their own flipchart and it could be flipcharts I have written in response to suggestions from the group.

 When I get back to my office I upload the photographs into Picasa on my computer and I can crop the photographs to eliminate bits of door, window which are unlikely to enhance the learning. I then upload the photographs to the web albums and create a private album for that group. I can put captions and messages with the pictures so that they give more explanation if needed. I can put the photographs in an order which helps make sense of the learning.

 I can then send a link to the album in a follow up email to the participants. If individuals want to use the outputs in a report they can either insert the photographs or they can use the photographs to make their own transcript of the event. Only the recipients of the link can view the photographs and I do stressed this when checking at the beginning if they are ok if I take photographs.

 One of the additional benefits to keeping on line albums for each group is for my own professional development. I was reviewing some of my albums last week and I could see themes emerging in the way I was working with groups, over the last 2 years my outputs have become more visually orientated.

 I presented a conference last year and it was sponsored by 3M. This introduced me to the world of the Large Post It note, some of the ones I was given were A6 size. http://solutions.3m.co.uk/wps/portal/3M/en_GB/Post-Its/Post-It/Products/LargePostIt/

They are in amazing vibrant colours and really do stick to the walls. I think having these in my tool kit has opened up some different approaches to team facilitation than the old style “brain dump” onto Post It Notes.

 I have also been using image cards from St.Lukes Resources http://www.innovativeresources.org/ which are beautiful and enable groups to explore visual metaphors. It is fascinating to see this change in my portfolio so I recognise that the Picasa albums are part of my Continuing Professional Development log as well as being a great way of helping groups to keep a visual record and from enabling me to politely say “no I don’t type up flipcharts but I do provide a visual record”.

  www.bellthompson.co.uk to see some of my albums

Learning Technology – Google Groups and Learning Groups

In the past if I was working with a group and they wanted to stay in touch after the programme we would exchange email addresses but beyond this is was  little random. It was the same with longer programmes where there was often no real contact between participants in between the sessions. I have found Google Groups to be an easy way to help create a community of learners.

With Google Groups you can set the group up so that it is a private group and invite the participants to join. Your role is of a moderator for the group which often means encouraging contributions. Individuals will often want to stay in touch or communicate between sessions but forget to do so, reminders from the moderator can help with this.

 The Group format enables participants to share files and to post updates on their progress. This works really well for action learning groups. As a moderator you can watch the progress of the group and see what materials they engage with after the programme. You can also post up new material to share with the group.

 If the group has been set up to support a longer running programme it is a way of checking on progress before the session and it prompts individuals to prepare for the session.

 To set up a Google Group you will need to have a Google “sign in”. This doesn’t mean that you have to sign up to Google mail, you can just use a normal email address and a password. You can opt to be emailed every time someone adds to the group which is helpful if you are moderating a group so that you can respond quickly if there is a problem.

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