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Appreciating the Good Things

One of the complaints I get from managers is how their own managers only notice the bad stuff that they do. At the same time as saying this they will talk about all the bad things that their employees do and list the problems in the organisation.  I often wonder why we do this, and I know that I am not perfect myself, so my learning challenge is how to get out of the “isn’t it awful” and “if only” type of conversation into something that gives more potential for moving forward.

I use a couple of different tools and techniques to help move the conversation on. The first is a model used by colleague Ian Cunningham(http://www.stratdevint.com) called the 3 P Model. The Ps referred to are puzzles (there is a solution) problems (there may be a solution but not currently known) and predicaments (the only solution would require massive change in government/organisational policy). In my experience lots of energy is spent in organisations trying to work on challenging the predicaments. The nature of predicaments means that they are difficult to change.  For more junior managers predicaments might be the inflexible nature of the pay structure which makes it difficult for them to give the financial rewards that they would like to. As a facilitator I might suggest that they accept the nature of the predicament and look at what they can influence instead.

The next tool I use is Appreciative Inquiry. This is a model developed by David Cooperider and others and there is a good website which gives a detailed overview. http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/

My work is mainly with Northern Europeans who can be very cynical about anything which they perceive as too Californian, referring to it as “happy, clappy stuff”. So whilst I have yet to convince an organisation to adopt the whole approach advocated by the Appreciative Inquiry movement I have used it to change the way that we review and plan. Instead of starting with “what are the problems in this team” I encourage managers to ask the questions about what is going well, what can I build on in this team? It just helps to shift away from a negative viewpoint to something that gives some needed energy and boast to the team and the manager.

The final technique I use is the Strength Based approach. One of the advocates of this is the Gallup Organisation and their book “Strength Finder 2.0” is one I recommend to managers who want to take a different approach to appraisal, recruitment, talent management. I also use a set of card which I ordered from St Luke’s Innovative Resources www.innovativeresources.org. There are 54 cards each of which describe a strength. I encourage individuals to select strengths that they think they have or their team have and explore why this will help the team develop further.

These tools start to help a shift to seeing the world through a slightly different lens. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still problems and that everything in the world is lovely but it does help to look at how we can move forward from the “isn’t it awful” coffee talk into something that might help contribute to better organisations and governments.

World Cafe – Real Conversations

This week I have been exploring using The World Cafe method with a number of different groups. I love The World Cafe website, it is a great source of good practice examples. There are photographs so you can see how different groups have organized their cafes. There is even a group in Russia who are using a real café for a regular exchange. The site has resources you can download. It is all maintained by volunteers and through donations: www.theworldcafe.com

 I have used the method with a variety of different groups and in different situations. The biggest cafe event was in Rome for a group of 150 senior executives. The cafe format fundamentally changes the environment of the average conference room from the formal seating useful for listening to expert speakers to a more democratic, informal setting which is much more useful for listening to each other. In the ideal world there would be the perfectly formed small circular tables and comfortable, easily movable chairs so a group of 5 people can easily talk to each other across the table.  The group size is important, if you have more than 5 then it is less easy for most groups to self facilitate, this tends to mean that more dominate people get more air time and the less extrovert participants will not get a chance to input.

 Having established a cafe type of environment the next task is to get people talking and listening to each other by the use of a carefully worded question. An interesting open question is enough to start the process of dialogue. In a cafe environment the focus is on the quality of the conversation and not about coming to a set outcome. It is a model of facilitation where the emphasis is on people talking openly with each other about a topic which is important to them. If the question is good enough then the conversation will flow.

 Rotating the groups is one of the great assets of the cafe style, and the rotation is organised to ensure that everyone gets a change of people to talk with so that they can explore the question from some different perspectives.

 What is great about hosting a cafe session is that you can watch the changes in people. At the beginning everyone is a little hesitate and uncomfortable with the changes in their usual environment. There is a degree of discomfort in having to actively create conference content instead of passively listening to an expert speaker This is all evident in the tense body language in the room and then something happens as the process starts. During the first rotation I will notice people smiling, listening intently and starting to become more animated. By the second rotation the groups are leaning forward, animated conversation begins and the volume in the room increases. It is a very satisfying process as I know that real conversations start in these groups which follow on after the cafe has closed.

 The World Cafe format is a fantastic format to encourage networking and practice sharing. Far too often events have time set aside for “networking” but it is essentially free time and for the more introverted participants this can be a very nerve racking time where they dread being trapped in a corner by a talkative salesperson, with no chance to escape.

 I hope that one of my conversations this week will result in our team of facilitators being asked to run a cafe in my home town of Leeds. One thing we need more of right now are ways to help people to connect, to share and to find ways out of the mess that some of these great experts have got us into. We need to turn to each other to find our solutions.

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Learning in Ukraine

Last week I was in Ukraine running a leadership programme for software engineers. The programme I ran was based on a programme I had run for the company in the UK and so one of the challenges was adapting this programme for a younger, less experienced group of leaders and where English would be the second language. The common challenge would be that they were a group of intelligent engineers who were now taking on a leadership role and would be leading teams of talented intelligent engineers so it was important that the materials I used were not too basic or designed for simple instruction giving styles of management.

 As I wrote and rewrote the materials I realised how often we use idioms when explaining concepts in English. I also realised that my standard handouts were not always clearly written in the best grammar! It took me many hours to get each handout to an acceptable standard and even them my client in the UK was able to identify further improvements to the grammar and sentence structure so that we could ensure clarity of understanding!

 Working with the group was a wonderful experience, from the beginning the group were willing to get involved and to communicate with each other. They valued the participative nature of the workshop. It would seem that their previous experience of training was based on listening to a talk given by an expert so my approach, which is much more facilitative, was totally unexpected. It was the first time I have returned to my room at lunchtime to find participants excitedly showing other colleagues their work on the walls of the room.

 One of the challenges for me when facilitating the groups was that when they worked on activities they would naturally communicate with each other in Russian. This meant that I missed overhearing some of the discussions which they were having. It did make me aware how much we pick up through non verbal communication, I could usually assess if a group needed help before I asked them. I also wished I had learnt more Russian, my basic phrases were helpful in navigating the city but more words would have increased my ability to pick up concerns early on in the process.

 At the end of each day I made sure that we reviewed the tools we had used during the day. This was an interesting experience as it gave me some insight into the tools that they felt they could apply, and not just what I thought I had “taught”. Using visual imagery was a tool which they felt that they could use to influence their teams and I was impressed about how they were able to use visual images to express a vision for team meetings.

 There was a real sense of sadness when we finished the training and a marked reluctance to leave the room; this was a contrast to some sessions in the UK where there is a speedy walk to the door as soon as you have completed the workshop closing statement!

 Lots of my friends and contacts have been very curious about the experience of actually working in Ukraine. I was based in the east of the country and I had very little knowledge of the country before going out there and had never worked or visited further East than Prague. I realised how many stereotypes I had absorbed without realising it and how I expected the people and the place to be very different to the UK. In fact what I observed on this limited visit was a lot of similarity and some differences.

 The emerging nature of the nation grappling with its infrastructural investment was clearly evident; the roads are in a bad condition in the city. The walking experience was much better than in some more “developed” cities. The walk back to my hotel was along a major duel carriageway, something I would avoid in the UK but it was really pleasant due to the wide nature of the pavement which was tree lined on both sides. The park was full of life and was a hub of activity with all different generations represented. Again the amount of trees was beyond my expectations; somehow I expected a more Soviet style grey uniform.

 

Another useful insight came one evening over dinner. I was talking with two of my Ukrainian colleagues about the need for courage in the business world. I often use the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes” to illustrate this point. My colleagues had not heard of the tale of the Emperor but when I explained it some more they knew it as “The King’s Clothes” and their story involved a rather stupid western King, I realised that our story involves a rather stupid Eastern Emperor, and this realisation that it was the same but different was a good insight into our joint understanding.

www.bellthompson.co.uk

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

Using Tiny Url

This week I have become a late converter to Tiny URL. This website allows you to take a link to a website and convert it into a shorter verision. I am finding this really helpful when I am writing follow up resource guides. I have often put web links into these documents and if participants use the documents on line this is not a problem, they just click on the link. However people often print off the material to follow up later at home and then the really long link becomes a barrier to people following the material. By using Tiny Url I can now eliminate this problem. It means that this link to the BBC Personality Test http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/whatamilike/index.shtml becomes a much easier http://tinyurl.com/bigpersonality1

 

I have also discovered the TinyCC site which does the same activity as Tiny Url but allows you to track activity on your shorten web link, which could be really helpful if you have designed a link for a group of participants on a learning programme, you can access which of the materials seems to have generated most interest. The tinycc link to the personality test is here the fact that you can review use is very helpful to me but I have had more problems getting the link to work than with tinyurl.

http://tiny.cc/bigpersonality2

 

Another similar site is Notify url, this does the shortening aspect and will send you an email when the first person clicks on the link which is helpful if you are sending information to one person, perhaps someone you are coaching.

http://NotifyURL.com/bbcpersonality

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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Learning Technologist: All about Webinars

Today I have been learning about Webinars with the team at Reach Further (http://reachfurther.com). The demonstration was set up on DimDim (http://www.dimdim.com/ )which provides a free webinar facility. The limitations are that only 1 person (the speaker) can be seen by video and only 4 people can speak, so the microphone has to be passed around different people and this felt a bit awkward. The session was really useful because the only content was about the technology which meant we could explore different aspects of the software to see how it could be applied.

 I can easily see how I could use the technology to support learning; it would be particularly useful for a briefing before a programme so that I could easily give participants some information about the programme, answer their questions and agree expectations in advance. It would save on travel for these types of very short events. It would also be good for collaborative project work. An example was also given about how it was used to deliver a pitch when snow prevented the team attending the actual venue.

 The benefit over the traditional telephone conference is the whiteboard element which means you can explore a document together or add comments. You can also upload presentations and handouts to the site so that everyone can see them together and can comment either via the voice chat or the typed chat board.

 One of the challenges of the webinar over face to face will always be the perception of the format as something inferior. People are comfortable with the idea that you travel to a venue and attend a meeting with a group of people in a room. The value of this type of meeting is often in the informal news exchange and discussions which take place before or after the meeting. In comparison the webinar type meeting can feel much more restricted with a pure business focus. The unfamiliarity of the webinar and the emergent nature of the technology means that it can feel awkward and some of the topic learning will be lost as participants get used to the technology interface and are therefore distracted by the different elements of the technology. It made me realise that before offering this type of facility for content delivery I need to offer a short overview of the technology so that participants could have a go and play with the technology before the distraction of the actual content.

 There are free webinars advertised all over the internet, so one of my learning activities will be to sign up to various free events to see how others are using the technology. It would be great to hear about examples of good practice. It would be also good to get experiences of people who have participated in webinars. At the weekend I mentioned it to some friends and it got a massive “groan” reaction. They worked for public sector organisations in the UK where the webinar was being used in a way that sounded like a “Boreinar”. I guess that comes back to a common problem with standard presentations, just changing to a web based method doesn’t make the average presentation anymore exciting or interactive.

 With the credit crunch and the growing green agenda there is a pressing need to reduce the amount of business travel and Webinars might help towards this if they are used in a strategic and well thought out manner. If we simply try and reproduce the current “training” sessions and business meetings into a webinar format then it is not going to be something that people will willingly engage with and this is the learning technologist’s challenge.

I would really welcome any of your thoughts and experiences about using webinars in your industry.

Christine Bellthompson

Learning Technologist – Finding TED

I discovered TED about 2 years ago and it is an amazing source for people who want to learn about leadership. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is an invite only event where some of the world’s most influential people give talks on a variety of themes.

The first level I use TED for is to recommend particular topics to individuals who are exploring different leadership skills. A current example is the talk by John Wooden talking about coaching. He is reflecting on a life time of coaching in the sports environment and there are some great insights which could be relevant to a manager wanting to be a more effective coach.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/498

The second level is to look at a variety of speakers on TED and identify what they do to make their presentations effective and how they influence the audience. What techniques do they use? How do they seek to influence their peers to their viewpoint at the conference. An example is the talk by Captain Charles Moore about the impact of waste on the oceans. He is not the most entertaining of speakers but he has some great examples of how he has influenced people to think about the impact of waste on oceans.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/470

The talks on TED are about 20 minutes so it is realistic for individuals to make the time to watch one, reflect on it and then report back in the next learning session about their insights.

The third way to use the TED site is to browse through the site and see the themes which are emerging as core issues for our times, this can be a helpful way of identifying current and maybe future trends. I use this when working with leadership teams on innovation and creativity, just asking them to click and browse and report back findings can be the basis of a really interesting session.

Being a Learning Technologist

As increasing amounts of content are available on line the role of the traditional chalk and talk trainer needs to be questioned. Is the new role more about facilitating learning through the use of technology?
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of the traditional trainer who stands with a set of prepared materials and “trains” people. During my career I have had to do this type of work and often I was conscious that I knew only a tiny bit more about the topic than the slides and handouts contained but could be safe in the knowledge at the participants in the group would know little more than me. I heard a story yesterday about a trainer who was given some materials to deliver the night before the training session and was about 3 slides ahead of the group. This seems to reduce the role of the trainer to someone who can read slides in an animated way and ask a few open ended questions to stimulate debate. In hotels and training centres around the country this type of training is still going on.

When I am working with a group of people I like to focus on using the time to discuss and debate the issues. This may be around some core content materials but I think we can do more than just provide a package of set reading materials. I am starting to establish a new role for myself as a learning technologist. I facilitate people to find the information that they need by introducing them to useful sites, exploring podcasts, setting up groups and using forum boards to explore challenges that they are facing. The group of people I am working with suddenly expands to incorporate input not just from me and the people in the group but from people all over the world.

I am going to focus over the next few weeks on sharing some of these sites which I think offer valuable content for learning about a variety of topics and would welcome suggestions from others about sites which I could feature in the future.

 

 

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