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Gilbert Branson

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So here’s a question for you. How do you feel about interacting with organizations on Twitter? More specifically, what are your thoughts about multiple members of an organization tweeting under one organizational twitter account? (i.e., a twOrg?)

I’m asking because this point came up this past weekend with a friend on Twitter.

twitter_convo1.jpg
My friend’s main points seem to be:

Not a good idea to have multiple people tweet under one organizational account. Because…
…People don’t like interacting with organizations, they like interacting with people. And…
…Rather than having multiple people tweet under one organizational twitter account (e.g., “@orgname”), it’s better to have multiple people set up accounts like “@orgname-mel”, “@orgname-sam”, “@orgname-sally”, etc.
Now, this issue is near and dear to me because, in fact, I tweet under a few accounts. One of which is personal / individualistic (@MelAclaro). The other two being proxies for organizational personas.

Each is focused on a specific type of relationship I wish to establish. @MelAclaro, for instance, allows me the freedom to tweet about everything and anything that interests me as an individual person. This can include articles I find compelling, posts from others that I find interesting or, quite frankly, the occasional “what / where I ate for breakfast” type of tweet.

Meanwhile, @astdOC, for example, has been set up as an organizational persona to focus more specifically in learning / training industry related content within a finite geographic scope.

And, while it’s not a human, per se, it is a unique entity that has its own organizational character and set of values. Character and values that we — members — hope others get to know better.

At the moment, it’s set up in a way that three of us on the board can tweet through that one account. The internal guidelines we established for ourselves is to tweet respectfully, in alignment with our organization’s values and mission, and in accordance with cultural norms of the “pay it forward” philosophy of the social sphere.

And, though my friend raises good points, I see two disadvantages:

1. Individual account holders (e.g., astdOC-mel, astdOC-Sally, astdOC-Sam, etc.) attenuates the overall reach of any single message, thereby diluting the organization’s ability to propagate its message, and those of others it helps through retweets, and so on.

2. It has a tendency to devolve to individualistic perspectives. (Again, pitting what @astdOC-mel — the individual — ate that morning for breakfast vs. staying “on message” with what @astdOC — the collective — “thinks” about the value of CPLP certification or the merits of workplace learning and performance, say).

And, while I do feel it’s appropriate for organizations to establish one collective presence PROVIDED THAT it can do so with transparency, consistency, and a unified voice communicating shared values, at the end of the day, its the social sphere within which we, as an organization, have to engage. So, if we’re doing something that’s inherently against social norms, I’m not opposed to making recommendations about shifting our organizational behavior.

So, on behalf of our non-profit association, I’ve put the question out there in a couple of forums, this blog, this poll and a few social networks.

We’re willing to shift with the wisdom of the crowd… so I’m askin’ ya… what do you think? Do we make it so only one tweep tweets on behalf of the organization? Or, is it okay to have multiple tweeters under one twOrg?

I’m following up on my blog post from yesterday (?) on the Top 25 Tool Sets for Learning Professionals.

I appreciate the effort Jane Hart has put in to compile her list over the last three years. And, while her “Top 100 Tools” list is interesting, my favored list is the one she derives from feedback she receives to the Top 100. That is, the 25 Tools: A Toolbox for Learning Professionals list which I wrote about the other day.

So, for Jane: in support of your continuing effort (and, thanks again for doing this, keep it up), here’s my 10 tools contribution. (BTW, for those of you cool folks who follow my antics here and/or on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook and you’re in the Learning profession, I’d encourage you to send your feedback to Jane for her compilation. You can find out more info about how to do that on her “Share Your Top 10 Tools” page.

My guidance for favorite 10 tools for learning

In submitting my favorites list below, I’m using the following guideline for “favorite.” That is, a “favorite” tool is one that I use for creating learning for others. And, though I’m also submitting the name of a specific tool on each line item below (because I think that’s asked for), I’m leading with the type of tool that it might be grouped under… (Gah! I’m over-thinking again. Okay, I’ll shut up. Here’s my list.)

1. A tool for storyboarding. For this, I’ll say PowerPoint . It’s easy, I grew up with it, I can use it without thinking about the mechanics of the software.

2. A rapid authoring tool. Articulate (the whole suite).

3. But, because Articulate doesn’t handle branching too well (though it can manage it to a degree), I’ll also add Adobe’s Captivate as my number three pick. That’s mainly for its branching capabilities.

4. A non-linear video editing tool (because I do a lot of that stuff.) Apple’s Final Cut Pro .

5. An audio editor with robust noise filters: Apple’s Soundtrack Pro .

6. Then there are those projects where we need to show how to do something online. For these, a nifty screen capture software/editor is handy: Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio is still my favorite (this year) for the clean codec engine (encoder/decoder) Techsmith has created. (Though, this time next year I may be touting Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro software… it’s a Mac-thing, don’t ask.)

Context is important for learning to take place
Now, here’s the thing. The tools above are those I consider as my favorites for doing “grunt work” creation. That is, in creating the components of the whole learning program, for lack of a better of word at this late hour.

But eventually, those components all have to be served up in a contextual platform. My argument is that it’s the platform, and the context it can help facilitate, is where learning really takes off.

So, in that regard, I think Learning Management Systems, Content Management Systems and (of course) Social Networking Platforms all play a role.

7. Learning Management System: I’ve recently become enthralled with JoomlaLMS .

8. And, because JoomlaLMS requires the Joomla Content Management System to function, I’ll have to also list Joomla . (But, even if I weren’t using JoomlaLMS, I’d still list Joomla as a robust CMS platform. It derives a lot of its flexibility and robustness to its elegant modular design and, like the iPhone, gains a lot of utility in the fact that many many third-party developers support it with modular plug-ins. That gives it a lot of functional flexibility.)

Special Note: To get a flavor for Joomla and JoomlaLMS, check out the Demo Course I just recently set up on MindBridj.com. (You can login to the Demo Course using username: demouser and password: demouser.)

9. Back to LMSs, I also like Moodle for its simplicity and open-sourcedness. (Yes, folks, I can make up new words on the fly!)

A safe environment in which to fail
10. Social network… so which one? Well, actually, while I’d be willing to list the Big 3 (y’know, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) as networks where learning can happen and where learning can be supported. Remember, the guidance I’m using for “favorite tools” was that which I’d use to create learning for others.

Using that guidance, I’d be reluctant to use a public platform, like the Big 3. It doesn’t give my users enough of what I call “a safe environment in which to fail.” So, in that regard, I prefer creating a private social network in which my user community can play without fear of the larger consequences of failure that would otherwise hinder learning.

For this environment, I’d ordinarily list Joomla with the various social networking plugins. (Joomla, by itself, doesn’t give you a social networking platform. You’d need to add the appropriate plugins for it to become that.) But, since I already listed Joomla as Item #8 above, I’d have to list either Ning or Kickapps. Mainly for their ease of use and ease of setup.

HOWEVER (big point) if pressed about which one, I’d have to say that, although I slightly prefer Ning for it’s ease of use, it’s important to note that Ning’s terms of use technically gives Ning rights to all content — and user lists — associated with any networks you create. (!!) (Ning, if you come across this, please comment or clarify if that policy has changed.)

So, given the point above, I’ll have to give my nod to number 10, social network platform (in support of creating learning programs) to KickApps .

That’s it! What do you think of the list? How do these compare to your top 10?

Here’s a meeting facilitation technique I sometimes like to use at the start of planning meetings where I sense some “challenging personalities” will be in the mix. Y’know, personalities with preconceived ideas about how things should/shouldn’t be.

The reason I say such personalities are challenging is because, if left unfacilitated, they could dominate and stifle other / new ideas from other participants.

An interesting sidebar: The picture that seems to come to mind for folks about “challenging personalities” is an old salty, grizzled company veteran who has been around a while and set in her/his ways. But, my experience actually is that that hasn’t always, or even mostly, been the case. Say, six times out of ten, it’s a newer employee or younger bootstrapper who’s just jonesin’ to show all the cool ideas in his head.

His or her impassioned contributions may not necessarily be given out of arrogance. A lot of times it’s because he or she is just simply Motivated, with a capital M. As challenging as that can be, it would also be a shame to stifle that motivation. Better to simply help everyone see how different experiences can influence different conclusions.

Back to the rest of the story: More often than not, a meeting facilitator can do a lot to set the conditions for a productive interplay by democratically facilitating simple “ground rules” at the start (I’ll save for my next post). But, adding to that, too, the idea of facilitating an activity that helps participants experience a lab experiment, so to speak.

This is that lab experiment. I love it for its simplicity. But also for the way it poignantly demonstrates how our individual prior experiences can influence different conclusions even when presented with the same information.

The Tools
What you’ll need: flip-chart; markers, paper or post-its or post card for each participant, pencil or pen for each participant.

Setup:
o Without showing any of the participants what you’re writing, take one flip chart and write a bunch of random letters in varrying sizes, positions, orentations, and so on. It should look similar to the image below.

o On a second flip chart (and again without any of the participants seeing what your writing), write a bunch of random numbers. Again, in varying sizes, positions and orientations.

o Finally, (again, no looking) on a third flip chart, reproduce the image below. Note that it should be written somewhat sloppily. The idea is to leave room for interpretation as to whether the image looks like a sloppy “B” or a sloppy “13”.

Procedure:
1. Divide the group into two halves. For reference purposes, let’s call ’em Half “A” and Half “B”. (Or “left”, “right”, whichever works for you.)

2. Ask one of the halves, say B, to close their eyes (no cheating!). Better yet, have them turn to the back of the room.

3. While group B is turned away, show group A the flip chart with letters on it. Instruct them not to say anything. No discussion. Not a word.

4. After about 15 seconds, cover the flip chart and ask group A to turn away. Now, ask group B to look towards the front.

5. While group A is turned away, show group B the flip chart with the numbers on it. Similarly, instruct them not to say anything. No discussion. Not a word.

6. After about 15 seconds, cover the flip chart. Instruct group A to turn towards the front so that both groups, as a whole, are now looking forward.

7. Now, before showing the third flip chart (the one with the sloppy “B” or lazy “13”), instruct everyone they will have exactly 5 seconds, and no more, to write what they see next.

8. Now, suddenly and quickly, show them the third flip chart and tell them to quickly and silently write what they see.

Discussion:

Compare the notes written by each half and discuss the differences with the meeting participants.

I’ve performed this activity more than a dozen times. Each time with groups of six or more. What never fails to amaze me is that each and every time, the group that was presented with letters, interpreted the third flip chart as a “B”.

Meanwhile, the group that was presented with numbers, interpreted the third flip chart as a “13”.

Huh, different prior experiences seem to result in different conclusions

I decided to post this after a couple of friends whom I invited to join me on Twitter a few months ago asked me a question that opened my eyes a bit. About 4 months after they had started their Twitter account, one was still hovering at about the 10 follower count while the other hung at about 40. The question posed to me was:

“I want to get to 200 this weekend, how do I do that?”

“Whooa,” I thought. Red flags lit up in my head, so I asked, “Do you want to do this as a taker or as a giver?”

After a bit of back and forth explanations, it was agreed that a higher follower count was desired for the purpose of having more opportunities to interact, but that quality of interactions was also important. (Good answer.)

The eye opening part for me was that, while folks may readily find help getting started on Twitter, less clear is what to do with it once you’re on. This, I’m convinced is a culture thing.

No, I don’t mean culture in the sense of racial diversity or nationality. Rather, I mean it the sense of community norms and values. The stuff that makes up the interplay when a willing individual interacts with members of a community and is willing to shift her/his lens about traditional ideas of marketing, dialog and how respect is earned in a community.

So, after having gotten them started on Twitter, I found myself suggesting the following things for them to consider as they continued the journey. If you’re new to Twitter yourself, please read on. Or if you know of someone who is new, feel free forward this post along to them as well.

“The Rest of The Story.”
Twitter-related sites you should bookmark. Start with those below. The rest you’ll figure out as you continue to engage the community.

Advanced Twitter search.
Twellow.com.
Tweetlater.
Tweetdeck.
Also, it’s helpful to know that there are many third-party Twitter apps that make Twitter more interesting, efficient and effective. As time permits, you should peruse the Twitterpacks wiki for a list of links to many third-party Twitter tools and applications.

Best Practices for Twitter Newbies.

As you find your way to exploring tools and applications to make your Twitter interactions more efficient and effective, consider some of them in context of the list below.

Use Advanced Twitter search (above) to target / find the people whose profile has certain keywords that may be of interest to you for network connection purposes. For example, Virtual Assistants interested in connecting with other Virtual Assistants might use that title as a keyword search. Similarly, VAs who may want to expose the value of their contributions to, say, real estate agents, would find a keyword search using “real estate” or “realtor” as a way to generate a more focused list of people to follow.
Alternatively, you should also take a look at Twellow.com.

Twellow has established categories for Twitter people (“tweeps”). Initially, Twellow adds new tweeps using its best guess of which category to associate a tweep with. Then, as tweeps stumble upon Twellow and find their profiles, they can choose to refine their own category associations. (Hint: After you’ve made a few connections and have been on Twitter a week or so, it’s worth visiting Twellow to “claim” your profile and refine the category(ies) you want to associate with… which also doubles as those categories in which you’d like other people to find you in.

Tweet at least 8x per day. Why eight? I don’t know. Maybe because that’s the number of eight 8 oz. glasses of water they tell us to drink in a day? I don’t know, dude. It’s more than 1 (which makes you dang near invisible) but not too much so as to encroach on your time if you fancy yourself one of those “busy people.” My take? Eight is a minimum, and the sky’s the limit. If you just can’t shake that high-brow “I’m a busy professional” thang, then check out Tweetlater to schedule some interesting tweets to go out at different times throughout the day.

Make your tweets informative. Contrary to what some purists might lead others to believe, it’s okay to tweet about the fact that you just spilled coffee on your new shirt. Or that you’re having green eggs and ham for breakfast with Sam. These are the stuff that gives color to life. But, just remember to try and mix in some tweets that would also be informative to the community, such as: interesting articles you’ve read online, interesting quotes, informative blog posts, new applications and tools, and so on.
Contrary to what your mom may have told you, it isn’t all about you.

o “Retweet” interesting posts made by others. Retweet is simply the process of repeating, to your network, the information that you see someone else has tweeted about. And doing so in a way that typically gives attribution to the original tweeter. Most third-party Twitter clients, like Tweetdeck (hint: highly recommended, btw) actually have a little “Retweet” button that makes this convenient. But, if you’re sticking with the Twitter web page for a while (twitter.com/yourname), you’ll have to do this by typing “RT:” and then copying the text of the tweet from the tweep you’d like to re-tweet to your contacts. (Didja get all that?)

o Tweet short URLs to interesting articles, blogs, videos, etc. that you find online. (Get to know URL shrinkers like TinyURL (http://tinyurl.com) to shorten your URLs in order to maximize your use of the 140 character limit.)

o Tweet your blog posts. But be judicious with this. Again, don’t make it all about you. But, assuming your blog posts have informative content that would benefit others, then absolutely that’s fair gam. Write it and then post a tweet about it.
Learn what the differences are between the “@” command and the “d” command. One is a “public” reply to another tweep. The other is a private reply. Examples:

o @melaclaro blah blah blah… (Sends “blah blah blah” as a reply to melaclaro. The reply is viewable by others in your network.)

o d melaclaro blah blah blah… (Sends “blah blah blah” to melaclaro as a “direct” message. (i.e., privately). Notice the format here for direct messages. There isn’t an “@” before the twitter name and there’s a space between the “d” and the tiwttername.)
Expect about 75% to 85% of the people you follow to follow you back. So, follow, follow, follow. But…

o Tip: Keep an eye on your following/follower ratio. A ratio like 1500 following with 100 followers communicates the message that you’re in it for the numbers–you’re bordering “taker” territory. With an out of wack ratio, you risk losing the more subtle, yet more coveted “respect points”.

o Lesson: In the beginning, go in small bursts. Regulate the follows you initiate to about 10-20 tweeps per day. Many of the people you follow will follow you back. Then, as your following/follower ratio comes back in line (i.e., approaches 1:1), then go ahead and follow another 10-20 folks. Helpful tip: Again, try to target the people you follow using Twellow.com or Advanced Twitter Search. In that way, you’re building a network that has more meaning and relevance for you.

o Lesson 2: As people follow you, it’s customary to follow them in return. Caveat: This assumes they themselves don’t have a sucky ratio or whose history of tweets don’t indicate a “taker”. (Do you see the circle of life in play here?)

o Lesson 3: When someone follows you, it’s cool to send them an “@” reply thanking them for having done so. Something as simple as “@melaclaro Thx for following. Back atcha. Looking forward to ur tweets. Merry Christmas!” is usually sufficient.
And speaking of Merry Christmas, it’s on that note that I’ll leave you to have one with your family. I hope this helps you or someone you know who may be new to Twitter. If you found this helpful, please subscribe or forward the article along.

Related posts:

Part 1: Why It’s So Hard to Justify the Cost of a Social Network.
More in category: Longhorn Project Diary

In Part 1 I mentioned an evaluation model, referred to in the training industry as Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. I suggested it might have some application as a framework in understanding social network ROI, and why it’s so tough to give “warm fuzzies” to managers who want to know “its value.”

Magnify

Kirkpatrick’s Four-Level Evaluation.
The model is a workhorse of sorts in the training industry. It’s attributed to learning guru Donald Kirkpatrick. Ask any instructional designer about it and they’ll light up and tell you probably more than you want to know. As a matter of fact, allow me (I warned you):

Level 1: Reaction (or satisfaction).

RateIn a nutshell, this level attempts to assess questions like, “Did you like the training?” “What did you think about it?”

You’ve given Level 1 feedback before. Think to the last company training program you attended that also asked you to complete a post training feedback form. The questionnaire likely asked you to rate different aspects of training by using stars, smileys or “A, B, C” type ratings to gauge your satisfaction with the course.

Applicability in social networks: Just like in training programs, Level 1 evaluations for social networks would also fall in the area of measuring satisfaction. This could be like a questionnaire members participate in to rate satisfaction of features or content (e.g., Least Favorable to Most Favorable; Low to High; “A, B, C, D, F”, etc.).

Whenever you rated a YouTube video, clicked a star on a blog comment, rated someone with a “Best Answer” on LinkedIn or even Digg’d a blog post (hint, hint?) you gave Level 1 feedback in a social network.

Level 2: Learning (or knowledge retention).

Knowledge In training programs, Level 2 evaluations include assessments to determine changes in knowledge. This one’s a little more involved. Instructional evaluators usually–but not always–devise some kind of pre-test and post-test.

You take a test before going through training so evaluators can establish a “baseline.” Then, you complete the training program. After training, you take a post-test. The results are compared with the baseline to determine if there was a change in the thing that was being evaluated. (Usually your knowledge and retention of the subject matter.)

You participated in Level 2 evaluation’s all the way through school whenever you took a quiz or an exam.

Applicability for social networks: Just as with the case for training programs, here we want to think a step beyond simply measuring satisfaction; more along the lines of measuring changes in quantity or quality of relationships the network generates or perhaps changes in collective wisdom as a result of implementing a social network.

Possible metrics that might be used to “prove value” for a social network at Level 2 could include before/after comparisons for metrics such as the following:

Subscriber counts;
Unique visitors;
Returning visitors;
Page views;
Bounce rates;
Quantity of content (both user- and company-generated);
Quality and popularity of content, and so on.

Level 3: Transfer (to the real world).

AthleteFor instructional designers Level 3 is the crux of an effective training program. That is, to what extent can learners take the knowledge gained from the training program and transfer/apply that to the real world?

Level 3 assessments for training programs are a little more involved than those for either Level 1 or Level 2. Such an assessment might involve putting you, the learner, in a controlled scenario and making direct observations about whether or not you can perform “desired behaviors” which the training program was designed to teach.

Think about it this way. When you took your first DMV written test, you were engaged in a Level 2 evaluation. The friend who drove you to the test may have asked you “how’d it go?” That was a form of Level 1. But, when you later come back to take the driving test, you’re engaging in a Level 3 type evaluation; it’s designed to see if you can take the book knowledge (Level 2) and transfer that knowledge to real time performance in the driver’s seat (Level 3).

Applicability for social networks: Level 3 gets a little tougher for social networks. To get to this point of evaluation, the implication is that your organization should first have defined the objectives for developing a social network. That is, what desired behaviors, if you will, is your organization hoping to achieve?

And therein lies a rub.

Unless your organization first comes to grip with answers to the business objectives for developing a social network, measuring and managing the value of such an animal isn’t really possible beyond Level 1 and Level

Evaluations at Level 3 are further complicated by the need to observe the program’s impact in the real world. In this case, a social network’s effect on the folks that ultimately benefit from it. And get this, that doesn’t necessarily mean its members.

The members of the network and its ultimate beneficiaries are typically–but not always–the same group of folks. Consider, for example, an internal social network developed for sharing expertise between employees, but whose ultimate goal is to benefit customers.

To gauge the real-world impact of a social network, the metrics used in a Level 3 assessment would likely have to be customized with a nod to the desired behaviors the platform was designed to effect. In that sense, each implementation would be different. But, some examples might include:

Improvements in demonstrated call management behavior by CSRs;
Improvements in demonstrated employee process knowledge;
Improvements in demonstrated sales person product knowledge;
Improvements in the quality of employee interviews.

Level 4: Results.

ProfitThis is like the holy grail. From a training program perspective, Level 4 assessments try determine to what extent the program has impacted the bottom line. Metrics like this might include financial measures like:

profitability,
increased sales,
and the ever elusive return on investment (ROI).
But the scope might also be scaled down to include department-level productivity measures like:

improved customer satisfaction,
reduced customer complaints,
reduced customer call times,
increased production,
reduced production defects,
improved fix response times, and so on.
Applicability for social networks: To a large degree, expectations for Level 4 metrics in a social network don’t really differ much from those expected of a training program. It’s a tough nut to crack any way you apply it, largely because “bottom line” measures are so broad.

If sales improve after a social network implementation, is it really because of the social network or could it be a result of an improved economy? It’s for reasons like this that training departments typically find it easier to stick with assessments no higher than Level 3. And if they were to attempt Level 4, it usually involves scoping things down to a department or group level where metrics can be reported upon within more defined boundaries.

In a nut, all the stuff above is why I believe managers fall into analysis paralysis when faced with a decision to shell-out for a social network.

They understand the need for members to be “satisfied.” (Level 1.) They also understand the benefits associated with page views, content, and uniques. (Level 2.) But what’s really going on is that they’re trying to translate all that to a Level 4 outcome: “how much does it cost?”, “when’s breakeven?”, “how much revenue can it be expected to generate?”

Scan the lists above and you’ll see our challenge as a community of social network evangelists. We typically use a Level 2 arsenal to answer questions based on Level 4 metrics.

So what can we do?

1. Recognize that when we rationalize the value of a social network development project using the benefits of page views, rankings, visitors and SEO, we’re appealing to a set of characteristics that define a snapshot of community activity and popularity of content. It’s helpful but by itself, it comes short–about two steps removed, in fact–from delivering that “warm fuzzy” managers are really looking for. Essentially, we’re asking managers to bridge the gap themselves between page views and organizational productivity.

2. Develop awareness for real life case studies in Level 3 and Level 4. There’s no shortage for examples of the other two types. If you’re like me, you probably have bookmarks and favorites tagged with keywords like SEO, Community Tools, and Cool Stuff. Start one now called “Case Studies” and start bookmarking real world examples you stumble upon where companies communicated the behavioral improvements (Level 3) and bottom line impact (Level 4) of their social networks. Later, you can pull from these to develop “takeaways” and handouts for project proposals.

3. When making the case for a social network, in addition to all the change management aspects (see Part 1; also stay tuned for future posts in the Longhorn Project Diaries) make sure to also shop the project internally. Get feedback from key managers about departmental costs and projections of revenue or productivity. Plug these into a P&L; spreadsheet. Starting with the baseline projections, you can then add line items to factor in assumptions about the impact of the planned social network on costs (for development, for example) and productivity.

I found this last bullet particularly helpful in greasing the skids later in the planning phase when everything looked all but dead. I’ll save describing that experience for another post.

In the meantime, you tell me, what else can you think to add to the list above?

Related posts:

Part 1: Why It’s So Hard to Justify the Cost of a Social Network.
More in category: Longhorn Project Diary

—–
12/16 update: As I was catching up on RSS feeds from my favorite blogs, I caught up to Tony Karrer’s post last week about 100 Conversations on the eLearning Technology blog. Given the relevancy of this subject to the community of eLearning professionals Tony enjoys, I’m including this update as part of the process to add this post to the conversation stream under the ROI category. I’d love to hear from some of you about any case studies or lessons learned you know of around the subject of ROI in learning projects that used social media to meet some of the objectives. Feel free to post a link in the comments to your blog post about it.

1percentSilence is Bliss?

I’m a moderator of a small but growing online community of learning professionals. (Some from the group will, no doubt, read this post. Welcome! Let me know what you think, from a professional perspective, about what I say below. Feel free to post a comment below or in our group forum.) The online ASTD-OC is a new group that’s still finding its legs.

Someone shared with me their own frustrations about starting new discussion groups. We talked about motivating members to contribute and share their experiences with others in the forum. How collectively, there are a lot of experiences to be gained and shared, if only folks would be willing to share them. We talked along those lines for a while over lunch. We shared our experiences and facilitative techniques.

We didn’t disagree with each other, especially on this key point: this is normal for all small groups.

The One Percent Rule and Beyond.Early this month I was asked if I would consider becoming a moderator for our local ASTD chapter’s new online group forum. Given all the startup challenges of moderating a group, I had to give it some lengthy thought–all of about 10 seconds’ worth!

Absitively I’d want to moderate the group. Twist my arm. Are you kidding? Not only is it a great opportunity to extend my professional network, gain visibility and meet new friends, it’s also a great opportunity to grow a community with a strong collective mindshare in the learning industry while helping connect folks to each other along the way. I’m happy to say that since the beginning of this month, the group has passed the century mark and grew another 30%. But that’s still a ways off from the critical mass we need to have what I’d consider thriving, regular discourse. And that’s okay.

As with any group, the “one percent rule” applies. That is, out of 100 people in a community, you can expect that, generally, one (maybe two) will create content, 10 will interact with that content in some way (e.g., through commenting, bookmarking, sharing, etc.) and the rest will observe.

From an organizational change management perspective, I think that’s right on. And what’s more, if I see a dynamic that’s different than that–even if it was due to more interactivity–then, as a change agent, I need to be aware of doing more digging to find out why. The answer may be something that needs to be managed further.

Even if the interactions were greater than expected, it could be they’re the result of interactions that may be unfavorable to the overall group. For example, as in the case of an undesired amount of self-promotion, marketing or spam by some of its members. (It’s okay, guys. That’s not happening in our group, yet.)

Remember The Change Curve.

I think it’s important to keep in mind,too, that as a group moderators, we operate in a role of change agent. As such, we’d be keen to keep in mind the change curves that are play.

In a previous post I wrote about how pessimism, no matter how slight, will manifest at some point following the initial optimism of some change that’s initially perceived as positive. (See “Informed Pessimism Always Follows Uninformed Optimism.”)

I wrote about how members of the organization, or group, can “check out” when pessimism sets in and change agents don’t effectively manage communications with the group. There’s no reason to believe that the same dynamic isn’t at play in group forums.

Initially, members will join with the optimistic view of connecting and interacting with others in their professional community.

The reality is, after some time, it’s normal that they become less optimistic. The topics being posted might not be aligned with their interests, or they find that it takes too much effort to post a new topic or to read and respond to other topics. Or, it may be they tried posting a topic or a comment and got flamed.

If you experience that in any of the groups you’re a member of, or groups you moderate, I’d say take heart. It’s a normal.

So what do you do?

If you’re a group member:
Stay the course. I think you’re doing the right thing. Look, conventional wisdom about joining any group is correct: listen, observe, get a feel for group norms before posting new topics or comments. When you’re ready, you’ll join in. And, the fact is, for some people, they get a lot out of simply observing and that’s as far as they want it to go. (Though, a couple of things I’d mention here is that, unless you eventually allow for two-way interaction, you don’t generally benefit from the visibility you would otherwise enjoy from your networking “efforts.” Secondly, you tend to limit the ability of others to benefit from your knowledge and experiences.)

Observe and listen to who the key personalities are.

If you have questions about protocol or topics, send an email to one of the group members or the group moderator “behind the lines,” so to speak. Introduce yourself and ask your question in private. (Another key point here. Don’t say anything, even in a private email, that you would otherwise not want to have get around in public. You know, just in case…)

At the same time, don’t let “analysis paralysis” prevent you from making contributions. Even if it’s for fear of “gawd, what if nobody posts a comment to my topic?” Again, that’s normal. It’s a fact, not everyone receives a reply to their posts, no matter how well connected that person is.
If you’re a group member stepping into the role of moderator for the first time:

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Post a new, relevant topic once every day or so. Include open-ended questions that invite your membership to comment. They won’t do it right away. The important thing is to keep a steady stream of content that both gives the community something to chew on while providing educational value even if no comments are ever posted about it.

Keep the change curve in mind. It generally goes this way: Member Optimism-> Member Pessimism-> Member waiting to see what other communications happen. Typically, we’re all waiting for “the right topic” to jump in on. Unless there’s a varied mix of topics that keep refreshing their way into the forum (posted by you initially), they may never see that “right one.”

Recruit more members. Remember the 1% rule applies. The more critical mass you have in group membership, the bigger that 1% becomes in absolute value. Some thoughts: promote your forum on your blog, your website or, in the case of professional groups, promote it on the organization’s main web site or blog. Open up the forum to make it easy for your membership to invite others. Consider running a contest that rewards members who recruit the most friends.

Recruit moderators. Not a decision to be made lightly. But, not one to shy away from, either. If there’s a member who seems to be contributing more than most, and is doing so with quality topics and respectful dialog, consider bringing that person into the fold.

Finally (but not to round out a definitive list by any means), find opportunities to give visibility to the members of the community. If someone wades in and posts a particularly poignant comment, give it a feature spot in a new topic or blog post that speaks favorably of the points raised.
I’m a moderator of a small but growing online community of learning professionals. The group is still trying to find its legs. And that’s okay.

In Part 1 I set the stage by letting you in on the spark for this series. Basically, it started with a discussion to help a colleague in the Sales & Marketing discipline understand the difference between “training” and “information.”

I laid the groundwork by describing a model compiled by a guy named Benjamin Bloom. The overall model talks about 3 main categories:

Cognitive. (Thinking-type learning.)
Affective. (Emotional-type learning.)
Psychomotor. (Physical skills-type learning.)
In Part 2 I drilled-down on the Cognitive category; this is usually the category that most of you who write marketing copy for training programs will find your products and/or services categorized under.

For example, a math tutorial, a presentation skills training program, or a real estate agent training course are examples of training that generally deal with helping someone understand, apply and/or perform certain skills. That’s the stuff of the Cognitive category.

Also in Part 2, I listed the six levels of Cognitive learning.

I took us on a 10,000 foot tour of the first three levels: Knowledge, Comprehension and Application. That’s also when I gave my view that, in response to my friend’s question, “information” can generally be thought of as the stuff spanning the first two levels–Knowledge and Comprehension.

And, while “training” can be a more general term spanning the whole gamut, I tend to differentiate it from “information” by placing it among the stuff of skills development and behavioral change. That means the higher levels of Cognition, specifically, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

In this last part, I’ll cap off this series by doing a similar fly-by of the top three levels: Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. I’ll also give examples of each.

Level 4: Analysis.

Here we’re talking about training that develops a level of performance where your consumer (the student) can make distinctions about the subject of the training program.

So, where Level 3 said “show me”, “demonstrate for me”, or “DO (some task)…”, Level 4 says, “Compare and contrast…”, “tell me the differences between…” or “write an essay about…”.

For example, let’s say you’re a student in a course for presentation skills training. Your participation in a classroom exercise may ask you to prepare and present a 7-minute presentation. As far as that goes, that’s Level 3: Application.

However, if the instructor were to ask you to explain the difference between an extemporaneous presentation style and, say, lecture style, then you’ve dipped into Level 4: Analysis.

Level 5: Synthesis.

Here we’re talking talking about training that develops a level of performance where the student is asked to solve some problem that requires combining other training or knowledge. As a marketer writing marketing copy, you might recognize these as the types of training programs that include activities asking participants to work through a complex scenario. These are sometimes called scenario-based training programs.

One example that immediately comes to mind is the type of training pilots go through in flight simulators. Or, to use a military example, war game exercises.

To use a civilian example, I can remember an intense week some fifteen years ago at a training campus of a management consulting firm I used to work for. At the time they operated under the name Andersen Consulting, which was the management consulting arm of the now defunct accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.

The week-long training program included a solution progression in a simulated corporate environment. (Complete with a demanding, surly “client,” office furniture and snarky new wannabe consultants.) Our class was grouped into teams of 6 consultants that each had to meet several times daily with the “client.” Based on a series of Q&A interactions, each team worked to create a final solution that solved the client’s business problem.

As a marketer, you should know that what I described above is the kind of training activity you would expect to find in a Level 5 training environment.

Level 6: Evaluation.

Here we’re talking about a level of performance from a participant that demands they defend a hypothesis or justify a position. It’s expected that at this level, the participant has achieved some degree of mastery of the subject matter; they can dang-near write the proverbial book.

An easy example that comes to mind here is a master’s or doctoral program. At the end of such programs, students are asked to complete some type of capstone exercise where they write a thesis or dissertation and defend it.

Wrapping It Up.

Bloom2
So, that’s it in a nutshell. I laid out the three categories of learning under Bloom’s model. (Cognitive, Affective, Psychomotor.) Of those categories, I focused on the Cognitive domain and explained each of the six levels and provided examples. I also explained a view that differentiated “information” from “training” as the kind of cognitive learning described in the first two levels (knowledge and comprehension). In contrast, I explained a view of “training” as falling in the realm of skills and/or behavior change developed in levels 3 through 6.

My hope is that, armed with a basic understanding of the information above, then you, as a marketing professional, will have another tool in your utility belt to evaluate the promises you make in the marketing copy written about training programs you’re asked to sell.

Until next time, I wish you success.

In an earlier post, I started addressing a question about differentiating between “training” and “information.” The series was sparked by questions I get occasionally from marketing colleagues who are preparing to write copy for training programs.

I’m using Bloom’s model as the framework. In Part 1, I laid out the three categories:

Thinking-type learning (“Cognitive”),
Emotional-type learning (“Affective”),
Physical skills type learning (“Psychomotor”).
Potentially a lot of big words, I know. I’ll try to keep it at a practical level. In this post, I’ll list the six levels in the type of learning called the Cognitive domain. (things like thinking, understanding, comprehending). That’s the stuff of training programs I usually design, and the type of training about which marketing professionals (at least in companies I work with) write copy.

The six levels of the area of learning we’re talking about here are:

bloom.png

The stuff in yellow will the subject of this post. I’ll hit the green stuff in Part 3.

Level 1: Knowledge.

Books_appleHere we’re talking about the ground floor. Learning at this level is most associated with information and the ability of a student to recall that information. For example, after reading this blog post you might say to yourself, “I don’t get all that ‘cognition stuff’ Mel was talkin’ about, but I get the gist of it. There are a progression of 6 levels…” And then you might go on to try and name the six levels. That’s basically Level 1: Knowledge.

If you’re a marketer preparing to write marketing copy, the way you’d recognize if the product you’re pitching is designed to get the student at least to level 1, is to find out if the program includes student testing around questions like:

“List the 6 levels of learning in the Cognitive domain.”
Or, “Match the definitions listed in the right column with the learning levels listed in the left column.”
So, if you ask me what the difference is between “training” and “information”? I’d say level 1 (and perhaps even level 2) is about information. I view “training” as being at higher levels and more about development of skills and changing behaviors.

Level 2: Comprehension.

BlackboardHere we’re talking about going one step above “knowledge.” So, in the example of seeing whether or not you learn anything from this blog post, you might be able to list the 6 levels well enough. But, the question is, can you come up with your own examples of each level? That’s a key difference from Level 1; being able to explain the meaning of the concepts using your own words.

When writing marketing copy and making claims about a training program helping someone understand a subject area, you want to find out if the design of the training program includes student testing around questions like:

“In your own words, provide at least two examples for each of the learning levels listed below…”
Or, as in an example of a real estate short sale class I recently helped develop: “Given the following financial information for your client, calculate the likelihood of success for this short sale.”
Level 3: Application.

ClientHere’s where it starts getting a little dicier with marketing copy. I’ve seen enough marketing copy that claims “mastery” or “guaranteed improvements in the number of leads…”, when in fact, the training program doesn’t even come close to “mastery” or in being able to guarantee “improvements” in performance.

In level 3, we’re talking about whether or not a training program tests for how well a student is able to apply the concepts she/he has learned in the training program by actually performing those concepts during simple scenarios on the job (or, at least in a realistic simulation of that person’s job).

Using my customer audience, for example, we might have a program that teaches real estate agents the components of an effective listing presentation so as to succeed in converting a prospect to a client. And, they may even “get it.” But, when we evaluate students for level 3, we want to be able to see or otherwise reasonably observe whether or not that agent can actually deliver the listing presentation in a manner consistent with how we talked about it in the training program.

So, when writing marketing copy and making claims about a training program helping someone improve their performance on the job, then you want to find out if the design of the training program includes student-testing similar to things like:

Roleplay scenarios: “Pair up with a classmate and take turns delivering a listing presentation to each other.”
Or, “Conduct a listing presentation with the instructor and respond to any objections given by the instructor during your mock presentation.”

As you can see, level 3 gets a little more involved in the process of doing the stuff that was taught. Typically, someone would also be on hand to evaluate the performance. These types of student assessments are relatively easy to do in a live classroom environment. But, when you’re writing marketing copy for training programs that are delivered via electronic media (web, CDs, DVDs, and so on), it’s an area where you want to get a little more cautious.

As a copy writer, you should know level 3 is more difficult to pull off in a virtual format. Though, when it’s done properly, it’s usually pretty cool. It’s cool because it can involve social media tools like group forums, online chat, webcams, or WebEx type interactions. I’ll save examples of that for a future post.

So, just to cap it off, unless there are the kinds of roleplays or two-way interactions suggested above, I think you’d be stretching it a bit to write marketing copy that claims something like, “Buy this course and you will be able to improve your presentation skills and gain more clients…” That type of copy would, in my opinion, just simply be untrue. That is, unless the training program provides for some type of live evaluation of student performance (there’s a word for it: “synchronous”) where the instructor observes the student performing the required skills.

That’s a lot to soak in for one post. I’ll hit the other levels (Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation) in Part 3.

Until next time, I wish you success.

1_plus_1I was pleased to have been tapped recently by a colleague, a marketing professional, who works with a company that delivers “training and education” via online channels. Specifically, the web. He wanted to understand how I differentiate between “training” and “information.” To his credit, he wanted to ensure his marketing messages were synced up with what his company’s products actually delivered.

When consulting with sales and marketing professionals who work for companies that create training products and programs, I try not to be a “training purist” when discussion goes to “positioning” their product for the market. There’s no better way to get them to shut down than for me to be hard-nosed about adult learning theory.

But the fact is, there is a tendency on the part of some sales and marketing professionals to stretch claims about the skills that a training program supposedly delivers to consumers. Having said that, I rarely see this stretch being made on the basis of deceptive intent or sinister puffery. Rather, I see it more as unfamiliarity about the different levels–and types–of learning that take place.

In this article, I list types of learning using Benjamin Bloom’s work as a model. In Part 2, I’ll list some of the levels within one of the learning types. When I elaborate, my intent is to keep the examples, terms and jargon down to a practical level. In that way I don’t (yaawwwwnnnn) bore you with pedagogical language (see how easy that is?) that often bores the crap out of me.

Here’re the types of learning under Bloom’s model:

KnowledgeCognitive. Think: what do I know? And how well can I apply that knowledge in the real world?
To use the practical example of driving a car, this would be similar, say, to having ingested the information in the DMV driver’s handbook. And then being able to recall some of that information either for a written test or to recall it while you’re on city streets (whether in the driver’s seat or in the passenger’s). Your recall might include information about a red octagonal sign as meaning “stop” or that double yellow lines mean not to cross over into an the adjoining lane. The degree to how well a learner applies that information in the real world is another matter. One which I’ll address in Part 2 when I list the levels of cognitive learning.

GymnastPsychomotor. Keeping true to our driving scenario, psycho-motor skills relate to physically maneuvering the vehicle on the road, or successfully executing a parallel parking routine. This area includes coordination and use of motor-skills. Development of these skills require practice. Other examples might include: Shawn Johnson’s ability to execute a gymnastic routine, or Michael Phelps’ ability to properly position his body to maximize fluid efficiency while swimming.

AngerAffective. The skills related to keeping your–or even “the other guy’s”–road rage in check. Or, perhaps the emotional discipline a driver is able to exercise in order to keep from responding to an incoming text message while simultaneously operating a motor vehicle. Basically, this area deals with the manner in which we deal with things emotionally. It may also include values, motivations and attitudes.
The summary above is a 50,000 foot view of the types of learning. Within each type, there are different levels.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll address those levels, specifically as they relate to the learning type listed as cognitive learning.

The reason I’m hitting that primarily is because it most relates to questions I often get from marketing professionals selling an online training program. Messages related to these programs tend to make claims about its ability to improve a learner’s success on the basis of knowledge gained or skills improved in a particular subject area; messages that fall within the scope of cognitive learning.

My hope is that, armed with a basic understanding of the different types of learning and the different levels within those types, marketing professionals will have another tool in their utility belt to evaluate the efficacy of the promises they make about training programs they’re tasked to sell.

Sl_astd2I attended a couple of meetings in Second Life this week. Wednesday’s meeting was a New Resident Q&A hosted by NCI. The one on Thursday was a session hosted by ASTD on Training and Second Life.

The meeting hosts were great on both occasions. Overall, my new exposure to meetings in Second Life (SL) would have to give a nod to the ASTD session. Though unintentional (I’ll explain below), the ASTD session ended up using a virtual meeting format that was different from those I was otherwise already accustomed to with chat forums, teleconferences and virtual desktop sharing applications like WebEx or GoToMeeting.

Wednesday: Chat forum in 3D.

The New Residents’ Q&A meeting I attended on Wednesday was conducted entirely “in-world,” as they say. Given the promise Second Life (SL) held for 3D visualization, co-location of participants, streaming imagery and live voice communications, I came with expectations of a robustly interactive in-world meeting.

Caledonhighlandsclassroom_001_2Unfortunately, while there was the benefit of seeing other participants in the large meeting venue (a medieval hall in this case), I came away a little disappointed. Not about the content or the host (in fact, NCI has a beautiful region in SL where they have many free training modules and objects for SL residents), but rather about the communication tools we chose for this meeting.

Communications were managed entirely using the chat feature. There was no other streaming video, no voice, no walking tours — we used very few of the stuff that I had hoped we would in order to have an innovative online meeting experience.

If you’ve ever been in a chat forum then you’ll recall the clipped sentences, disjointed sequencing of questions and answers (when multiple people chat at the same time, for example) and the awkward long pauses that often happen when everyone’s waiting for someone else to say the next thing.
Interestingly, the awkward factor of that silence gets magnified in SL. Owing to the benefit of visual presence SL participants share with each other, you just get a feeling that’s eerily similar to a real world conference in which everyone just stands around staring at each other. Awkward.

Thursday: ASTD meeting. Unintentional cool factor.

The ASTD meeting on Thursday, on the other hand, was a little different. Since it was billed as a meeting over WebEx, I came with WebEx-y expectations. To me this meant virtual PowerPoints and maybe a software demo. In fact, it started that way. That was okay with me. After all, that’s what I came expecting.

But as the meeting progressed, it took on a twist that neither I, nor perhaps the meeting hosts expected. It was unexpected in a good way. Unintentional though it was, the meeting progressed through stages culminating in an impromptu in-world meeting among participants. That bumped up the cool factor.

How it progressed from traditional to ‘cool.’

Initially, after the presenters switched from PowerPoint to desktop sharing mode with the intent of showing us a demo of Second Life over the WebEx connection, the annoying face of bandwidth constraints immediately reared its ugly head.

The images that came across were a stuttering series of pixelated stills that, unfortunately, detracted from the main topics. At this point I remember thinking that a PowerPoint presentation with prepared screenshots would have been more effective. But, I hung in there because these were respected guys in the industry I wanted to hear. (Karl Kapp, Tony O’Driscoll, Matthew Monahan.) And, since the audio portion of the meeting was coming across okay, I was still getting benefit from their narratives.

As I hung in there I started noticing in the image sequences that managed to make it through that other avatars were appearing at the SL location being demo’d. Since I knew there were only three presenters, I wondered who the other avatars were. Then it hit me. Some of us were abandoning the WebEx format in favor of just joining the hosts in-world.

So I did the same. I fired-up Second Life at another computer on which I had the software installed and invoked Nikko LeFavre to join the group in-world. Hah! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.

“Where in the world are they?”

Whereiseveryone_001When Nikko arrived, I immediately sensed his confusion. He didn’t know where “in the world” they were. I helped out by taking a look at the site name and SL coordinates on the disjointed images I was getting on the other computer’s WebEx connection. Combining that reference with additional knowledge Nikko acquired over the last eight days about how to input those coordinates in the map window helped get him to the general area. But, by then, the group had “teleported” to another part of the world in order to demo other learning regions.

Astd_sl_noaaIt took some doing but Nikko finally caught up with them at the NOAA site (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) where they were discussing the learning benefits of being able to “experience” natural phenomena like hurricanes and tsunamis. From there on, the meeting became highly engaging in precisely the way I had originally hoped when Nikko and I started this venture 8 days ago. We were able to follow the moderator as a grop to different places in-world, interact with objects directly in-world while free to roam and explore in the general vicinity while hearing the moderator’s presentation.

Lessons for me in conducting my own meetings in Second Life.
On net, I’d say I came away from the ASTD meeting with more than I had going in. That constitutes a successful meeting in my book. I also learned some lessons for my own Second Life meetings (someday):

Meet in-world. This meeting was a success for me because I was able to meet “face-to-face” with the group in the same geographical (though virtual) location. I learned a lot more about the tool we were discussing by using it.

Set expectations for participants to prepare for the meeting. So, what about folks who have no experience with Second Life? Well, in the same spirit in which WebEx meetings are typically preceded with instructions for participants to ensure proper system requirements before joining a WebEx meeting, a similar set of pre-meeting instructions can be sent to participants joining a Second Life venue. The instructions should minimally include:

Date and time of the meeting;

Links for account registration and software download (for non-residents);
Site name, SL coordinates, SLURL (Second Life URL) to the in-world meeting location;
A link to an orientation video about:
Basic movement including: forward, backward, left, right, fly, teleport;
Entering coordinates for teleporting to the meeting location.
Use voice conferencing. In contrast to Thursday’s ASTD meeting, my first meeting experience on Wednesday seemed nothing more than a chat room session enhanced with 3D novelty.

It was the interaction of voice and in-world co-location at the ASTD event that really helped close the distance gap for me.

Anticipate “drop-ins.” Some people that stumble upon the meeting in-world won’t know what’s going on. To them, the site will look like a bunch of people standing around. Unless there’s something available to guide them, the drop-ins will likely inadvertently interrupt meeting participants by chatting with the closest avatar. “What’s going on?”; “Why’s nobody talking?” were common chats I saw from drop-ins. To mitigate this, the meeting host should create a note card for new arrivals to pick up. The notecard should include information about how to join the voice conference and, perhaps, an agenda.

So this rounds out Day 8 for me as a rookie trainer in Second Life. As I alluded in a previous post in this series, there definitely is a learning curve. But, with just a little facilitation, new participants can be exposed to other interesting venues for elearning by leveraging 3D applications like Second Life to enhance the Power of Presence and reduce the feeling of distance that Karl and O’Driscoll talks about.