The Best Example of “Micro-learning”: Us

The definition of this new, not new, over-hyped, trending idea is pretty vague. Plus I’m not a fan of yet another formal intervention commandeering the term “learning”. I get it, it’s easy. Yes, these things can lead to learning but in itself, it’s not. Learning is a verb, a process, not a tool or technology. Donald Taylor did well to pull together a definition in his latest post and referenced some of the others who had opinion such as Nick Shackleton-Jones and Donald Clark. I also recommend seeing what Gary Wise had to say.

Micro learning’ is learning from content accessed in short bursts, content which is relevant to the individual, and repeated over time to ensure retention.” – Donald Taylor

Content, short burst, relevant. I think he’s right, but these terms still leaves lots of wiggle room. And given I have the space to work with as do all the vendors, I contend that 10,000 years of evolution has really been defined by micro-learning and most specifically micro-learning in the form of conversation. Small “nuggets” in the form of quick quizzes, video vignettes, audio clips and demonstrations have value but rarely contain the trust, specific context, emotion and right size of information (knowledge and even wisdom) that are found in our interactions.

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Vox Populi (part 2)

Since my post Vox Populi was written and shared I have had the fortunate opportunity to have three casual meetings with some local folks wanting to chat about social and social organizations.  I’ll share some generalizations and themes I picked up on.

For starters the people I met with were in traditional leadership roles in organizations providing health care services, education/training and project management. When I broached the topic of social organizations with one, the response was: “I don’t even know the full spectrum of what it all means.”  As I dug deeper into this response with them, the conversation went broader not deeper. Ideas around hierarchy, leadership, social, networks, Wirearchy, trust, conversation, communication, and learning were surfaced and it was clear to me that in a world of fast flowing information, those in the trenches of work have only scraped the surface of these notions and have a cursory understanding. To many then it’s all just disconnected jargon. I tried to synthesize it into a single word and the one I chose was “autonomy.”  I expanded on this by saying how power, aided by technology, has shifted to the individual – yet individuals don’t often take advantage of this shift and neither are organizations. In many cases both are limited by old world thinking about power structures or just comfortable in the current state; change can be scary.

An explanation of what is happening today, not happening and needs to happen can be found in Jon Husband‘s principle of Wirearchy.  This principle provides guidance to all facets of being both a citizen and a worker today. I recommend strongly one reads it.

A theme I picked up on that was present in many of the conversations can best be summarize as “work moves at the speed of trust.” Several spoke of 1. decision-making in a vacuum, 2. the all to familiar business unit “silos” and 3. competition over collaboration. Simply put – 1. Employees were not trusting their leaders, 2. leaders were not trusting their employees and 3. employees were not trusting each other. In each case work, productivity and innovation were hindered as openness and transparency are severely lacking in their environments.

Each in their own way made it clear that change in their settings to a more social organization appeared to be a daunting if not impossible task.  And maybe still stinging from the recent recession or the fact that Syracuse is not an economic juggernaut, these folks didn’t appear empowered to be change agents as the status quo has a firm grip on the mindset of organizations. I look forward to many more conversations like this, different industries and different levels to see the very valuable perspectives of the Vox Populi (the voice of the people).

The Simple Shift

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Over the past few years, blessed by rich experiences and conversation, my beliefs and practices started to change. I no longer saw organizational learning as something unique, I was seeing it as a part of a whole, working in synchronicity with all other elements of an organization. I have come to see learning as a part of the work we do and not apart from it. When we look at the majority of learning in and through the work we do it is authentic and impactful. When the work is meaningful and challenging like this, we are motivated, even excited and when we are truly passionate we want to include others. Social technology serves to do just that, invite people in to see, comment, contribute and improve. It seems so simple, yet for over 5 years I have been reading much of the same thing about the future of work. Much is written on what it will be, where and who we will need to be to thrive, yet the how is the challenge. I believe it really comes down to being human and all the elements that make up that humanity; kindness, empathy, trust, conversation, etc. We have unfortunately placed decades of hierarchy, departmentalization, machinery, and political layers over this humanity, burying what makes work actually work.

The world has grown more complex and we can’t navigate complexity with even more complexity, the same tools that can free us often enslave us. We need to muster the strength and courage to seek simplicity and cut through the noise and distraction. Organizations, like individuals, are unique. As Dave Snowden noted in his Cynefin framework – in complexity we only know what right looks like after the fact.  Our route to success then hinges on our ability to make sense of it all as quickly as we can, we have it within us, we just need to get outside of us.

The pivot graphic, like a dance step, was the perfect image for my space on the Web ; The Simple Shift. Dancing is natural, all humans are moved by music. The steps can happen easily with the rhythm of the music if we don’t over think it. For those who can do it, it appears effortless with the biggest skill, not being in knowing where to place ones feet, but just in having the courage to get out there and be one’s self.

I’ve put my love of learning into perspective. My thoughts, writing, and practice have really turned inward as I started to see that it’s the simple shift that needs to be made, One that starts with a better understanding of who we are and how critical that is to make it all work in our work.

Conversation Brings Change, Naturally

I’ve been thinking about Media Naturalness theory for some time. Well, more often it just pops up because it’s not like I’ve invested all than much effort into it. In short, if you’re not familiar, Media Naturalness Theory is the idea that human beings were built for face-to-face communication over thousands of years of evolution. Our gestures, voice inflection, eye movement, body language all contribute to giving and receiving information. Therefore anything that shifts away from this “medium” impacts our ability to effectively communicate. There was a lot of study around this with the introduction of email. To learn more I found this Wikipedia article a pretty good place to start.

Being more into the media rich New Social Learning (i.e. learning through social technology), I haven’t put much stock into Media Naturalness theory but I had a bit of an epiphany at a recent meet-up here in Syracuse. I’m a member of a local Bloggers Facebook group. We comment and exchange posts as well as ask for advice, etc. I was wanting to meet some of these fine people in person and pick their brains about blogging and why they do it, how they do it, tools, approaches, etc. I think I’m somewhat of an outlier in this space as I don’t blog for money, I do it for myself (although if the occasional speaking gig arises I usually don’t say no), my topic is a bit fringe, and I’m a bit of a purist in that I focus exclusively on my writing/reflecting and do nothing in regard to researching tags, SEO and monetization.

Meeting virtual friends face to face is always pleasant and since we didn’t engage much in long discussions in our Facebook group the opportunity was there to sit, have a beer and just hear each others voices if nothing else. Upon my arrival I moseyed up to a trio and introduced myself. After exchanging pleasantries I was asked by one, Joe I believe, “So what is it you write about exactly?” Without missing a beat I rattled off something like “I write about organizational social. How increasing transparency and openness can improve performance. You know, how social tools can be used inside an organization for sharing and collaboration.”  As I sputtered out my final words I realized, but didn’t feel compelled to add it in, that I said nothing about learning. I hadn’t even whispered the term that has defined my career for over 20 years now. No ID. No elearning. No L&D. No training. Nothing.

Blogging has a unique pressure that really only strikes you when you hit “publish.” Even as comments to your posts come in, you can pause almost indefinitely and ponder a reply. But in the heat of a face-to-face conversation, with real human eyes cast upon you and ears finely tuned, your response is unrehearsed, visceral and probably the most honest you can give. I write so much on my interest, beliefs, observations, efforts, etc that I really haven’t even given conscious thought to the transformation I have been undertaking. In reflecting on this moment over the past week I started looking back at my conversations online, my blog posts over the past few months and years and the pattern was obvious; I have slowly shifted away from being L&D-centric and have been seeing the whole organization’s role in impacting individual performance. Learning is a part of the work not apart from it. And thus learning is mostly indistinguishable from the other activities that make up the work we do, it is an unconscious underpinning. No longer does learning, in the formal sense, dominate my thinking and practice any more than communication, human interaction, culture, leadership, and trust.

Change happens one conversation at a time or in this case, change is made obvious through conversation. And why not – we’ve been learning about others and ourselves this way for thousands of years.