December Big Question – What did you learn about learning in 2009?

It’s the last day of December, the last day of 2009, the last day of a decade. But I still want to answer December’s Big Question:

What did you learn about learning in 2009?

Grad School

Personally, I took five graduate courses (for my Master’s degree in Instructional Systems at FSU)

  • Development of Computer Courseware: I am not sure if learned anything new about learning in this course – I did learn that my organization at EMC does a very good job of creating computer courseware though!
  • Inquiry and Measurement of Instructional Systems: This is the class that started me thinking differences in the language used by education people to describe measurements, and how these differ from language used by MBAs
  • Web 2.0 Learning and Performance: I’m not sure if I learned anything new in this class either, but I did get to try out some new ideas I had about aggregating information sources. This is a great class, if you are in the IS program take it when it is offered!
  • Introduction to Program Evaluation: This course introduced me to “The Standards“. They are pretty sense guidelines for conducting evaluations, but a nice reference.
  • Performance Systems Analysis: This was  my HPT course. As much as we talk about innovation and doing things differently, all systems we analyze (at least from an academic standpoint) are built on principles created by the men who pretty much got us in this mess. Should we be studying them differently – as the bad examples maybe?


According to the social signals for my blog posts at eLearning Learning, people liked the printable Twitter Cheat Sheet I posted.

Twitter was big last year. One of the most important additions to my PLE was #lrnchat. How amazing is it to be able to connect with education and performance experts from all fields? The remind me that there are so many ways to look at topics, not to fall into the trap of believing the hype, but to really analyze and evaluate systems…have reasons for the things you suggest and believe. And also not to take it all so seriously, that is nice too.

Another popular post (based on social signals) was one where I tried to find a definition for informal learning. I actually wrote this for one of my executives. I knew if I put my thoughts out there, my PLE would challenge it. And y’all did not disappoint!!

Wrangling with the idea of how to use communities in corporate learning took me back to my undergraduate days (my BS is in Information Studies) many times, especially in a post I made about Communities, PLEs, small groups, & power. This is something I’m still wrestling with. If Social Media is about the social, then finding a way to manage the power networks that allow (and prohibit) connections to networks is critical…especially in a highly political corporate environment. This is probably a core reason you can’t just build it (a community for learning) and expect learners to just show up. I’m sure this will be a big topic for me in 2010 as well.

I also wrote a post explaining how I personally use social media to learn. I compared it to fishing, I guess in a nod to my Gulf Coast heritage. I don’t think I’m unusual, especially for someone who works with technology. I still have to explain to people how important blogging is to me as a source of personal growth. The connections and shared information I’ve made from the blog have really helped me stretch and verify my thought processes.

Wrapping it up..

In summary, I’ve learned that I know lots more about learning than I knew. I’ve also learned that there is so much I have to learn. So, here’s looking to 2010. I’m sure I’ll have more provocative posts, and I’m sure you guys will knock my back down to reality!

ASTD Big Question: Working effectively with subject matter experts

The topic for ASTD’s September Big Question is working with SMEs. Before I start let me explain how we do this at EMC. Those of us who develop technical training are expected to become an SME in the technology for which we develop instruction. We have to understand more than how to do ID, we also have to be very technical.

When I talk to another SME, I am either talking to the engineer who wrote the software, a Technical Consultant who helps customers figure out how to implement the software into their environments, or a Professional Services person who actually goes and installs the product at the customer site. These folks are all super busy, which is why we as developers are required to become SMEs ourselves.

What should all IDs know about working with a SME?

SMEs are usually hyper-focused on getting a project out the door. If they are an SME, they are driving projects or they are the key go-to person for a project. Respect their time.

This means doing your homework. For me, this means working with the product and breaking it over and over again until I have a solid technical question to ask them. It also means using my experience to think how something would be used in a real-world environment, and then verifying that with an SME. Ask open-ended questions of your SMEs, don’t assume you have it all figured out.

Figure out what communication medium works best with the SME. Most of the time its email for my SMEs, but the message has to be short enough that they can read it on their blackberry. If I send a long rambling email they will ignore it (and probably give me grief later). Ask if they can point you to an information source (more on this later).

What can you and can’t you expect a SME to do?

Don’t expect SMEs to drop what they are doing  to answer a question. Ask to book time with them. Don’t expect one SME to see the entire picture. Companies are a system, and there are usually lots of moving parts that aren’t visible to each individual player.

I have come to expect that the SMEs are very willing to help and share their knowledge if you build a relationship with them. From a technical end, this means proving you know what you are talking about and asking relevant questions.

Does it work to have SMEs create rapid eLearning?

It depends on what you are talking about. First of all, if it is an SME that understands ID (like me!) then yes.

If all you want is a data dump, then maybe. We sometimes do that where I work now – we call them Knowledge Transfers. Our resources are limited, so the team that develops instruction for new product releases makes a business determination of what releases will have instruction developed for them. If it is a small release (of if we don’t have a resource that can cover it from an SME/ID perspective) that team will coach the lead engineers on what information needs to be presented during the KT. Then our team sets up a Live Centra session, provides someone to help the engineers and facilitate the information dump. Usually we record these sessions as well.

If you are asking should these SMEs be responsible for creating instructional content on a regular basis my answer is no. Remember I said SMEs are busy? They really are. They are usually folks that get stuff done in an organization. Many times, they are also paid more for their expertise. Is it really wise to have an engineer writing elearning? Is that really how you want this expert to spend his or her precious time?

How does social and informal learning impact how you engage with SMEs?

EMC has an internal social media site, and the organization I support is very active on that site. I’m able to keep current on positioning of the Ionix products by keeping up with that site.

Remember I talked earlier about asking the SME for other sources of information? I’ve started asking specifically to be pointed to wikis. There is lots of information out there in little silos, and thankfully the people I work with are very happy to share those URLs with me.

This will sound weird – but I’m friends on Facebook with lots of the engineers for the main product I support. I don’t use Facebook to talk about work, but it has helped to build a social relationship with these guys. Discovering the things we have in common, and seeing their updates about families and friends has helped build a social relationship.

Seeing that the guys I work with are in Texas (I’m outside Boston), there is no way I could have formed any relationship with them without social media. And having a social connection to the SME’s makes it easier if you need to ask them something during a time crunch. They know you, and they know they can shame you on your wall if you get out of hand asking questions. 🙂

What’s your favorite instructive story of working with a SME?

One of the engineers I work with writes all of the compliance rules for the product (Ionix Network Configuration Manager). He is so interested in getting feedback from students on what they are looking to do as far as network compliance, so that he can make the rules even better. I love that!

Where do I spend my time? June’s Big Question

This month’s ASTD Big Question is all about how people have time to participate in social media. Here is the exact question:

  • How much time do you spend and how did you find time for all the relatively newer things like reading blogs, twitter, social networks, etc.?
  • What are you doing less of today than you were 3-5 years ago?
  • Do you have less of a life with all of these new things?

How do I spend my time?

I am not sure how much time a day I spend on social media. I share a ride to work, and am on twitter for the 15 minute drive. When I get to work I’ll check twitter, then yammer, then email. Our internal social media site runs on Clearspace, and I have subscribed to the various communities that can help me with my job. I will get email notifications of any new activity in those communities. If I see something that relates to my job I’ll check it out. If I think it could help out of my team mates I’ll forward the email to them.

Since I am a community manager of our EMC Proven Professional Community I subscribe to all activity on that site. My duties there have me blogging, tweeting, and posting to LinkedIn groups and Facebook.

If I need a break at work, I look at twitter. I use TweetDeck, and have my followers sorted by work peeps, social media peeps, and edu peeps. I also have a couple of search columns related to the community I manage. I can always count on the storage tweeps for some good links and general humorous distraction in the mornings.

I’ve been participating in mentoring sessions and demonstrations of social media at work. I always work on the presentation at night and give the presentation at lunch. I’ve been using these presentations to work on the Pecha Kucha style of presentation.

I have lots of RSS feeds in my newsgator account. These are seperated by Asperger’s blogs, storage blogs, education blogs, social media blogs, and cartoons. 😀  I try to go through all of the feeds at least two times a week. I bookmark the posts I want to share using delicious, and those bookmarks go to my blog and to my facebook account. I participate in #lrnchat every week. I try to blog at least twice a week.

When I am in class, I am always on twitter, many times asking questions about what I am studying. This summer I am taking a Web 2.0 learning and performance class, so everyone get ready!!

What am I doing less of?

I think I bug my family less. I have to talk things out to understand them. Now I can interact with people who are actually interested in the same stuff that inspires me.

Do I have less of a life?

I am a grad school student. I have no life. So lets see what happens when I graduate…unless I pursue my PhD that is.

I still cook dinner, have a garden, help both my kids, and will can and freeze veggies this year. I’m carrying a 4.0 at school and I do pretty well at work. I do have a hard time getting to the gym though.

So I’m not sure if I have less of a life. I love the connections I’ve made because of all the new tools I use, I almost think I have more of a life. I’m constantly thinking and rethinking, and that spills over to my family and friends.

Maybe I’m using the tools are helping enrich my life as well as the people around me. Heck I even got Brian to admit Twitter is a good tool, and that is saying something!

ASTD Big Question: Am I still stuck?

Wow! This month the ASTD Big Question is about a blog post I wrote back in December! The post was called “I think grad school is making me crazy“.

Basically, I was venting my frustration about learning new ways of doing things while being in a role where I can’t implement change (it did not help that I was participating in the CCK08 experiment at the same time).

So here is the Big Question:

  • Do you sometimes feel stuck? Feel like you have so many more ideas about how you could help your organization or your clients, but that What Clients Want is just some training?
  • Should you attempt to get unstuck? How hard should you push your internal or external clients to get them to see the full range of what is possible? Or should you give them what they ask for?
  • If you are feeling some level of stuck, what should you do to get unstuck? How important is it to get unstuck? Is it okay to learn a lot about all kinds of different solutions, but to primarily work on simple training solutions?
  • If you are stuck, should you be concerned about your future?

The questions were based on this comment in my post:

I feel I’m going to be stuck doing the same thing forever with all these cool ideas in my head that will never get implemented.

So let me start by putting that post into perspective. I wrote it during finals, and at the end of a pretty rough quarter at work (the next quarter was even worse!). I’m lucky to have very good mentors, as well as a very stable and nurturing home life, and those things help me get over my angsty times.

I’m a little nervous that I am writing this post in the middle of a hectic quarter, also during finals.  I’m hoping this one sounds a bit more positive. 🙂

What I have learned is that there are always options to get unstuck, its just a matter of how you want to deal with it.

Option 1: Suck it up

Sometimes you just have to just suck it up. Sometimes the reasons you are stuck have nothing to do with you. Decisions are made for you, and if you want to keep getting a paycheck then you just have to keep doing things the way you are told to do them, even if that makes you feel stuck.

Option 2: Complain & make your points well known

Maybe you are stuck and you just can’t take it anymore. You know you have good ideas that would save resources if they were only given a chance. So you take matters into your own hands and try to force management to listen to you. When they tell you to suck it up, you complain to everyone around you all the time about how unfair management is.

This is not a recommended option unless you have other means of income than your current position. Also, this option has a way of alienating everyone, from your manager to your peers. It also tends to make you feel even more miserable.

Option 3: Figure out why you are stuck

Another option is to figure out why you can’t get your ideas implemented. This option can be used in conjunction with Option 1. Start talking with your manager, your mentors, and others who have been around longer to try and find out the answers to these questions:

  • Is this a bad time to talk about change? Why?
  • Is there someone in management who will champion your idea? Do you have or can you form a relationship with that person?
  • Is your idea really that new? Have others tried it before? If so, what was the reason it was not adopted?
  • Has there been some system change since people last tried to implement this idea? Can you show why those changes make this the right time to try the idea?
  • Can you let go of the ownership of the idea? If implementing the idea gets you unstuck, does it matter who gets credit for it?

    This is actually a statement about how you deal with power, and I’ve found its pretty important. Lots of my “innovative” ideas have been around forever. I don’t “own” these ideas, I’m just their latest conduit. Times have changed, and it may be that now is the time to try the ideas again. However, once the idea is out there, there isn’t a guarantee I’ll get credit for it. I’m ok with that because it gets me unstuck (well a little credit every now and again would be nice).

Once you figure out the why, usually you can identify who in the organization needs to be influenced so that your ideas a chance to happen. Once you know who to influence, you have to know what their hot buttons are. If you can figure out a gap someone needs to close, and your idea can close the gap, then you have a greater chance to get your idea implemented (and get yourself unstuck). If the gap has to do with making or saving money, your idea has an even better chance of being considered.

Even if they don’t accept your idea, going through this process will help you learn alot about your organization, and that is important too. The more you understand how your business unit operates, the more ammunition you’ll have for figuring out how to get your next idea implemented. At this point, you have to be willing to sit at Option 1 for a while.

So am I still stuck?

Yes and no. Yes because I still have tons of ideas in my head that I cannot implement at the current time. No because a couple of my ideas are starting to get some traction.

I’ve looked at the process of getting unstuck as an excercise in professional development. I’ve learned the following in the last six months:

  • How to look at things from a systems viewpoint. I’ve learned how to find out if my idea is really not a good fit for my current organization. I feel like this skill will be helpful in any position I find myself in, so I appreciate the fact that I have been forced to work this way.
  • How to pitch ideas to upper management. This is definitely a skill, and I am happy I’ve had the opportunity to practice (a lot)
  • How to be patient. Truth be told, I lean towards Option 2. However, I know I have to frame my ideas appropriately for others to listen to me. I know I have to figure out how my ideas can fit with my organziation’s charter. I also know that I have to be positive and encouraging to my team mates. What good is an idea unless it helps everyone out? And who is going to want to work with someone who is negative all the time?

There are some really great answers from the comments section of the ASTD Big Question as well, so make sure to check those out.

The biggest thing I have learned is to be thankful for the lessons presented to me, it makes me a better learning professional.