Designing for conversation, not content

May 19, 2008

Is content king? Apparently most instructional designers think so. Maybe that mindset is why we end up with so much boring training- both classroom and online. No doubt content is important. But too often IDs spend too much time word-smithing and tweaking content at the expense of engaging design that gets people talking. Talking? Yeah, you know, conversation.

The best courses I have taken (and designed) included strategic use of conversation-based interactions that helped participants learn the content at a deeper level and make it personally relevant. Really well-done learning events, much like well-done messages of any kind,  also tend get talked about outside of the course enviornment.

Because people talk about what is relevant and important to them, we should design with that in mind.  We should design conversation into our courses (live in the classroom, or via blogs, wiki, social networking, etc). And instead of focusing on perfect content, we should figure out how to deliver it in a way that gets the learner talking about it outside the course. That’s where the real applied learning happens.

One way to do that would be to design post-course activities where participants work on projects in the field, and share their results with one another via blogs, for example. A conversation/collaboration strategy doesn’t have to be 2.0 tools only, of course. As Janet Clarey recently said, the challenge is to blend the best aspects of our current learning environments with the social learning technologies that support learning.

Back in 2006, Corey Doctorow pointed out that “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” While he is referring to media business (specifically Disney), we should be looking at training design, too.

Is content king? Maybe, but I say the ace of spades is conversation.

What do you think?


Pushing the envelope: Requiring blogging for learning

May 16, 2008

Tony Karrer asked an interesting question earlier this week: Should blogging be mandatory (in contexts such as attending conferences, formal learning setting, and sustained learning activities). The post generated a great discussion and a lot of points were raised. Not surprisingly, most of us in the conversation seem to object to anything “mandatory.” But now I am wondering if maybe some form of mandatory blogging isn’t a bad idea. After all, there are a lot of mandatory things in the learning world. Examples from my own career:

  • Taking training courses, I have had to complete certain assignments, often involving some sort of report
  • In various projects, I often have had to report out to colleagues on problem-solving results, project status, lessons learned, etc.
  • For personal development goals (such as reading educational books, attending lectures or conferences) I have had to write a report and email it to the team, or give a presentation.

All of these were “mandatory,” although that word may not have been used. They were required because there is some understanding of the importance of sharing knowledge. We all benefit from sharing lessons learned and knowledge newly acquired.

So, isn’t blogging the same thing? It is just another tool for doing what people have always done: connect and share. But blogging has some new benefits for learning organizations: Being on-line and storable, they potentially become a powerful way of storing tribal knowledge and having it searchable and retrievable by others now and in the future. And unlike Word reports sent via email, blogs are much better for creating conversation and further learning from one another….and those conversations, too, becomes storable and searchable.

How cool is that?

So maybe we should require blogging in certain contexts. It’s a powerful tool for learning. And as learning professionals, we really should be pushing the envelope with new technologies and helping our organizations become flexible, strong, learning organizations. We need to push the power of “We learning.”

Web 2.0 vs. Face-to-Face Networking

May 8, 2008

Here’s what I have discovered about myself and learning. I want and need to connect with professional peers and like-minded souls. I love to go to conferences, talk to others about what they are doing, and share what I am doing. I really get off on running ideas by others and getting their feedback. I love to see creative approaches to instructional design and problems that I myself am kinda crappy at. All of this can happen at team meetings, at the water cooler, or at some big gathering in a giant conference center.

But what about those of us who have very small teams (or who are a one-man team!)? What about those of us who work in an organization where the passionate exchange of ideas is not encouraged or is met with disinterest? One way social tools help is by empowering us to forge connections and create communities without having to rely on formal organizations, such as our corporations or professional organizations.

Brent Schlenker recently posted about the face-to-face versus Web 2.0 debate on his blog. He makes a great point: “it is NOT an either/or discussion we are having.”  As I commented after reading his post, the point is really about connectivity. We are richer individuals when we connect, regardless of the tools, means, locations, etc. It is up to us to figure out the right tools for us. Personally, Web 2.0 tools have helped me to connect with others in ways not possible before, helping me to share with and learn from others, as well as make new real-life friends. I still love F2F conferences and meetings, but am grateful to have new tools in my network kit.

Lean Thinking and Instructional Design

May 3, 2008

Several months ago I took a 40 hour workshop on leading continuous improvement and problem-solving efforts. The workshop was heavily influenced by lean thinking in general and the Toyota Production Process (TPS) in particular. I learned about lean concepts and tools such as one-piece flow, visual control (5S), leveling, and muda (waste).  The concepts I learned about and the hands-on, scientific approach to every day problem-solving were eye-opening for me and have no doubt left a big indention in me ol’ cranium.  

As you may (or may not) know, “lean” has had profoundly positive impacts within many organizations, dramatically improving efficiency and profitability. Although applied mostly in manufacturing environments, lean has also had successful results in other organizations, such as restaurants, and, perhaps most dramatically, in health care settings. So, I started thinking, if this methodology and tool set has had such an impact on other processes, what are the implications for instructional design and development?

That is one of the things keeping my mental cogs moving lately, and one of the topics I will be reaching out about to fellow instructional designers and other workplace learning types in the blogosphere. So….if you have any thoughts, ideas, or experience with applying lean thinking to instructional design, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories!

Looking forward….