Friday, February 27, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 5: Skills Learners Need Today


While the title of the post specifies MOOCs, the skills and mindsets I have explored in the post are, IMHO, required by all to survive and thrive in the digital and connected world. And participating in MOOCs could well be one of the ways to inculcate and hone the skills. I have been writing about MOOCs in the context of workplace learning from different perspectives for some time now. The earlier posts...
  1. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 1: Some Points to Consider 
  2. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 2: Designing a MOOC
  3. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 3: Launching a MOOC
  4. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 4: Their Role in Corporate Universities 
In this post, the fifth in the series, I want to focus on some of the learner characteristics that make for successful MOOC participants. MOOCs, unlike typical on-line courses hosted on corporate LMS's operate on very different principles. I have written about these in my earlier posts and won't delve into the principles here. I will just call out a few to set the context. 

A MOOC is an intrinsically participative, collaborative mode of learning. While typically designed around a core set of content modules / topics, it has a lose boundary. A MOOC has a core topic and a set of created or curated content modules covering the topic to a desired depth and level. However, it is the discussions, collaborative project works, and user-generated content and context that often spill over outside the course boundary which differentiates a MOOC from any regular online course. In that sense, a MOOC is a dynamic and evolving pedagogical form that allows diverse set of learners to come together and form cohorts, to co-create and build the context as they go through the course. The emergent nature of MOOCs can have interesting outcomes:

They can enable the formation of Communities of Interests (CoIs), which can evolve into Communities of Practices (CoPs) if participants are keen on building the domain knowledge and practices. Having said that, MOOCs require certain skills from participants, which I like to describe as "learning how to learn in the networked world."  

Most learners are used to "solo" learning, both in the academic and the corporate world. The notion of collaborating and sharing to learn more deeply and enduringly isn't yet pervasive. Yet, the new age of complexity calls for collaboration and cooperation. No one can hope to make sense of the emerging complexities either on their own or through standardized and formal courses. It is only through dialogue and discourse that patterns evolve. But needless to say, this whole notion of engaging with any course requires learners to develop certain skills as well as mindset. 

The MOOC format is primarily learner-driven and learner-directed. MOOCs are facilitated but typically not Instructor Led. Hence, these require learners to "pull" their own learning. For organizations, this has a direct implication and reflects the motivation employees feel, the autonomy they enjoy and the purpose they find in their work. If the three aspects are in place, most individuals will feel the impetus to learn what they need to in order to accomplish their tasks. And inculcating this culture is perhaps of paramount importance today—when the most meaningful and creative work fall in the Complex domain for which training will never be the answer. I have touched upon some of the skills and mindsets required to succeed today:

  • Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset - Individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to put in extra effort to learn new things, take charge of their own learning, and possess a resilience that helps them to overcome challenges with equanimity. Those with a fixed mindset are likely to see talent and skills as fixed entities that cannot be further developed. They are more likely to spend time doing work that keeps them in their comfort zone and where they are confident of succeeding. MOOCs, by virtue of being collaborative in nature, requires people to "put themselves and their ideas out there". This can be perceived as threatening to those with a fixed mindset. 

  • Mistakes as Learning Opportunities - Dan Pink popularized the notion of "bunkos" in The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, where "bunkos" are mistakes whose learning value outweighs the seriousness of the error. They are good mistakes. This notion is closely linked to #1; individuals with a growth mindset are willing to make mistakes since they perceive each mistake as a step toward deeper learning. In a collaborative and participatory environment as in MOOCs, discussions often lead to debate, thrashing out of ideas, and exchange of perspectives. In fact, true and deep learning takes place because of these conversations. Those not confident enough to make mistakes and learn from others will not be able to openly collaborate in a MOOC environment. 
  • Autonomous Learning Conditions - MOOCs are essentially an ecosystem that allows learners to pull the learning they want. Even if corporate MOOCs are designed along the lines of xMOOCs (structured, sequenced, with a defined start and end), the discussion forum will require participation. Because of its blended nature - formal course content with informal and social learning woven around it - MOOCs cannot be a top down endeavour. Learners need to take onus of their own experience and engage and be involved. 
  • Power of Diversity - Even within an organization, especially a globally distributed one with a global and connected workforce, an open course has the potential to draw diverse groups of people together. Often, this proves to be a great opportunity to build one's PLN within an organization and to form weak ties. However, this is dependent on each individual's willingness to perceive diverse world-views and frameworks as learning tools. Networks have to be consciously created, cultivated and nurtured. The desire to reach out with the intent to learn is a mindset. 
  • Collaboration and Cooperation - The success of a MOOC lies in the facilitator's ability to create a safe environment for participants. This requires online community management skills on the part of the MOOC facilitator. On the part of the learners, it requires virtual collaboration skills that are becoming increasingly important today. I stumbled across this diagram created by +Dion Hinchcliffe in his insightful post What are the Required Skills for Today's Digital Workforce? 

The skills highlighted in the diagram are precisely what learners (workers) need to successfully participate in a MOOC and thrive in this complex, shifting, digital world. Working out loud and knowing how to learn in a connected world are important to remain learning agile which includes learning from one's networks, sharing and co-creating. 

Finally, the words learners and workers will conflate. Everyone who wishes to escape obsolescence and irrelevance will remain learners. The ability to learn and adapt as close as possible to the speed of change will not only be the hallmark of organizations that thrive but also of individuals who thrive. 

Disruption is what happens when something new comes along that changes the underlying rules of the game. If we are doing the disrupting, it can actually be very good for us. When it’s imposed on us, then the results usually tend to be unfortunate. So we must be doing the disrupting to ourselves, and that begins and ends with shifting our mindset and perspective, especially in deeply understanding the nature of the truly pervasive digital operating environment we now find ourselves in.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Emergent Workplaces: Learning in the Networked World

This is my area of passion. A recent, very brief conversation with @krishashok triggered a few thoughts related to emergent workplaces and what learning in the networked world will look like. And after mulling over some of these, I thought they were worth putting down on virtual paper.


Setting the Context

Here are two definitions from Wikipedia that captures the essence of Networked Learning:
Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another's learning. The central term in this definition is connections. It takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.  
Network learners of the future will have access to formal and informal education of their choice, wherever they are located, whenever they are able to participate … The network learner will be an active participant … learning with and from experts and peers wherever they are located.
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Networked_learning

We are in an era of ubiquitous connectivity. Agreed that the future is unevenly distributed but it is catching up way faster than envisaged. Those unwilling to or unable to accept the pace of change are in the state Red Queen describes in Alice in Wonderland
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

The moot point is that we have no choice but to change how we do things. To quote Charles Darwin: 

It is becoming evident that be it organizations or individuals, those who are adaptive, agile, and open to learning are the ones who will survive. Coming to the topic of this post, IMHO, we will soon cease to speak of technology enabled learning because it will be seamless, integrated and the way everyone not only learns but also works and lives. It will become the norm. Whether that will lead to a dystopian future of fragmented lives and robots for company remain to be seen. But the fact is that technology is here to stay. It is becoming all pervasive. And will impact all spheres of our lives.


The Future Workplace 

It is not as much in the future as we would like to think. The nature of work has changed. We no longer need to go to a physical building to do our work. At least a lot of us don't need to. There have been quite a few paradigm shifts that we need to wrap our heads around. I have listed a few in the diagram below. 

These shifts have a profound impact on our day-to-day lives of which work and learning are an integral part. While on the surface they are unnerving, they can also deeply and positively influence how we take charge of our own lives. No longer is knowledge and information tied to workplace hierarchy. No longer are we expected to leave our passion at home and drag ourselves to the drudgery called work. Passion and creativity and not productivity per hour will increasingly become the measure of success. In an insightful article from HBR called From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy, there is this telling para that reflects the organizations and workers of the future: 
In the human economy, the most valuable workers will be hired hearts. The know-how and analytic skills that made them indispensable in the knowledge economy no longer give them an advantage over increasingly intelligent machines. But they will still bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words. The ability to leverage these strengths will be the source of one organization’s superiority over another.
A human economy is intrinsically based on collaboration, communication, creativity and flexibility. I have written earlier about Re-imagining Work and Learning in a Networked World. I will elaborate some of the key themes here. Dr. Lynda Gratton in her book, The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here encapsulates the possibilities and promises of a connected world in this para.
A crucial question for understanding the future of work is predicting what people will actually do with this unprecedented level of connectivity, content and productive possibilities. Over the next two decades we can expect the knowledge of the world to be digitalised, with an exponential rise in user-generated content, "wise-crowd" application and open innovation applications. 

However, the truth is that most organizations find themselves eminently unprepared to meet this changing state of being. They are tied to the dual masts of hierarchy and command and control while the ground beneath their feet is roiling and shifting under the pressures of various disruptions. They are caught between Efficiency and Innovation -- the former they understand and are set up for; the latter is a whole new animal that they are unprepared to meet. The table below lists some of the contrasting characteristics:


To survive, organizations have to shift from the left to the right, if not completely then at least enough to reach a median balance. And to do so they need to not only take stock of the organizational culture but also how people learn, interact and connect. This requires enabling people to learn how to learn in the networked world, providing them with the infrastructure and then getting out of their way. Organizations need to become facilitators, communities and platforms for people to explore and express their passion. Today, people are seeking solutions to their challenges--both on the professional and personal front--in various ways: 
  • Asking their networks 
  • Collaborating and participating in online communities 
  • Googling  
  • Taking a MOOC 
  • Sharing 
  • Working out loud 
  • On the job
The concept and practice of employees waiting to be trained before being put on the job is fast disappearing. Even onboarding new employees is becoming a social and experiential learning journey. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging and purpose when they join an organization. Connecting them to relevant communities and groups foster that sense of belonging and lessens isolation and disconnect, especially important for those working remotely, from client locations, from home or elsewhere. Thus, distributed organizations can stay connected via communities and build an identity as well as generate a sense of purpose. To make this change stick, organizations have to enable the process, and this involves adoption of some new skills. 


Networked Learning Characteristics

The onus is not only on organizations but also on individuals. However, for generations brought up on top-down schooling followed by hierarchical organizations with top-down training, networked learning skills don't come naturally. They have to be inculcated and deliberately practised for both organizations and individuals to benefit. The skills can be fostered in various ways, and I have tried to capture a few in the diagram below:



Needless to say, putting any or all of these in place require considerable effort and deep understanding of community building, online facilitation and collaboration skills supported by an organizational culture of openness and trust. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 4: Their Role in Corporate Universities

The world has gotten complicated. Organizations are struggling to keep up with the shifts:

  • in technology that are vastly impacting how people work, 
  • in the demography of their workforce which has become culturally diverse, multi-generational, and globally dispersed, 
  • in the nature of work that has moved from complicated to complex and emergent, 
  • and with the general fragmentation and breakdown of all aspects of the known ways of doing things. 
We live in an age of dramatic oxymoron - unemployment is high yet there is a talent shortage. It is no surprise that skills required to meet this changing trends are in woefully short supply. The formal education system still functions as it always did churning out graduates ill-equipped to meet the demands of the current day organizations. The skills shortage looming ahead is alarming to say the least. It's roughly estimated that only "20% of the workers will have the skills needed for 60% of the jobs (mostly because the job haven’t been invented yet) by the end of the decade". http://hrtimesblog.com/2013/04/24/today-at-impact-finding-your-way-in-the-shifting-ethos/ 

This infographic of a Deloitte Survey spanning 90 countries look at the talent issues that can threaten organizational effectiveness. "Critical new skills are scarce - and their uneven distribution around the world is forcing companies to develop innovative new ways to find people, develop capabilities, and share expertise" (Ref: http://dupress.com/articles/hc-trends-2014-introduction/). And this interactive dashboard lets you explore the trends using different filters and parameters. Leadership, retention, HR skills, and talent acquisition occupy the #1 slot as per the Top Ten Findings of the Global Human Capital Trends 2014 Survey. In the same survey, HR and talent executives graded themselves a C-minus for overall performance, citing a large capability shortfall, with 77% of respondents ranking the need to re-skill HR function among the top quartile of their priorities (Ref: https://hbr.org/2014/07/what-it-will-take-to-fix-hr/). Today, we live in an era where 85% of the value creation stems from brand, intellectual property, and people - all intangible assets. 

To add to this, we will have a workforce largely made up of millennials (those born after 1980) by 2020. Millennials will  soon rule the world: But how will they lead is an incisive article by @Josh_Bersin on the way Gen Y views the world of work, leadership, career progression and learning. They are going to change the nature of organizations and the way work is perceived. And it is time to start equipping them to fulfil their potential. They will expect and demand to learn differently -- social, mobile and cloud will play a big role. Forward looking and thinking organizations will need to / have already stepped in much ahead in the process - way before sourcing and recruitment can happen - to build the requisite skills in the emerging workforce and to keep the existing workforce employable and their skills current. 

While we recognize that the onus has gradually shifted to the employees to keep themselves marketable / employable with updated skills and deep specializations (free agent nation), we also have to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone will know how to go about it. Organizations, in their own interest, will have to step in and create an ecosystem (often perhaps in partnership with academia) to build the workforce for the future. There are many organizations like Infosys which is stepping in at the K-12 and pre K-12 levels to enable youngsters to prepare for the new age skills

None of this information is new. This was just to set the context, a prelude to what this post discusses. This post, as the title says, is about Corporate Universities (CU) and the role of MOOCs therein. My intention was to set the context for why I feel CUs are set to make a comeback. CUs are not new and the most famous is perhaps GE's Crotonville established in 1956. A well-designed Corporate University (I will discuss the design aspect in a sequel to this post) is aptly positioned to tackle both business issues and talent issues. It is time to accept that talent management is a critical business need and a business process; it is not an HR/L&D process. The latter are enablers and ensure the implementation of the process. A CU is in a unique position to understand the immediate as well as the strategic, long-term requirements of an organization. It can help an organization with its capability building at an individual level and provide opportunities for shared vision, systems thinking and team building at a strategic level thus providing the entire gamut from tactical learning to integrated and strategic learning. 

Josh Bersin in the presentation 21st Century Talent Management points out some of the following as imperatives for a holistic talent system (slide #9): 

  • Creating Magnetic Employment Brand 
  • Changing Corporate Culture
  • Rebuilding Management Skills and PM
  • Improving Time to Competency
  • Creating Talent Mobility

Take a look at the presentation for a deeper insight. 

It doesn't take too much of reflection or analysis to see that these were precisely the goals and vision that CUs were set up to meet. CUs were created to meet the unique needs of each organization including their culture, strategy and vision. I am not saying that all orgs need a CU but then maybe some do... A CU will ideally target all aspects of an organization's business development needs including talent acquisition, succession planning, career development, and team building. I will not go into the details of how a CU needs to be formed. There is enough material out there on this. 

I will highlight a few shifts and trends that will likely have an impact on the role of a CU in today's world: 

  1. Capability development and continuous learning will be critical to business success 
  2. Gen Y's will expect to grow rapidly in their career and lead at an early age 
  3. Employer brand and employee engagement have become interchangeable 
  4. HR will have to adopt Analytics in a big way  
  5. Social, mobile, and collaboration will be everything (almost)

As Josh Bersin has said, "Our candidates today are not looking for a career; they are looking for an experience." 

In the past, CUs were seen as an overhead and an administrative burden. However, in today's uber connected, mobile, cloud-based and networked world, a CU can very well reside - at least partially - in the cloud. The physical overheads will still exist, but to a lesser degree and for more focused reasons. In an age of all-time low employee engagement, CUs help organizations to not only create a strong brand presence but also to communicate the org's inherent and deep interest in facilitating continuous learning and growth for the workforce -- strong "pull" factors for today's generation. CUs also help to build strong customer relationships by bringing customer feedback into the programs, and enabling critical skill building like leadership, which is #1 priority for all orgs across all sectors as mentioned above. 

One of the methodologies that IMHO CUs can adopt is MOOCs. I have written about MOOCs in workplace learning here (launching a MOOC), here (designing a MOOC), and here (some points to consider). It is perfectly possible and feasible to tie up with established MOOC providers to design courses specific to the needs of the organization as Tenaris did when it partnered with edX to provide training to its 27,000 employees. "Bank of America partnered with Khan Academy to create BetterMoneyHabits.com, a cobranded MOOC to educate consumers on personal finance. SAP developed the openSAP MOOC platform to educate its ecosystem of developers and partners on SAP technologies" (Ref: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2013/11/30/the-mooc-marketplace-takes-off/). 

Not all MOOCs need to be custom-built either. Training and programs related to strategic and operational competencies unique to the organization can be designed in-house while more generic industry and academic specific competencies can be acquired via open MOOCs. Employees can be directed to "open" MOOCs to acquire the relevant certifications. MOOC-providers like Coursera have also started Specialization tracks where a targeted sequence of courses lead to certifications. LinkedIn has tied up with Coursera to facilitate direct publication of these certificates to one's profile. Thus, CUs can benefit by integrating MOOCs into their larger organizational learning strategy. By taking a blended approach with MOOCs as one of the methods, CUs can become more effective in disseminating the necessary programs. Here's an article on the 12 success factors of a CU published in the CLO magazine 10 years back but still relevant. 

MOOCs have the advantage of scalability and the ability to target a large and distributed audience base. The design of MOOCs also foster the building of communities and cohorts. MOOCs can have the following advantages for CUs: 
  • Provide opportunities for subject matter experts to become learning facilitators
  • Reinforce learning through critical social learning conversations and collaboration
  • Expose the entire workforce to a variety of courses thus bridging silos and enabling people to find their interests
  • Enable peer-to-peer collaboration and learning 
  • Personalize learning by connecting it to people’s daily work 
  • Grow a more skilled workforce

Sites like http://mooc.org/ facilitate the creation of MOOCs by various target groups from educational institutions to businesses and non-profits. 

Reference links: 

  1. Spending on Corporate Training Soars: Employee Capabilities Now A Priority
  2. http://www.slideshare.net/jbersin/talent-management-revisited?ref=https://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin slide #5

Friday, February 6, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 3: Launching a MOOC

This is a continuation of my MOOC series and also a post that draws a lot from the #MSLOC430 community and MOOC ("C" type) that I am participating in -- the open section of the graduate course in the Master's Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University. 

Before I plunge into the heart of my analysis and discussion, I want to share a couple of snippets on Networked Learning from Wikipedia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Networked_learning)
Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another's learning. The central term in this definition is connections. It takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.  
Network learners of the future will have access to formal and informal education of their choice, wherever they are located, whenever they are able to participate … The network learner will be an active participant … learning with and from experts and peers wherever they are located.
In this post, I am going to focus on what IMHO are requirements and demands from MOOC participants and organizations looking to go the MOOC way. I have written about what constitutes a corporate MOOC and some of the design principles of a MOOC in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, respectively. With organizations thinking of MOOCs as a scalable and cheaper way of providing training and professional development opportunities to the workers, it is important to keep in mind a few considerations before launching a MOOC. 

One of the shortcomings of being human is that we tend to measure & judge the future through the lenses of the past. As Marshall McLuhan so memorably put it: "We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future." We run the risk of evaluating MOOCs using traditional learning principles. Worse still, we will end up trying to design MOOCs to reflect traditional, linear learning models. In both cases, we will fall short and will not be able to perceive the benefits of a MOOC ecosystem. Here are a couple of things that MOOCs are NOT
  1. A MOOC is NOT an on-line course with a discussion forum and a couple of other "social features" tagged on to it. 
  2. A MOOC is NOT a linear program (though xMOOCs do give that feeling) with a neat start and en end. 
IMHO, a MOOC is an evolving and dynamic learning and collaboration ecosystem that may encompass more than one technical platform and various modes of learning from short, byte-sized videos and e-learning capsules to user-generated content in the form of reference links, blog posts, discussion threads, and much more. MOOCs are well-suited for open-ended topics that generate discussions and debates, have new knowledge and research growing around it, and are of interest to a wide audience. 

I came across a telling sentence in the article, MOOCagogy: Assessment, Networked Learning, and Meta-MOOC that completely resonated with my belief of what a MOOC can be, and hence my focus on what it takes to design an ecosystem for a MOOC
"MOOCs are anthropological opportunities, not instructional ones."
Having said this, I also understand that MOOC as a design methodology is flexible and can be crafted to suit an organization's needs, culture and context. I am calling out a few things to distinguish traditional learning design approaches from a MOOC. Moreover, for organizations looking to adopt MOOCs as one of the methodologies, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. To make MOOCs successful, it is important for orgs to have:
  • Community managers and facilitators -- I have written about this later in the post. 
The rest of the points below are more to do with the culture within an organization. 
  • Executives who participate and "walk the talk" 
  • A culture of sharing and participation 
  • A willingness to make mistakes, ask questions 
  • A spirit of collaboration over competitiveness
  • A level of comfort with social tools and norms (discussion forums, blogging, micro-bloggging) 


Characteristics of MOOCs

A MOOCs core aspects are participation and emergence. The characteristics and context of a MOOC (when effectively facilitated and thoughtfully designed) evolve as it progresses. The initial topic becomes the trigger around which communities and cohorts form, discussions take place, resources get created and shared. 
MOOC platforms like Coursera and Udemy have mobile apps that make accessing these MOOCs at any point of time a seamless experience. It also means that participants engage more actively and can share content in various forms -- videos, pictures, podcasts, micro-blogs, and forum posts. The other social aspects of liking and rating add to the engagement level. Enter wearables into the scene. And user engagement might see another dramatic shift. MOOCs and wearable tech together can create a world of working and learning as yet unexplored and unimagined. 

As mentioned by @LnDDave in his presentation on Wearable Tech, it has enough disruptive power to forever change how we work and live. Learning will simply become integrated into our life-streamA MOOC, even within the context of an organization, has the capacity to bring together an incredibly varied group of people with wide cognitive diversity -- different world views, perceptions, frameworks and heuristics. Thus, a Community of Interest can form around the original topic of the MOOC, which serves as a catalyst to bring people together. 


Future of MOOCs - an Example

Imagine a student conducting a lab experiment somewhere in one corner of the world. She works out loud and records it on her wearable camera (part of any one of the devices she's wearing), and uploads it to a forum which happens to be part of the MOOC she is attending. Others in the forum get to see the recording, share their opinions, discuss it further, conduct their own experiments and upload videos. All of this happens within the span of a day. The participants are an eclectic bunch ranging from students doing part-time MOOCs and full time regular classes to folks working in different sectors. 

Let's take this imaginary example a bit further. One of the MOOC participants (let's call her Amy) happens to be scouting for likely candidates to assist in a research project. The work will happen on-line. The selected candidate needs to have a flair for research, an innate curiosity and an exploratory mindset. As she participates in the forum, she reads responses from one participant that piques her curiosity. Amy gets in touch with the participant, and finds her research assistant. 


Facilitating a MOOC 

Coming back to some practical suggestions for facilitating MOOCs: A YouTube video on Community of Inquiry shared by +Helen Blunden in her post, cMOOC, Social Learning Guided Design or Community of Inquiry – All The Same? refers to three kinds of presence within a Community of Inquiry: teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence. This is a different lens and framework through which to view facilitation of an online community. While CoI's exist within an academic setting, I think the framework can be applied in a corporate setting. Can we take this framework -- the three roles of facilitators -- and extrapolate into a MOOC environment? 

Within an organization, the three aspects of the role may not / need not be played by the same individual. 
  1. Teaching Presence: This role can be played by the SMEs (subject-matter experts) for that particular topic who pose queries, respond to questions of a technical nature, and share their expertise.
  2. Social Presence: This can be taken up "community managers" / individuals who are comfortable with social tools, have an understanding of online participation and can facilitate the participation of others. Maybe, someone from the L&D team can take up this role within the context of an org. I have written about the importance of acquiring new skills for L&D. It is also very likely that the participants will step into this role, enabling and encouraging each other. 
  3. Cognitive Presence: This aspect of the role is going to shift among everyone. I have to still build this out and am mulling over the topic... 
I am looking for inputs from my network. This blog is still work in progress and and mostly a summary of half-baked thoughts. A shout out to the #MSLOC430 community for triggering various ideas and sharing so generously...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

L&D's New Hatrack

This article appeared in Inside Learning Technologies & Skills Magazine, January 2015
Our professional, personal, and private lives are being heavily impacted by a world that has become Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (a.k.a. VUCA). Sahana Chattopadhyay looks at this changing world -- and defines the new roles required by L&D departments everywhere. 
The future of work is going to be radically different from what we have experienced so far. An increasingly global and uber connected workforce, globally distributed organizations, dispersed expertise, ubiquitous connectivity powered by the affordances of social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) and the economy of individuals are giving rise to completely different working and learning behaviors. Today’s users with their mobile devices, anytime anywhere access to the internet, and connected to their networks via social platforms operate under completely different paradigms. In the light of these transformations and disruptions, It is glaringly evident that L&D departments can no longer function the way they used to, at least not if they want to be relevant and be a business partner to the organizations.

The onus lies on L&D to gauge the impact of these shifts on workplace learning, leverage technology and herald the change. This calls for the acquisition of new skills and roles in the team to meet the changing needs of a demographically diverse workforce.
I have briefly described some of the skills that are going to be critical in the coming years. 


Know how to build one's PLN

Workplace challenges are increasingly going to be unique requiring skills like analysis, problem solving, learning agility, adaptability, pattern sensing and exception handling; therefore, instilling the skills of “learning how to learn” is of paramount importance. This necessitates individuals to practice Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and build their Personal Learning Networks (PLN). To enable the workforce acquire these skills, the L&D team must "walk the talk". Since not all L&D members possibly use social media to drive their own professional development, acquiring the skills of PKM will require some time and effort. While most people today use multiple social tools, using these specifically to enhance and support continuous learning and professional development may not come naturally. Conscious effort must be made to build one’s PLN and transfer the skills to the workforce.


Be conversant in today's technological and demographic landscape

Today, L&D is faced with the challenge and the opportunity to empower a workforce spanning five generations and working in a ubiquitously connected environment. The affordances of social, local, and mobile (SoLoMo) have to be factored into all the aspects of learning ecosystem design. Workers will use mobile devices including wearables to learn at the point of need, access their network and communities of practices to solve challenges, share user-generated content in response to the community needs or just to share their learning. Social media and open resources like MOOCs will foster an era of self-driven learners who know what they need, where to find it and take their pick. The learners will come with a consumer mindset--valuing what they need and not what is thrust on them. L&D will have to ensure that we have the requisite skills to facilitate this move or risk becoming redundant. 


Manage/facilitate communities and networks

Learning in the workplace will increasingly take place in communities – these could be Communities of Interest, Communities of Practice (CoP), or even communities formed out of project groups. Some will be temporary like those of people coming together for projects; some will be long term like CoPs where workers from across the organization come together to evolve their domain, learn from each other and add to the knowledge pool. While people may still come together to share and learn as they often do without L&D intervention, support from L&D in this area will not only make it more efficient and bridge silos but will also benefit the organization by providing a platform for the capture of the organizational hive mind. This is directly tied to the skills of community management and facilitation of virtual collaboration.

The role of community management will be one of the most crucial because of the global nature of organizations and dispersed teams working across time zones and continents. Communities of professionals collaborating and cooperating to learn together will be on the rise. Content will be continuously co-created and co-owned by the community members (much like the evolution of Wikipedia). Each member will bring their expertise to bear and share their knowledge and experiences. Learning will happen through conversations and participation. What will emerge is a network of diverse and connected workers skilled at PKM learning together to develop skills they can apply to their work. L&D will have to don the hat of community managers to make this transition seamless.

Most organizations today recognize the needs of a distributed workforce and are investing in enterprise collaboration platforms to support their formal learning endeavors with more informal and collaborative sharing. However, this requires community managers who can facilitate activities on the platform. L&D has to don multiple hats to enable this transformation. 


The hat of a Change Agent

Just because an enterprise collaboration platform is in place doesn’t mean that everyone will take to it like a duck to water. The natural adoption curve will set in with some being early adopters and others trailing behind. However, the enthusiasm of even the early adopters will rapidly wane if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This requires well thought out change-management plans.
Change management includes onboarding users onto the platform, enabling them to use it with ease and supporting them throughout. Onboarding typically covers conducting training, socializing the platform and defining different ways of contribution. Defining clear guidelines and directives go a long way towards user adoption like telling them exactly how they can contribute and collaborate. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute.

L&D has to make two things very simple -- the act of making the shift and the reason behind the shift. As community managers, we have to remove all obstacles from the path of change.


The hat of a Trainer

All new platforms – no matter how intuitive they seem – require onboarding. This can be in the form of simple how-to documents, screencasts, videos, webex sessions, and any other form that works. What is important to remember is that designing and creating these training materials is not enough. They must reach the users. This could mean creating a Training/Help Center on the platform that can be a one-stop shop for users. Reaching out to users proactively to find out if they need help makes adoption easier.


The hat of a Content Curator

Good content is one of the key factors behind why people choose to visit, stay and engage on an enterprise platform. The content can be in the form of short capsules of learning, curated articles, links to interesting resources, discussions on the forum, blogs and micro-content from other users. It is the job of the community manager to ensure that the content is appropriately tagged and curated and thus findable. To be a trustworthy and respected content curator, it is important to know the interests, needs and passions of the community. This requires constant engagement with the community. It also means enlisting the help of community ambassadors who are likely to be experts regarding the interests of that community.


The hat of a Connector

Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between content and people, between expertise and challenges, between skill-sets and projects, between people and people. As community managers, it is important to set in place a system that enables “findability” and accessibility. This could mean anything from inculcating practices like tagging for “searchability”, helping users to fill out their profiles, to manually connecting the nodes. Since community managers have a bird's eye view of their community, they are often best placed to spot a need and a corresponding solution--be it for a certain expertise, content or skillset. The role of a connector is crucial in creating business value for the organization and is a skill all community managers need to hone.


The hat of a Consultant

This is perhaps the most frequently donned hat and covers a gamut of skills including needs analysis, solution designing, influencing, and negotiating. Typically in an organization, a single community of all employees will not be an effective means of collaboration. They will split into teams and groups driven by many factors from functional areas and interests to roles and projects. These teams will form their own communities with their specific and unique goals and requirements. It's L&D’s role to help the teams articulate their objectives and enable them to design their community experience in a manner that supports their objectives.


The diagram below is an example of a learning ecosystem that L&D teams may be required to create and manage – where the online and the offline world come together. 
As the churn continues around us, L&D must gear up to transform themselves and workplace learning to tackle the future of work.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Personal Learning Networks: Learning in a Connected World

I have recently joined the open section of #MSLOC 430 - a graduate course in the Master's Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University. This is the first week and I am absolutely looking forward to exploring the topics, learning from the other participants and participating in exciting conversations. The four topics we are planning to deep dive into in the first two weeks are: a) Networked learning, b) Personal Learning Networks, c) MOOCs, and d) Communities of Inquiry.


These are all areas of interest for me, and my hope and plan is to find (make) sufficient time to explore each of these in depth. Given that I have been writing about PLNs and MOOCs for some time now, I thought I would delve a bit deeper into the importance of building PLNs in this post. I have written about the impact of various shifts and trends like globalization, work fragmentation, ubiquitous network and access to the mobile web, social media, and the economy of individuals on the way we work and learn in the following posts: Re-imagining Work and Learning in a Networked World, Working out Loud and Serendipity and The Changing Face of Work and Workplace Learning. Here's a list of related posts on learning in a networked world

The world of work, and life in general, is transforming due to profound shifts in various areas.
These shifts have far-reaching implications on all aspects of our life. The focus of this post is to highlight how they impact work and careers, and why is it more important than ever before to intentionally build a PLN. 

In today’s model of a global organization, teams are often scattered, employees work onsite or from home, road warriors are always “on the road”—in short, the concept of teams working shoulder to shoulder every day, literally and metaphorically standing by each other, talking over problems and challenges at their desks are slowly being replaced by virtual teams who interact via social tools and platforms, use Webex for meetings, get into teleconferences to talk over issues and update each other via enterprise social networks, emails and WhatsApp. Add to this, the rise of the individual worker (employees on contract, working from home, holding a second job, project-based workers, etc.) working from anywhere - home, cafeteria, library, where you will...and we can see the need for the individual to take ownership of their professional development. The rise of the economy of individuals and on-demand economy is here...

Work is becoming location agnostic. It is no longer necessary to come to office. Ubiquitous connectivity, mobile devices and social platforms ensure that work can happen from anywhere. Distributed and dispersed teams are coming together for projects, and disbanding once the task is accomplished. While the need for permanent employees and a dedicated workforce will still continue, the shift is evident. Some of the critical impact of the shift are highlighted below:

One of the outcomes of this impact is a need for employees to take charge of their own professional development. Those with cutting edge skills in their core areas of expertise will continue to see demand for their work while others waiting for orgs to re-skill them might just run the risk of becoming irrelevant. One of the ways to keep on top of our game, and remain on the cutting edge of relevant skills and knowledge is to be a part of communities of practices and to focus on building and maintaining our PLNs with a deliberate intention to learn, share and collaborate. The ubiquitously connected world and the phenomenal rise of mobile devices are going to impact and disrupt how we drive our professional development. The diagram illustrates some of the possible approaches to creating our PLN within an organization.

Why is building a PLN so critical, especially today?

Learning networks are based on the theory of Connectivism, or learning from diverse social webs. Connectivism, the theory underpinning how we learn and interact in the networked era, implies that learning relies on communicating ideas and having meaningful interactions. A PLN is an enabler of such learning. A PLN can be seen as one's gateway to continuous learning, exchange of thoughts and ideas, validation of one's thoughts and insights on challenges encountered, and an involvement in the process of continuous inquiry and exploration on topics that matter. In today's context of rapid change, unexpected challenges, and complex scenarios, it is not possible for an organization to provide training for every conceivable skill that may be required in the future. Moreover, since a large part of the skills and knowledge required to handle tasks and problems today are emergent, the possibility of training gets ruled out. Training is essentially past focused preparing workers for known skills and bridging known knowledge gaps to meet known and defined goals. What happens when the knowns become unknowns? What happens when speed and innovation are the keys to success? 

There are quite a few models and frameworks for how we can go about building our PLNs. I have referenced some of the ones I use here:


+Harold Jarche 's Seek - Sense - Share model



An elaboration of the above model by +Jane Hart showing the tools and platforms used during each stage of the process:


Here are some tips from Howard Rheingold on building PLNs:


And one more with examples of social platforms and tools from Joyce Seitzinger:

An analysis of the diagrams above reveal that there are primarily 5 steps in the entire PLN building process - Explore, Collect, Review, Re-create, Share. I would also like to emphasize that PLN is intricately linked to one's personal knowledge management (PKM) capabilities. The former wouldn't make sense without the latter. 

With complexity, chaos and flux taking over and becoming the norm, we can expect codified knowledge stocks to have very short shelf-lives. A constant state of flux is giving rise to ambiguity, uncertainties and volatility — the characteristics of a VUCA world. We have moved from an age of best practices to emerging practices and no one can be intelligent on their own any more. In this kind of a scenario, learning and sense-making happen through reflection, dialogue and direct application to test hypothesis. 

Trying to make sense of a complex situation alone is the equivalent of six blind men trying to comprehend the characteristics of an elephant. This is where an individual's PLN becomes important, and the more diverse it is the better. Diverse here implies cognitive diversity -- arising from different world-views, cultural perspectives, varied educational background, and possessing different problem-solving frameworks and heuristics. A PLN of diverse individuals not only helps to hold up widely different viewpoints on the same challenge but also broadens and deepens one's learning. Diversity of thoughts and ideas are the best precursors to innovative and creative solutions. PLNs typically consist of strong and weak ties. Exchanging of deep and tacit knowledge, i.e., knowledge which is not codified and where learning happens through the process of dialogue and reciprocity typically work with strong ties. Weak ties bring in the much needed variety of thoughts and opinions. One's PLN should ideally consist of a mix of strong and weak ties to maintain a balance. 

Creating and maintaining a learning network has huge possibilities with mobile and social becoming a way of life in a highly networked and ubiquitously connected world. We no longer need to wait for that conference or that special workshop to meet like-minded folks. We can find them and connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Pinterest... Each platform has its unique strengths and can be used accordingly. It requires some hands-on exploration to understand the platforms. We need a new set of skills

Building one's PLN in the online world requires skills like networking, participating in communities of practices, collaborating online, and curation and aggregation to process the information. While developing the skills do take some effort and persistence, the benefits are tremendous and provide the necessary motivation. The diagram below illustrates how one can go about building one's PLN on Twitter. However, the most important point to remember is that social learning and collaboration is a mindset, an attitude and not just a set of tools. The tools and platforms are facilitators and knowing how to use them is important. But it is out attitude that makes interacting with our PLNs fruitful and satisfying.
While it seems to be a series of steps, it does require engagement, reflection and effort. It is also a state of mind. IMHO, people with a growth mindset are likely to invest time and effort in building and maintaining a PLN because they believe that there is always an opportunity to learn more, to improve and explore. Thus, they will very likely reach out to their network with queries, go to reference links and read what people are sharing, and then apply the learning back to their work. 

Characteristics of a PLN

Everyone's network looks different. Everyone connects with those they can learn from, trust and respect. A PLN is a location and time agnostic community for exchange of thoughts and ideas in a safe environment. A PLN is accessible all the time. We can post a question on twitter or any other social networking tools, and be assured of a response. In this collaborative economy, sharing is a much valued trait and one of the pillars in building a PLN. One cannot hope to receive without giving first. Networks have a profound impact on how we learn. Establishing credibility with one's network is essential. Credibility arises out of constancy in sharing useful content, interacting respectfully, valuing and expressing gratitude for help received, reaching out and helping others pro-actively, and not being afraid to be vulnerable. It's absolutely OK to say, "I don't know! Can someone help me with this?" But remember to pass along the help. In a PLN, everyone is a contributor, learner as well as a teacher. By connecting with diverse individuals, we can build a broad and deep support system of colleagues, mentors and coaches. PLN is a two-way street, and collaboration and cooperation drive its spirit. As Maya Angelou said:
"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back."

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