Friday, May 22, 2015

Working Out Loud 101 | Some Thoughts


My posts are usually pretty detailed, researched, and long. I am trying to move to a mode where I'll write shorter posts more regularly on specific topics, questions posed to me, or an aspect of modern workplace learning that interests me. I will keep my longer posts for topics I am researching on and deep diving into. These will probably be one per fortnight or so... 

Today's post is triggered by a question a colleague asked me yesterday. I happened to mention "working out loud" as a practice that is fundamental to social and collaborative learning, and drew a completely blank stare. While "social learning" as a phrase, concept and strategy is fairly well-known by now, the concept of "working out loud" hasn't yet garnered that level of popularity. It is still restricted to a community of folks interested in Personal Learning Networks and Personal Knowledge Management, followers of blogs by Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, John Stepper and such.

When my comment drew that blank stare, I thought it would be a worthwhile topic for a short blog post. It's part of spreading the word about the benefits of "working out loud". I realized we take a number of pre-codified behaviours and mindset for granted when practising "working out loud". I have tried to demystify them and put these into simple steps. 

I think John Stepper's description of "working out loud" is still the best:
“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”
Here's a nice comic strip style graphic illustrating the 5 key elements of "working out loud". I am not sure who has created it and hence couldn't give the right credits:

The elements of "working out loud" need to be broken down into implementable steps to help someone get started with actually putting it into practise. I am typically confronted with the following questions when I tell someone that they should start "working out loud"...I have inserted my responses below each question. I have tried to keep them concise.

  • What do I share?

Share a snippet from the day's work that captures a learning, a mistake made, or insight gleaned. Sharing of roadblocks are also very useful as these help others avoid mistakes we've made. Process sharing provides deeper insight into how a task is done. Keep it brief and simple. The diagram below is a good summary of why one should practise working out loud and what are the likely benefits of this habit. 




  • How do I share? 

Sharing  can be done in multiple ways. You can tweet or blog, record a podcast or a video depending on what you are sharing, draw a visual sketchnote, put up an image, and whatever other creative means occur to you. Each platform has its own efficacy and caters to certain content types. Blogs work for more reflective pieces where the learning is complex. Tweets are better when sharing specific learning bytes or insights. Images, graphics, charts can be uploaded on Pinterest to show a process or a sequence of steps. Videos are good for interviews, thought bytes, and such. 

The graphic by Jane Hart illustrates some of the different tools/platforms to use to "work out loud":

  • When would I do this? 

If you can't share while in the flow of work, taking 10~15 mins at the end of the day to quickly share a snippet will enforce a habit of reflection, synthesis and evaluation -- all very handy personal learning skills. It is important to initially set aside some time each day to evaluate and articulate one's learning till it becomes a habit. 

  • Where do I share? 

If you work for an organization that has an enterprise collaboration platform in place, you could use this platform to share your learning with your colleagues and peers. Otherwise, you can use any platform like Twitter your blog, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. The medium you use will also drive the choice of platform. Once you are comfortable sharing, you can use multiple platforms.

  • Who will read what I share? 

Initially, may be very few people. However, as one shares consistently and purposefully, you can see a gradual rise in readership and interaction. As more and more people find what is being shared useful, they will pitch in with their thoughts and comments. This heralds the beginning of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). 

  • What if no one reads? How is it still useful?

Yes, sharing snippets of one's learning and insights on a daily basis or as regularly as possible is very useful even if no one reads it. It hones critical skills like reflection, pattern sensing and synthesis, provides insights into our own working process and helps us to improve it. It is a very powerful learning tool. Dion Hinchcliffe said in a Tweet:
Working Out Loud is a reflective practice. Is a practice to help ‘learn how to learn’. htmblr.co/ZnPyzt1deCxto @simongterry HT @observadorDG

  • What will people think if I share my mistakes?

We are most often held back by our fears of what others will think, fear of being vulnerable. In reality, it is our sharing of doubts and mistakes, asking of questions and admission of not knowing everything that connects people. It not only opens up pathways to collaborative learning but also creates a safe space for others to come forward with their own doubts. People admire those who can be open about their weaknesses. 

Here's a very lucid and concise post by John Stepper on The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud. "Working out loud" has been listed as one of the most important digital workforce skills by Dion Hinchcliffe as shown in the diagram below: 

This is how he describes it in the post:
Working out loud allows one to let the network do the work (see below) and breaks down the silos that have rebuilt up with virtual workplaces and today’s far-flung multinational teams. Perhaps most importantly however is that is the key to unleashing agility using digital networks as it automatically collects institutional knowledge and critical methods, makes on-boarding new employees much easier, and frees up your knowledge to work for the organization continuously while still ensuring your contribution is recognized.
 I hope we can fearlessly work out loud to learn, share and build our PLNs. 

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