Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Random Mind Dump

Some good debate on the Wave as to whether having an LMS as a portal is a good idea.

Here is my situation:
- Lots of information scattered among multiple domains
- VERY hard to find what you need
- Multiple training groups sprouting like weeds across the organization

My conclusion: ANYTHING is better than nothing and we can clean it up later. If I've got one place, no matter how imperfect, I can point people to - we've won.

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I ran into Sally early one morning and had the same discussion.

What would the ideal training environment look like?

One that takes care of everyone's needs
- Organizational need for reporting
- Rapid ability to post / update materials
- Easy access
- Synchronous / Asynchronous as needed
- Anything else a student / trainer / learning organization desires.

We debated whether the technology was truly there yet.

I think the technology is there. I'm not entirely certain we are clear on what we REALLY want.

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Thanksgiving is a very important holiday for my family. More so than Xmas, Easter or New Year.

I spent many holidays away from home.

Many holidays working.

The most memorable holiday season was spent in Kentucky. I was "the local" working the laser show at the Kentucky Horse Park Xmas spectacular. Stone Mountain Lasers had been contracted to do the laser show that year. Good opportunity to see my friends from Georgia and make some badly needed money.

On Thanksgiving day, Cutry, Armin and I ordered some pizza. Armin smuggled in a bottle of Frexinet and plastic cups. Listening to the endless 90 minute loop of christmas carols, we regaled each other with stories of family Thanksgivings and favorite meals. This process repeated itself over Christmas and New Years. 3 people away from family and friends bonding over cold pizza and christmas carols.

I am grateful that I am finally at a point in my life where I can spend the holidays with my family and not at work.

Grateful that I don't have to hold down 2 or 3 jobs anymore in an attempt to make my way in the world. It's only been 5 years since I have had the luxury of only 1 job. As hard as I work, I do not take the luxury of this time for granted.

Also grateful for the holidays I spent away from home. For it makes times like this that much more important.

One Way to Move from Training to Performance

We keep hearing about how corporate educators need to transition themselves into performance consultants. Rather than agonizing over "how", maybe we should just keep our eyes peeled for opportunities.

Right now, I am working on a project where we are supposed to implement another module of a project management application that we are using.

One problem - there is no process, there is no policy, there is little configuration and there is no clear way to perform the tasks required.

Oh yeah, and no one wants to do the decision-making.

(We are going to ignore the conversation about whether we have the right tool to solve the actual problem. Or what the real requirements are. This is another instance where we are trying to fit the problem to the tool. This retrofitting scenario is more common than the "get the right tool for the job" one.)

First approach - freak out and ask the subject matter expert exactly what they are supposed to train. Continue asking same question until
a) the project dies
b) process, policy, configuration and concrete steps are established and the trainer can "do his/her thing" or
c) the SMEs and other project team members get disgusted and whine to upper management about your bad attitude.

Second approach - since the folks were kind enough to invite the trainers early in the process (which doesn't always happen), take advantage of the opportunity and start facilitating actual process improvement.

Heck, they expect the trainers to ask stupid questions and get it all wrong anyway. Let's embrace the process!

Ask stupid questions

So what is this new tool supposed to do for us?

How do we know if this process is working? (Please refrain from snickering when the SME looks you square in the eye and says "When the number of people consistently using the tool increases).

Get it all wrong

Rapid prototyping is where it is at.

When I have no idea what I am doing - I go to the cryptic vendor documentation.
I then place myself in the end-user's shoes.

If all I had was this documentation and was told to do X, how would I approach it.

I then write it down, along with any questions that came up in the process and pass it to the team. Often, the questions are related to the process, not the actual technical button-pushing steps.
- Who is responsible for this piece?
- Is there a reason we need to do Y?
- Is there a way to make this process less unwieldy? Easier to explain?

The team then tells me where I am wrong.

Conversation is good.

If the conversation goes well, you wind up involved in a very rich process and performance improvement discussion. "Training" may or may not result. And that is OK.

If the conversation goes poorly, you have the documentation that it's not "Training's fault".

Thankfully, in my current job, the conversations go well.

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It is these small opportunities on awkward projects that will prove to the rest of the organization that we are capable of increasing value and allow us to make the transition from Training to Performance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Google Wave Collaboration Experiment

So I managed to get Google Wave invites for the other 2 members of our LMS Administration team.

I figured that Wave would help us improve our collaboration process - which currently consists of Elluminate or Virtual Classroom when we have the license space + teleconference (because not everyone has a working mic on their computers) + a word doc + multiple emails.

Wave HAD to be an improvement. Right?

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Project: Create an Intro to SkillPort program

Participants: Sid (not her real name), Sally (not her real name either), the Veteran (our senior trainer and an absolute PRO at teaching folks nervous about computers, not his real name) and me.

Setup: I created a Wave with a rough outline of decisions that needed to be made. I then sent the Wave to my colleagues. This is easier said than done since you have to go into Google Contacts, add them to the contact list, log out of Wave, log back in and hope they show up. Bah.

I added some chat areas with further information
- teleconference info (because our audio was going to be via phone)
- initial thoughts on organizing this beast
- a gadget (ClackPoint) that may have allowed us to try VoIP capabilities in Wave, had Sally owned a working microphone. (we really need to do something about that.....)
- a link to the Complete Wave Guide

I then followed up with the team via email. Since this is a new technology for all of us - I wanted to make sure everyone received the Wave and the teleconferencing information.

Sid and Sally were very excited to try this new toy. The Veteran humored us.
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The Veteran noticed right away that I had structured the outline with the assumption of a formal course. He called me out:

You know, I really think we should keep this as a more informal lab and workshop.

Good thing I wasn't in the same room with him. He would have seen tears of joy at hearing those words from him!

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A significant amount of time was spent just playing with the tool. Mostly Sid, Sally and I. The Veteran hung back and just watched the madness most of the time with the occasional comment.

Trains of thought were often interrupted with Hey, do you know how I can.....in this thing?

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We all decided that if they can get Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets to display more seamlessly in this thing that they may really have something. Forcing us to share and download an Excel spreadsheet / Word doc / other file seems to really defeat the purpose of the type of collaboration we want to do.

To share Google Docs right now:
- In the document you wish to share, click Share
- click Get the Link to Share.
- Check Also allow to edit if you want them to be able to edit the doc.
- Paste THAT link into Google Wave rather than try to invite people

The folks with access to that wave will be the ones who can edit the document.

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We found it useful to use the wave as a dumping ground for information beyond the collaborative Google Spreadsheet. We threw in documents and presentations from previous work.

We also found that people fell into roles:
- Primary Note-taker
- Chairperson (the one who keeps the meeting on track)
- Wave gardener (the person who organizes the wave and reorganizes the information

Those of us more comfortable with chat and typing found ourselves did more typing and editing. Those more comfortable with speaking and audio did more talking. We will need to anticipate varying levels of participation within the Wave - much like chat rooms, message boards and other technologies of that ilk.

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Our overall impression is that we see this having promise. But it is not quite ready for prime time as a corporate collaboration tool.
- Too tough to add contacts
- Tough to find gadgets and add the gadgets permanently to your account for easier access
- More seamless integration of Google Docs needed so that we could output manager-friendly documents

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Always taking tips etc for better ways to use this thing. Please leave ideas, thoughts in the comments.

Friday, November 06, 2009

First Google Wave Commentary


Sound advice from the nice folks at Funny Eye for the Corporate Guy

The picture has nothing to do with the thoughts below - but with the way my past few weeks have been going, it's a good reminder.
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My current thoughts on Google Wave

- A Wave needs to be focused focused focused. I am finding the broader waves become very disorganized and hard to follow very quickly.

- Start small, then go larger. The small group can create the initial format. New members then have something to play off of.

Like chat rooms, large groups can get unwieldy very quickly.

- Using the playback to view the most recent is awkward - especially for the larger wave.

This may be a technical issue. The larger waves load very slowly.
John told me about using the spacebar to move between unread objects. Works like a charm.

- As with any new tool, having a project in mind helps a lot. My soft-skills counterpart Sid managed to get a Google Wave invite herself. We are going to attempt some real-time collaboration with this thing. Our initial project - developing a draft outline for an Introduction to SkillPort class.

(Oh yeah - and as I type this, the manager and director are wandering around Educause looking for Google Wave invites. I'm trying to get 2 more for the other 2 members of our LMS Admin team. You will have my eternal gratitude if you have some available :') )

Aaron Silvers has even better ideas! Go read his post on Virtual Collaborations if you haven't already.

- VoIP would be a great feature. Hard to edit and type chat at the same time.

- Why I am still excited about Google Wave, despite the hiccups? Because it will ultimately solve an actual problem I have now. Still can't say that about Twitter ;')

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Remember those LMS Questions? I developed a public wave to continue the conversation (and its getting good)

For those of you with Google Wave access - please come play.

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In the Wave - John Schulz brought up an excellent point. I'm copying his comments in full:

OK, can I play devil's advocate here? Personally, I think the really big question - the one people really need to think long and hard about - is the first one you listed: What problem do you think an LMS is going to resolve?

I think the idea of an LMS is changing. The need for an LMS is no longer very clear. Two "trends" seem to be telling me that a large investment in a typical LMS at this point in time would likely be a bad investment.

1) The 'features' one likely wants from an LMS are being absorbed by other HRP systems - talent management, performance management, HRIS. Look long and hard at the other systems in your organization before you buy an LMS.

2) An LMS should NOT be a destination for your learners. An LMS should be a background system; used to capture data. Not a front line product that we direct learners to. The functions of an LMS (cataloging, course enrollment, learning plans, assessments, competency management) should be accessible by learners as services through the tools that they use every day.

Most organizations make the mistake of positioning an LMS as THE learning portal. I think we need to get away from this idea, and integrate access to learning products within the learner's work environment. The LMS should (could) be the master data source for all things related to the learning experience (assessment data, completion data, etc.).


Yes John and Clark Q. - I am completely falling into that trap of using the LMS as a destination. My excuse is that this is the fastest way to communicate to all stakeholders the need for someplace to point staffers to for help. The stakeholders get the reporting they want. The staff has one place to go. I don't have to build it from scratch.

Is it ideal? No. But it's significantly better than our current situation.

And it was purchased long before any requirements were established. Gotta get value out of it somehow, right?

Working around the LMS



I was at a local learning/technology conference yesterday and one of my peers (who I'll keep anonymous) did a great presentation on some short, just-in-time videos/screencasts that her department had done. I thought one of the most interesting points she made was that at this time, they aren't bothering to put them in their LMS, because they're just interested in people getting the training (which they want to make as easy as possible)... they aren't interested in tracking it.

We have done some similar projects and we have taken the same approach... the LMS just takes too much time for people to get into and find what they need.
- Judy Unrein


This really is the crux of the issue with LMSs. Sometimes, it just seems like a PITA to get to the material.

My take - there is no rule that says I can't have the same object in two places if I don't need the reporting. For the immediate "they need access now and I don't need the reports" issue - I just give them the direct link. I also give them the SkillPort location since we are training our end users to look there first for materials in the long-term.

I am making extensive use of a feature in SkillPort that allows me to link to what they call "External Learning Objects." I can't see who clicked the "Play" button (still complaining to my SkillSoft reps about that every chance I get since all indicators in the program appear like you SHOULD be able to see who looked at the tutorial) - but the end-user can find it much later - when they actually need it.

The other advantage of the external learning objects is that it doesn't force me to go through the amazingly cumbersome and ugly 5 step conversion. It's gotten to the point where the first question out of my mouth when someone wants to put a tutorial in SkillPort is...

Do you need reporting?

If not - we use the above process. If so - I tack on a week and send the request to my bosses so they can begin the extortion process collect funding for the slots the tutorial will require. 9 times out of 10, suddenly - they don't need reporting.

And reporting, in my mind, is the key advantage and reason for implementing an LMS in the first place.