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Social Learning Resources June 6, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I wanted to highlight a few social learning resources this week that I find to be very valuable. Take a look at the slideshows below for several perspectives and best practices for using social learning at your organization.

Defining Your Social Learning Strategy

Social Learning and Internal Communications

Harnessing the Power of Social Networks in Teaching and Learning

Social Learning Success Stories, Models, And Roles

Also, be sure to check out these books:


Micro-blogging at Work May 30, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve been on Twitter for over a year, and I find great value in the ability to ask questions to a large group of people (ex. friends, peers, etc.) when I need to find information. I often get excellent answers and suggestions that have much more value than a Google search would have yielded. I also enjoy the ability to share helpful resources that I find, and I do my best to answer questions that other people have. It only makes sense that organizations are starting to bring the same concept of Twitter (micro-blogging) in-house to improve communication between employees.

What is micro-blogging?

Micro-blogging is the process of sending short text updates that describe what you’re doing and/or thinking to a web site or web application. The messages are available to whomever has subscribed to view your messages. There are many micro-blogging platforms (see below) that allow you to easily track messages from your friends and peers, and they also make it easy to search for messages that were previously posted. All of the information is saved and it can be searched. Read a more detailed definition of micro-blogging.

How can micro-blogging be beneficial at work?

Here are a few examples of how micro-blogging can be beneficial at work. Micro-blogging can be used to:

  • Ask questions
  • Share project updates
  • Make organization-wide announcements (for non-critical information)
  • Build a community (ex. have new employees communicate with each other and share their experiences)
  • Promote a culture of information sharing

We’re in the early stages of a micro-blogging trial at work. I can’t say much about it, but I am very pleased with what I’ve seen so far. I’m seeing employees making connections with co-workers in different divisions, and I’m seeing employees provide each other with assistance on a regular basis. While I can’t articulate a rock-solid business case for micro-blogging, this behavior screams success to me.

Selecting a micro-blogging platform

If you are concerned about your employees sharing confidential or proprietary information, you will probably want to be very careful when selecting a micro-blogging platform. You can use an internally-hosted micro-blogging platform, or you can consider using a solution hosted by a vendor. Some of the most popular platforms are:

Involve the right people

When considering micro-blogging at your organization, you’ll need to make sure to involve the right people. I highly recommend you bring in people from the following departments. Help them understand micro-blogging and why you’re interested in using it:

  • Corporate Communications
  • HR
  • IT
  • Legal

Run a pilot program

Consider running a pilot program, where you use micro-blogging for a small group of users (perhaps the training department?). This will let you get a feel for how the concept works, and you should be able to figure out its potential pretty quickly. (I would also recommend that you jump on Twitter, just to get a quick understanding of how micro-blogging works.)

Good luck, and please leave a comment below if you have experience using micro-blogging at work. I’d love to hear how it is going.

Heading to the Corporate University Summit May 16, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I will be heading to Chicago on Tuesday for the Corporate University Summit, a corporate learning and development conference. I will be presenting a session on mobile learning on Wednesday, and I plan on spending the rest of the time making connections with peers and absorbing as much I can from the other presenters.

Here are some of the sessions/presentations that sound most interesting to me:

If you will be attending the conference, please say hello! If you will not be in attendance, let me know if you have questions about the conference or any of the presentations. I will be happy to get answers and report back.

Read more about the Corporate University Summit

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference May 7, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Conferences have been on my mind quite a bit lately. I will be presenting a session on mobile learning at the Corporate University Summit in a couple weeks in Chicago, and I’m getting ready to submit a proposal or two for DevLearn. So you can see why I was pleasantly surprised today when I ran across an excellent blog post on how to get the most out of a conference. The post is by Dan McCarthy, and he wrote it over on his Great Leadership blog. Here’s a summary of his suggestions:

  1. Choose your conference wisely.
  2. Take time to to explore and experience the surrounding area.
  3. Try to suspend your judgement, be open minded, curious, and open to possibilities.
  4. Watch your diet and stay fit.
  5. Force yourself to network.
  6. Don’t be one of those attendees that race up and down the trade show isles with a shopping bag, avoiding eye contact with the vendors, and grabbing handfuls of useless junk.
  7. Keep a running list of ideas, insights, and action items; your key take-a-ways from each day.
  8. Have fun, but be on your best behavior.
  9. Ship your stuff back to your office.
  10. Don’t forget to thank your manager for allowing you to attend.
  11. Share something with your team or coworkers.
  12. If you can, offer to be a presenter, break-out facilitator, discussion moderator, or any opportunity to get involved.

Read Dan’s full post, How to Get the Most Out of a Conference, for more information on each of his suggestions. And if you see me at a conference, please stop and introduce yourself!

Additional resources:

Beware of Social Learning Backlash April 11, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’m finding out that the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” has some major significance when it comes to introducing social learning (specifically, social learning tools) at an organization. In fact, even worse things can happen if you don’t market your offerings correctly…

When introducing social learning tools and concepts, it’s easy to get excited and anxious to share our findings. We often see the potential of how these tools can impact our organization, and we can’t wait to tell everyone we know about it. But here’s the tricky part: A good portion of our audience may not see the same potential, and it’s important to understand their point of view. They may have these feelings for several reasons:

  • They may not understand the concept(s)
  • They may fear new technology
  • They may be afraid to learn something new or change their current processes
  • They may feel intimidated or threatened

In fact, some people may undermine your efforts by expressing doubt to others and they may refuse to use new tools. To be clear, I believe constructive criticism is always a good thing. I’m only concerned about the people who counter your efforts because of one of the reasons listed above.

On a sidenote, it doesn’t help that many of the social media and social learning tools have goofy names. Many non-technical people immediately dismiss the idea of using these tools because they can’t take the name seriously. (Personally, even though I am a fan, I think Twitter’s name is one of its biggest downfalls.)

Here are a few tips to prevent social learning backlash:

  • Communication and change management are key
    Begin by explaining the basics of social learning and gradually work up to the benefits of using social learning specifically at your organization. Explain all benefits and be honest about possible shortcomings.
  • Seek out allies in your organization
    Find people within your organization who can help you tell the story of how social learning can benefit your organization. This way you won’t be seen as the person trying to make all the changes on your own.
  • Don’t just talk – produce
    I can talk about Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t do anybody good until I actually produce something. I would recommend staying light on the concepts and heavy on the examples. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
  • Carefully connect social learning to familiar external sites
    Explain that most people already use social media and social learning resources outside of work, whether they realize it or not. For example, what tools do you usually use when you have a question, or when you need information? Wikipedia, Google, and social bookmarking sites like Delicious are a few simple examples.
  • Re-brand the technologies in-house to use more conventional names
    If you install any social learning applications in-house, you may consider re-branding their names to something that makes sense within your organization.

Kevin Jones has done a fantastic job of covering all things related to social learning. Be sure to check out some of his posts below. You’ll find additional tips for improving the adoption of social learning at your organization:

Reducing Costs in Precarious Times February 14, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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It’s no secret that we need to do more with less at work, given the financial mess the world is in. I’ve recently taken several steps at work to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of our department’s offerings, and I thought it would be a good topic to discuss this week. Below are a few of my ideas. Please chime in with your ideas by adding a comment.

Ideas for Reducing Costs

Go to fewer conferences (or none at all)
I chose to not go to the eLearning Guild Annual Gathering in March (even though I was approved to go). I’m bummed about this, because I’ve learned a ton at this conference in the past, but I think it’s the right decision. I may try to make it to DevLearn later in the year depending on how things go.

Use free / open-source tools
Our team is doing more with free tools and open-source systems. Specifically, we are using WordPress, MediaWiki, and Scuttle. There are tons of great tools out there for free, so make sure to do your homework before purchasing any software/systems. Take a look at Jane Hart’s Directory of Learning Tools if you’re not sure where to start.

Build more from scratch
Build what you need from scratch, rather than always considering a vendor for a particular solution. This may be a course, a web site, an application to serve information to your learners, etc. Home-grown prototypes may not be as flashy as vendor solutions, but they often do the trick. You can also consider partnering with other groups within your organization if you need help building something (see the next section).

Create partnerships
Look for allies and discuss your projects together. As cliche as it sounds, look for synergies. You may find a contact in your IT department who is willing to help you create the systems you need. Or, you may find a peer outside of your organization who has similar interests and goals. You may find ways to work together and save money. Seek out these partnerships – and offer your help to others as well.

Negotiate with vendors
Both new and existing contracts can be negotiated during times like these. Make sure you talk things over with your organization’s legal department first, but I’m willing to bet you can (re)negotiate better deals with your LMS vendor, content providers, etc. I’m sure a bunch of them are giving me the evil eye right now for saying this, but I look at it this way: During times like these, I would rather renegotiate a deal at a lower price – and continue to use a vendor – rather than drop them completely. They have to understand.

Use social networks
Stay up to date on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Build relationships, connect with peers, and I believe you’ll be very pleased with the results. You may find that you’re able to do more research once you are better connected with peers (rather than always having to pay for expensive research reports). Plus, I find that my social networks help me keep my finger on the pulse of our field, and ithey have helped me meet some very smart (and extraordinarily helpful) people.

Stay sharp
Don’t freak out because of the recession/depression and crawl into a hole. Look for ways to continue to improve your skills. It benefits your organization if you keep up on the latest tips, technologies, and trends. Most information related to our industry is freely available on the web, so dig in, and keep reading and sharing information.

Your Turn!

What are you doing to save money at your organization?

The gLearning Challenge January 31, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The eLearning Guild has announced an interesting challenge for their upcoming Annual Gathering conference in Orlando. It’s called The gLearning Challenge and the concept is to create a learning solution using ONLY Google products. Here’s a more thorough description, from their web site:

The gLearning Challenge is your chance to use the slew of free and easy-to-use Google tools to showcase your e-Learning design chops. Your entry must use any, or many, of these free Google tools to create a course, a module, or even some informal learning. Get Creative! Win Prizes! Be crowned the Master of gLearning!

The suggested list of tools includes:

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 6, 2009.

Read more about The gLearning Challenge.

Building a Learning Portal January 17, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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We implemented a learning portal at work several months back, and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could recommend to an organization for improving access to learning materials. In the past, I’ve worked at organizations where we would tell learners, “Look in the LMS” to find materials and information. I’ve realized that a learning portal creates a self-service environment for users that can’t be beat. They can go, search, find what they need, and move on. It’s a Google-like experience, for what has generally become an information-on-demand culture. Let’s take a closer look at learning portals…

What is a learning portal?

A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then automagically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.

How to build a learning portal (in a nutshell)

First, analyze your users. Interview power-users and find out what resources they access on a regular basis for learning and looking up information. Find out what information is most important to them and find out how you can aggregate it in a way that is simple, clean, and useful. Look at your HR/training systems (ex. your LMS). Find out what key information should be displayed in the portal. You may want to show the learner information on their upcoming classes (if they have already signed up). You may also want to show them all upcoming classes that could be relevant to them based on their job role or specialty. Contact vendors or systems specialists at your organization to find out if this information can be extracted and displayed on a web site, such as a learning portal. (Beware that vendors may charge you for this extra work.)

Build it. Test it. Improve it.

Start small with the first version of your learning portal. Aggregate some useful resources and slowly add features and functionality based on users’ feedback. Interview users and put a poll on the portal. Get as much feedback as you can. It will improve naturally over time if you listen and respond.

More portals are coming

Some LMS vendors are introducing portals of their own, so keep an eye out. Your LMS vendor may have one coming out soon. These may be rigid at first, but I’m sure they’ll get better with time. I’d recommend you analyze the needs of your users, and then determine if it’s best to build your own or use a vendor solution. Either way, it will probably be an extremely helpful resource for your learners.

Basic Mozilla Ubiquity Commands September 5, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Last week I discussed Mozilla’s new project, Ubiquity. Ubiquity is an add-on for Firefox that allows you to quickly perform tasks that would normally take several extra steps (and involve you having to access other web sites). It’s a great little tool that makes power-users giddy with excitement. Ok, maybe just me… 🙂

I’ve been experimenting with the commands in Ubiquity, and I managed to create a few that will be pretty helpful at work. The three commands I’m sharing are:

  • lms
    Type in lms topic – and Ubiquity will take you to your LMS search results page for that topic.
  • cd
    Type in cd name to search for somebody in your company’s directory with that name.
  • q
    type in q searchTerm to search for information in your company’s intranet site.

(All three of these commands assume you can access these systems via the query string. If nothing else, the commands will help you understand how Ubiquity works, which may help you build your own custom commands.)

To get started, make sure you have installed Ubiquity in Firefox.

Next, go to this URL: chrome://ubiquity/content/editor.html (sorry, I couldn’t make this a link – WordPress wouldn’t let me).

Paste these code snippets into the editor:

  name: "lms",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search the LMS for courses.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

  name: "cd",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search our company directory.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

  name: "q",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search our company intranet.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

(Note that you’ll probably have to fix the line wrapping for the Application.activeWindow.open line of each command before they’ll work in Ubiquity.)

Finally, insert in your custom URLs in the 3 places where it says “http://www.INSERT_…”

Now you’ll be able to press Ctrl+Space to open Ubiquity, and then you can use the lms, cd, and q commands.

I used the Ubiquity Author Tutorial site to create these commands. I recommend that you start there if you’re interested in creating your own commands. Plus, it shows you how to package and share the commands with the rest of the world (or just your organization).

Happy command-writing!

Mozilla Ubiquity as an On-Demand Learning Tool August 28, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Earlier this week, Mozilla (the makers of Firefox) released Ubiquity – a small application that allows you to quickly perform web-related tasks without having to surf out to different web sites. Watch their video for a quick introduction.

So, can this relate to learning? My answer would be absolutely! My main job is to help people learn (acquire knowledge and skills) and then apply what they know on the job. Sometimes this is done by providing them with the right tools. Ubiquity is one of these tools. It gives learners faster access to a wide range of information; it empowers them.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Mozilla has built Ubiquity in a way that allows outside developers (you and me) to add commands and actions to the tool. Think of this scenario: You have a user who is interested in taking a class on leadership skills. Imagine if they could pull up Ubiquity and type lms leadership to bring up a list of classes offered at your organization related to leadership. Or imagine if they had to look up information that was specific to your organization: They could type widget XYZ to immediately pull a spec sheet for a product. Ubiquity allows them to grab information very quickly without having to surf around to different web sites. This is on-demand learning!

If you’re using Firefox, install Ubiquity and then take a look at the tutorial. (If you’re not using Firefox – get it now! It’s definitely the best web browser out there.)

Have you tried Ubiquity? What do you think?

(I plan on developing some Ubiquity commands in the coming weeks. I’ll report back on what I find. Please let me know if you do any work in this area. I’d love to know more…)