Road to research

A couple of days ago, I re-enrolled into the Master of Learning Sciences and Technology program I first started back in 2009. And afterwards, I started freaking out. Just a little. Reasons being:

  1. It’s been 3 years since I was last enrolled in this program. Whilst it was undoubtedly a valuable and intellectually stimulating experience, I also recall a lot of stressing out about uni work on the weekends and in the evenings after work.
  2. A helluva lot has happened in these intervening 3 years. Not least of which is that I now have a kid who I adore spending my weekends and evenings with.
  3. Somehow, I let Prof Michael J Jacobson talk me into staying in the research stream. And research stream = 12,000 word dissertation. And yes. That’s a big part of why I’m freaking out.

I’m not even quite sure how this happened. I went into enrolment resolved to change from Research to the Professional stream. Although I’d previously harboured ambitions to do research in a past life, the thought of undertaking a PhD now makes me slightly ill. But instead of saying that out loud to the Prof., I found myself looking interested when he said the amount of work involved in the dissertation would be about the same as the Professional stream project  (really?!), and empathising when he told me how disappointed one of his former (Professional stream) students was when told he couldn’t easily gain entry to a PhD because he hadn’t done any previous research (wouldn’t have happened if he’d done the Research stream..). Then, all of a sudden I was talking research topics.

Here are some of the ideas we discussed:

  • Productive failure – this refers to a finding by Manu Kapur: students given complex, ill defined problems without any prior instruction, whilst not able to correctly solve the problem, later demonstrated better understanding of the concept than students receiving direct instruction (worked example, practice, feedback).  They attribute this to the fact that students in the ‘productive failure’ condition generated a lot more ideas about the problem when trying to solve it, thus gaining a greater understanding of its structure and ability to apply their knowledge to other problem contexts. Whilst this is a very interesting learning phenomenon with big implications for learning design, I’m actually interested in exploring how it might relate to innovation. There’s commonly a link made between organisational innovation and failure (or experience gained from failure) – and I think Kapur’s research goes some way to explain why. I’ve always thought that if I were to do research, I’d want to apply it in a context I know. So the idea of taking an idea that has previously been researched within a school context, and exploring if and how it generalises to an organisational environment could be interesting.
  • Technology facilitated collaborative learning – this is an area I’ve always been interested in, and there’s a lot of scope for a lot of interesting work here. It’s just a matter of narrowing it down.
  • Design of learning environments for the future – this is the title of a book that Prof Jacobson and Dr Peter Reimann edited which incorporates lots of interesting topics (incl. using visual representations in learning, virtual worlds, collaborative teams, personal learning communities…)

So I don’t know…but I might just be starting to get over my freak out and getting a little bit excited about this research gig after all.

New role, new goals

When I first concieved of this post, I thought I might construct a list of tangible goals (something like: develop eLearning benchmarks, develop social and mobile learning strategies….) but I think now this could be rather limiting. The fact is, I don’t yet know the organisational environment well enough to know what it’s needs are. Defining specific goals before knowing the organisation is a bit like suggesting solutions before adequately diagnosing the problem. So I’m thinking: perhaps it’s more useful to define the mindset I’d like to take to this role.

Value relationships

Having been in this role for almost 3 weeks now, knowing the right people has emerged as being absolutely critical for Getting Things Done, and even for discovering What Needs Doing. This is an incredibly complex organisational environment: 4 diverse L&D departments merged into one new OD structure, supporting the needs of 5 diverse operational agencies, approx 33,000 employees, 3 different LMSs, thousands of courses, 4 IT networks that don’t really communicate with each other, and an organisation that is undergoing major restructure across every major business unit in every operational agency. In this environment, it’s definitely more who than what you know.  Of immediate importance has been having access to people who were in equivalent roles within operational agencies you are now expected to support but know nothing about. These are the people who fill you in on how things work, help you get connected to systems you didn’t know you needed, and introduce you to key stakeholders in their business. They’re the bridge between the old and the new. Without them, it would take twice as long to work out what you needed to do, and how to do it. Even once we move to a ‘business as usual’ state, I can see that relationships will be important in this large, complex environment. Relationships help you navigate politics. Relationships (and the trust implicit in them) make it easier to ‘sell’ innovative ideas. Relationships introduce you to key people.  Relationships are the backbone of your network. And a good network makes it easier and quicker to Get Things Done.

Don’t just “deliver solutions”: develop collaborative partnerships

One of the key relationships I think any L&D practitioner needs to develop is with the businesses they’re supporting. A lot has been said recently (out there in the global L&D community) about the marginalisation of L&D as a business function (more about that in another post…). Personally, I think the key to avoiding said marginalisation is to develop strong, ongoing collaborative partnerships with the business units we’re supporting. And I believe this means moving from a ‘delivery’ mindset to one of collaboration and consultation. Rather than seeing our role simply as ‘delivering a solution’ (then moving onto the next project), we need to think in terms of being collaborative partners to the business, working closely with them to help diagnose and identify problems, suggest solutions (and not just ‘training’ – see below), assist with evaluating their effectiveness, and help continually improve on outcomes.

Don’t default to formal training: think performance support first

The disclaimer to this one is that there will always be a lot of training delivered in this organisation. (It’s a RTO – Registered Training Organisation). A lot of this training will remain formal (training bus and train drivers, safety training etc…: classroom based, but also on-the-job training and workplace competency assessments). That said, much of what gets nominated for ‘conversion’ to eLearning often may not need to be formal training at all. Often, when the business asks for an “eLearning module”, there’s an opportunity to add value by developing performance support instead – or at least developing performance support in conjunction with a much smaller eLearning piece than originally envisioned. Because the real benefit of performance support is that it helps people do their work better, at the point they need it, within the context of their workflow. Whereas the best you can hope for with training is that it helps people to practice doing their work better, in an artificial environment that, at best, bears *some* resemblance to their work context (but really, is fairly inadequate at replicating the complexities inherent in it).

Be creative

One of the main things I’ve gotten out of doing DS106 Daily Creates (although I haven’t done one for a while…!) has been to get into a mindset of thinking creatively. This means not necessarily going with your first instinct or idea, being open to inspiration from diverse sources, seeing different interpretations and perspectives, exploring and remixing novel ideas. I definitely agree with the concept that everyone is creative: creativity’s a mindset, not an output. Creativity is the bedrock of innovation. And you can apply creative thinking to anything you do.

Experiment: think ‘perpetual beta’

Taking an experimental mindset is something else that I think is critical to embedding innovation. If you don’t try new ways of doing things, you’re always going to be stuck in the status quo. And more important than just trying new things, is having an attitude of experimentation. This means being ok with ‘failure’ (which is where the best learning experiences emerge), and rather than seeing projects as ‘make or break’, thinking in terms of ‘perpetual beta’ (I’ve always been a massive fan of Harold Jarche’s tagline ‘Life in perpetual beta’: genius!). Because a mindset of ‘perpetual beta’ means you’re always open to feedback, and you’re never done improving.


So those are the big 5 things that I’d like to apply to the work I do. In future work related posts, I’ll probably discuss the organisational landscape a bit more, as well as some specific projects I’ve been working on.

DS106 Daily Create 544

I wasn’t planning to write about this (it’s not on the list!), but ah well, I wasn’t actually planning to do this Daily Create assignment either!

I’ve just submitted it, so thought I might as well narrate it. This is the assignment:

Write about something ugly — war, fear, hate, cruelty — but find the beauty (silver lining) in it.

I wasn’t going to do it mainly because I’d seen it quite late in the afternoon and didn’t think I’d have brain space to invest in thinking of an idea. Also, I’d read Alan Levine’s (one of the lead DS106 instructors) blog posting saying it was hard. But then later, I was sitting at the table doodling some drawings while my kid was finishing dinner, and some words just came into my head that were compelling me to write them down. These were they:

She threw the potato peeler violently on the kitchen floor, angry

(I know, right? “Potato peeler”?! Anyway – those were The Words)

I knew this was going to be the start of my TDC (The Daily Create) submission. I continued writing The Words that compelled me to write them, not (consciously) knowing where they were taking me:

Furious. She considered saw the glint of the kitchen knife shining, beckoning and gripped the handle tightly.

At that point, I actually did consciously start thinking about where this storyline might go. I recalled reading an article years ago about Jessica Rowe’s post natal depression and her admission that she’d felt like crushing her baby’s skull once when it started crying (or something along those lines. It was a long time ago). I remember being pretty shocked that post natal depression could get that bad to completely wipe out all primal instincts to protect your own child. But then (whether they want to admit it or not) – most parents will have been in a position where (due to exhaustion, stress, lack of sustenence or, usually: all of the above), a screaming baby has pushed them to hurt or want to hurt their child. But this is always fleeting, and your own children have the touching ability to say or do things that make you instantly forgive and just want to love the hell out of them. This is what this bit of writing is about.

The knife

She threw the potato peeler violently on the kitchen floor, angry. Fuming. She saw the glint of the kitchen knife on the bench and grabbed it, gripping the handle tightly.

She heard a pitter patter of tiny footsteps, and felt something tug at her shirt. A small voice floated up at her: “Mamma. Bubby’s woken up! She wants us to give her a BIIIIGGGG Kissss!”

Suddenly the baby’s cries, before so painfully piercing, incessant, and screeching, were now small, and fragile. A sense of yearning engulfed her, and she released her grip on the knife.

Liberating the ideas

I’ve got a bunch of ideas in my head which I don’t *quite* have the time to write out as blog posts. Although most of them are jotted down in Evernote…

Img adapted from Cheerful Monk Creative Commons Licence<–…the detail is still sitting in here.

[Img adapted from cheerfulmonk Creative Commons License]

So, living up to the commitment from my previous post of showing work in progress and letting go of ideas in my head, I’m going to liberate the ideas into this post. This might make it likelier that they’ll actually happen at some point! So, in no particular order:

New goals, new role

I’ve just started a new role in an organisation undergoing massive change. This post will be me looking ahead at the 5 or so big picture goals I’d like to achieve in this role (or at least attempt or experiment with). I’d like to align any subsequent work related posts to one or more of the goals in this ‘baseline’ post, and think it would be really interesting to look back on this in a year’s time to see how I’ve progressed and how my goals may have changed.

What I learned from my 2 year old

This will be a fun, lighthearted post on the things I learnt while hanging out with my 2 year old when on leave the last 2 weeks. Looking at things from a kid’s perspective can be pretty inspiring (and funny!) – a refreshingly different world view. Probably something of a cross between kid’s say the darndest things and life’s little instruction book. Also planning to do some art/drawings to go with it. Got a pretty clear vision of this one…just gotta get it done!

Learning from Twitter – musings from a (former) skeptic

About how up til recently I’ve been somewhat of a twitter skeptic, and all the things I’ve learned since making a commitment to using it regularly as a learning tool. The things I think it’s awesome for, some of the challenges, and how I get around them. Perhaps also comparing the relative merits of twitter to linkedin as a professional learning tool (some twitter users seem pretty derisive of linkedin but I think there’s a place for both – each have their merits and unique characteristics). The twitter vs linkedin bit might actually develop into a separate post…

Series on my experiences /experiments with various social media tools

Kind of following on from the twitter post, I’m thinking it would be good to do a series on different social media tools and how I’m using them. Evernote, Pinterest (which I haven’t actually started to use yet but have plans to). Possibly also Pearltrees and (got accounts for but not really using).

On serendipitous learning – my 4 degrees of separation to Stephen Anderson

About how I serendipitously found an awesome preso ‘What I’m curious about’ from Stephen Anderson on Julie Dirksen’s blog, and the pathway of how I got there via explorations on the social web (how a post on cammy bean’s blog led me to following julie dirksen on twitter, and following a link from Cathy Moore’s blog led me to Julie Dirksen’s blog and eventually to Stephen Anderson’s preso!) I’d like to map out this out visually to show the connections, pathways and journey via the social web.

What I’m curious about

I love Stephen Anderson’s preso so much that I’m thinking I could do a post on it. It’s all about curiosity, play & integrating this into experience design. Now that I think about it, it’s interesting that I discovered his preso through exploration motivated by curiosity.

Pilot testing eLearning – by actually observing learners

Although it’s quite a standard practice in web design, prototyping and pilot testing practices in eLearning rarely involve actually observing learners as they navigate the module (while thinking aloud), and then talking to them about their experience – something which you can learn A LOT from doing. This post is about my experiences implementing a user observation based eLearning prototype / pilot testing process.

Well – these are the posts that are semi scripted in varying levels of detail in my head. These are ideas that I’d like to explore more:

  • post on compliance training design, probably related to a specific work project
  • something on tin can api and its potential impact on corporate learning
  • post on Moocs
  • weekly series narrating my work on DS106 daily creates for the week
  • guitar challenge – thinking of learning how to play my toddler’s current fave song ‘The Letter’ (‘my baby she wrote me a letter’) on guitar and doing progressive recordings of my efforts!? Could be interesting. Could also be painful!

On letting go to make time

So I’ve been reflecting a bit on last week’s lrnchat on narrating / showing your work. This is a topic that was very timely for me, as I was setting up this blog and writing about this very thing last week. Although I wasn’t able to participate in real time, I reviewed the feed after the event. It was very interesting.

Something that came up a lot was not having the time to narrate. I totally get this. ‘Time’ is one reason it took 2 months for me to start this blog.  But whilst we often think we don’t have enough time to do certain things, it’s actually more that we’re not making the time to do the things we want or should be doing. Making time is about deciding what’s important, and letting go of some of what you’re currently doing to do the important things.  This is a theme I’ve seen in some of what I’ve been reading lately:

  • Harold Jarche writes about finding the time for PKM by reducing wasted time (through effective utilisation of social networks) > letting go of existing unproductive practices to make time for more effective, more personalised learning
  • Elliott Masie says innovation requires stopping: letting go of some of our existing learning programs and habitual practices to make room for more innovative ones
  • Julian Stodd talks about the importance of learning what to leave behind, what to handover, and what to stop doing, in order to remain relevant, add value and succeed in the social age.

So I’ve been reflecting on what I can let go of in order to make time for some of the things I now regard as important: narrating work, exercising creativity, and building more effective social learning networks. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been letting go of sleep to make time for this. But I don’t think that’s very sustainable :p. Some better actions for me would probably be:

  • letting go of perfection – being comfortable with showing work or thoughts in progress (as pointed out by @espnguyen in the lrnchat), to write freely without constantly editing and re-editing my sentences
  • letting go of ideas in my head – writing them down, in order to develop them further, and to make room for new ideas (rather than driving myself crazy turning them over and over in my head)
  • letting go of control and sharing responsibility for more things (I’m thinking housework here! But it’s certainly relevant in a work context – appropriate delegation is important)
  • letting go of wasted time – being more organised in my personal life, thinking and planning ahead more (I never did grasp the concept of weekly shopping trips, for example – though I think this could save a lot of time)
  • letting go of the compulsion to be constantly connected – at least once in a while. We went away for a couple of days to a place without internet or phone access recently. It’s great for the soul. It allows time to just be. To have actual face to face conversations. To rest. Whilst I think social technology can be great, the constant chatter it generates can also be exhausting.

That’s what I’m going to work on letting go of. What about you?