Monday, December 22, 2008

The American Education System

A few good reads over the last month got me thinking about the American Education System, particularly what’s wrong with it. Although each book had a contrasting focus, I found the overlap in education profound. The two books in question are Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, and Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In Made to Stick, the authors attribute the gap in math proficiency by many K-12 students to teachers not using enough concrete examples. The Heath brothers, explain that concrete language is the language of novices. It’s only after people grasp basic concepts that they can begin to think about them abstractly. The reason American K-12 students lag behind other countries is because American students are introduced to considerably less concrete examples than their foreign counterparts. Of course, I’m over simplifying here, but that was the gist.

On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell raises the point of summer vacation as a culprit for America’s education woes. Gladwell explains that summer vacation provides students with a lengthy gap in which students are often left to forget most of what they learned. When students return to school, the teacher often spends weeks reiterating what was taught during the previous year. What I found interesting about this was the gap in learning retention between the upper and lower class after students returned to school after summer. A study showed upper class children performed significantly better than lower class children when retested at the end of summer. Gladwell goes on to explain that upper class children are generally offered many more opportunities to reinforce learning during the summer than lower class children, indirectly making a case for year-round schools.

Whether either suggestion offered by the authors above is merely correlated or it’s causal, I thought the authors did a great job at peaking my interest enough to think long and hard about the education my children are getting. For that, I give a tip of the hat to the Heath brothers and Malcolm Gladwell.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Online, Synchronous Learning with ConnectNow

Over the last year, I’ve been advocating the use of Adobe Connect as a web communication tool at work. Connect provides a platform in which to offer students live, synchronous classes online. During this time, I have been regularly asked if there are any products that are similar to Connect, but free? Well I finally found one worth noting. Over the weekend I started experimenting with ConnectNow, which is Adobe’s new suite of online tools in beta.

Like Adobe Connect, ConnectNow is a Flash-based platform that allows people to meet and collaborate online in real-time. Actually, minus a few features, I found ConnectNow to be a better product than Adobe Connect. Oh, and did I mention it's free? But, don't let my opinion sway your vote. Try the product for yourself by creating a free Adobe account and visiting

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning the SuperCool School Way

Lately, I’ve become fascinated with learning the SuperCool School way. That is, allow participants to initiate the topics they want to learn about. Other participants interested in learning that topic too can then join the request. Once enough “seats” have been filled, the teacher position opens and anyone willing and/or able to teach does.

Obviously this is a different paradigm than the norm. Generally speaking, most models dictate what will be taught and who will teach it, then participants are granted access (or mandated) to attend. The advantage I see to using the SuperCool School method in the workplace is in situations where the department usually responsible for providing training cannot efficiently offer a training solution. For example, a relatively small group of people are interested in learning how blogging can be used on the job. If there isn’t a strong business need for a course such as this, most training departments would be unwilling to extend the effort required to offer the class. But if someone else is willing to teach, and an interest group is willing to attend, why stop them?

So, now that you’ve gotten a little context for what I’m talking about, I’ll get to the pitch. What I’ve been trying to do over the last couple weeks is figure out a way to apply what I’ve learned from researching SuperCool School to my own workplace. So at work this last week, I, and a couple other people, came up with the idea to use a hybrid approach as a means of organizing the many lunch-time brown-bag sessions. The approach we’re going to try is very much like a newspaper’s classified ads section. It offers a single place for people offering goods and a place for people seeking goods.

What we’re hoping to do is to get other people using our internal social media software to request and respond to learning opportunities in our organization. I’m not sure how realistic this is, but I’m hoping for the best. Hopefully, I'll follow this post with positive results as we move forward. Till then.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ever wonder what kind of avatar to use for online social networking in the workplace? You remember avatars, right? These are the photos or images that appear next to a users name (see example below). I never really gave much thought to using avatars for social media until today. What triggered the thought was a story I heard from Steve Radick, a collegue of mine at work. During his presentation, Steve said he frequently ran into people that would tell him they read his blogs and that they appreciated what he was contributing. That's when the thought crossed my mind: These people would have never known what Steve looked like if he didn't have a photo of himself as his avatar.

Why should you be concerned with the avatar you use? Because, your avatar is your brand and your brand's purpose, as Tom Mochal describes it, "is to establish an identity that conjures up a positive image (2007)." In Steve's case, his brand worked exactly as intended. If your using social media tools for professional purposes, establishing a positive image is what you should be aiming for.

With that in mind, here are a couple guidelines I have found useful for using Avatars across multiple online social media tools (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, and Utterli).

1) Try to stick with using the same avatar for each tool. Again, you're trying to build a consistent message. Using the same avatar will help you accomplish this, not to mention make it easier for people following you online to find you.
2) If face recognition is important, like in the story mentioned above, consider using a photo of yourself as an avatar rather than a graphic image.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blogging Live Events with Cover It Live

Over the weekend I tinkered with another Web 2.0 app, called Cover It Live. For you bloggers and microbloggers out there, imagine blogging a live event in which you can post your commentary for other people to follow; in a format similar to Twitter or Yammer. However, you as the host have at your disposal richer features in which you can use to engage your followers, such as polling, text, video, and images. Then, once the event is over, all content can be retrieved in one online recording, which differs greatly from other microblog apps I’ve seen. What I also found practical was the ability to easily embed the app in any website, avoiding the need for users to have an account to participate.

I can’t help but think of how many conferences we send staff to that could benefit other colleagues. This app could provide a unique opportunity for people unable to attend the conference to follow topics and gain context specific insights from other staff fortunate enough to attend in person.

Here’s a brief example of a recording I created earlier.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

QR Codes, Mobile Devices, and Learning, Oh my!

[cross-posted from work blog]

An upcoming seminar topic from the e-learning guild attracted me to look into the possibilities of QR codes for performance support. If you don’t think you know what I’m talking about here, don’t worry. Have you ever purchased groceries from the self-checkout line and had to scan your items before paying? Then you’re familiar with how this technology works.

When you scan an item, the scanner reads the data found in the bar code and correlates it to product information stored in a database. These bar codes are used all over the world, and in all kinds of industries. The problem with the bar code, however, is that it is extremely limited in the amount of information it can contain.

QR Codes, also known as 2-d barcodes are a relatively new addition that allows more data to be stored within it, for example web addresses, phone numbers, and text messages. You’re probably saying to yourself, “so what Erik? Who cares?” Here’s the deal. Many new mobile devices, like the iPhone, have built in applications that use the phone’s camera to scan these barcodes. This technology is exploding in Japan right now. Companies are now using these for marketing, communication, and yes, performance support. Imagine this, you’re visiting Yamagata, Japan on vacation and you want to find out the best places in the area to eat. Lucky for you, the Chamber of Commerce has maps and posters available around the city with QR codes on them. Within a couple seconds, you can scan a code on a poster, which directs your mobile device to an English website with the highest rated restaurants in the town. Not bad eh? How about finding out the history of a building? Simply scanning a QR code provided on a brochure could provide this. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to test your Japanese instead? ‚¨D‚Ý

Conceivably, this same concept can be applied to help provide performance support on the job. Need to troubleshoot a piece of machinery that you’re not familiar with? Scan the QR Code with your mobile device and you could be provided an online tutorial or video. But why stop there? Social Media allows us to not only consume information, but also contribute to it. Was the restaurant you ate at in the example above worthy of the five stars? No? Then contribute a review yourself, so the next person that is looking for food in the area has your review handy. Think about the possibilities.

Got the kid writing her own blog

I'm so happy. Not only is my kid using Google Docs to write her stories and poetry, but now she's writing her own blog posts. I wish I would have had the same interest in writing at her age.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google Docs versus Wikis

I just got my daughter using Google Docs today. I'm so happy. As much as I am a proponent of Wikis and blogs, I must admit they're not the best option for everything. What I'm commonly finding when consulting with small collaborative working groups is that document formatting and functions need to be preserved. For example, it's much more difficult to use a Wiki for spreadsheet data. This is where I see the biggest benefits of Google Docs.

Anyway, my battery is getting really low, so this is it for now. Till next time.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Learning 2.0

Hello good people,

This is my first blog I've created outside of the workplace. I realize this is usually the other way around. Most people create blogs outside of the work, then later incorporate them in the workplace. Fortunately for me, the company I work for is, at least I like to think, progressive; and I'm not talking about the automobile insurance company.

Anyway, now that I've created this blog, I intend to collect and post my thoughts on my profession: workplace learning.

Till then