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Nuts and Bolts: Upskilling

by Jane Bozarth

June 5, 2012

Column

by Jane Bozarth

June 5, 2012

“It should have been part of our work all along to help the learners be better learners.”

New media has brought with it new challenges for instructional designers and facilitators. Where just five years ago we were still primarily concerned with things like authoring tools and content management, we now face new demands for making programs more inclusive of learners and building a farther reach for the L&D department.

This speaks to the need for new skills. While every designer won’t need to develop every skill, it’s important that you become familiar with most and, depending on your role, start working toward ways of building the new skills for yourself, or building new approaches into programs that others might facilitate or deliver.

Paving informal paths

Helping learners find one another and information they need is a new critical role for L&D. Connecting pockets of learners via interest areas, topic discussion boards, and microblog chats, and supporting communities of interest and communities of practice are critical. New tools let us create truly useful, evolving digital libraries of Podcasts, video clips, photos, RSS feeds, and reading material to support learners as they go about enacting their work. Creating a good library requires architecture and organization skills (no point having the article stored away if no one can find it) as well as curation skills:

Curation. An effective curator helps the learner manage information overload by serving as an effective filter. Like the museum curator, the effective content curator works at aggregating, selecting, and annotating content around a particular theme or point of view. It’s not just a matter of compiling links, but serving as the source for finding and feeding new, relevant content to a group or community. And as we’ll see later, the curator doesn’t always have to be you.

Inclusion. Making good use of new media is about inclusion, not just distribution. The designer or facilitator will need to find ways to help learners contribute, question, and learn from each other. It will be critical to build in opportunities to collaborate via tools like wikis or blogs, to talk and share via tools like social profiles or microblogs, and to learn through the community rather than in isolation. Look for obvious alternatives to traditional approaches, particularly opportunities for employees to learn from each other. One strategy: help workers generate instructional materials. For instance, back in the “old days” the L&D department would create a video showing exemplary performance of a task. How do companies do this now, in an era of collaborative learning and much more accessible video technologies? Companies like the Cheesecake Factory offer quick videos of exemplary performers demonstrating a skill.

Participation. Effectively using new media is not something you will do to others. You’ll need to learn to use them yourself, and then help others learn to contribute, question, generate, and redirect and enhance, often in new group configurations and new power relationships. This isn’t just for end-user workers, but applies as well to facilitators, trainers, supervisors, or whomever at the local level participates in choosing learning goals. Part of your development will be learning to help facilitators develop.

Community management. Supporting communities requires more than just setting up a site, and involves all the things already listed. Nurturing, feeding, growing, and sometimes weeding a community is not the same as controlling or directing it, and it takes time and skill to get it right. One challenge here is that organizations have fallen in love with the word “community.” In many ways it is synonymous with “communication.” If employees aren’t talking to each other now, or operating in a culture of fairly open communication, setting up an online group won’t change that. And note: you can’t create and force people to participate in communities. Top-down direction as often as not will result in some sort of organized work group, but it likely won’t be a community of shared learning and practice.

Finally...it should have been part of our work all along to help the learners be better learners, to make learning (or at least finding learning opportunities) easier for them and more timely and useful for organizations. It’s important to realize with much of this that the skills are something you need, but much of the work might be something you partner on or delegate. In short: you may need to identify others in the organization that can support your success. Look around the company for those already making extensive use of social tools and informal learning opportunities. Who are your “lifelong learner” types? Who are your writer types? Who’s already participating in online or other groups talking about work or work topics?

Want more?

On paving informal paths, see resources on social and informal learning at Jane Hart’s Social Learning Centre: http://sociallearningcentre.co.uk/

On curation, see Beth Kanter’s blog post “Content Curation 101”: http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/

On the Cheesecake Factory’s video café: http://www.bersin.com/News/Details.aspx?id=14676

On communities, see Katja Pastoors’s comparison of types of communities of practice as well as the dynamics of top-down v. bottom-up communities of practice: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1585429

For a study on understanding the workings of a successful community of practice, see Bozarth, J. “The Usefulness of Wenger’s Framework in Understanding an Existing Community of Practice”: http://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/ir/bitstream/1840.16/4978/1/etd.pdf

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