Informal Learning with Tomoye (IIL07)

Eric Sauvé, of Tomoye, presented on informal learning in the enterprise. Tomoye’s clients include the US Army. Initial questions from the audience were:

  1. How do you prove that informal learning has value?
  2. How do get management’s buy-in?
  3. How do you ensure accuracy of content?
  4. How do you track legal issues & HR units/credits?

Eric views informal learning as something that adds value or augments formal learning in an organisation (I would say the opposite, but I’m just a learning radical). He also discussed the notion of employing workers/learners as a primary source of learning content; or the “YouTube-ification” of content. Other advice for implementation of Tomoye’s system, which looks like a blog/discussion forum mix for your Intranet, is to keep you tools simple . This follows the Web’s small pieces loosely joined design philosophy. Other points were to add a mechanism for positive reinforcement of good content and to use informal environments to validate the formal training that has been conducted.

Eric closed with a short discussion on collective intelligence or the wisdom of crowds. Overall this session was quite practical advice with some examples of one way to facilitate some aspects of informal learning.

e-Learning Bootcamp Next Week

Join Me at The Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning Conference Community!

This is my “quick connect card” for the Innovations in Learning Conference. One week from today, Janet Clarey and I will be conducting a workshop [a.k.a. Bootcamp] on e-learning. We’ve had a chance to talk to some of the participants and the final outline is shaping up. We’re planning on using a flexible framework and hope to run it more like an unconference.

Themes so far include e-learning today & tomorrow,  case studies, networks & informal learning and personal learning environments. There are still a few places left if you’re interested in this pre-conference workshop on 24 September in Santa Clara, California.

Friday Reflection

I’ve decided to stop at Step 3 for the series of small steps for knowledge resilience this week, but if there was a fourth, I would say that it should be to reflect.

Silver Lake

As I mentioned on Monday’s post, many organisational workers are so busy running around that they don’t have a chance to ask why. There is a time for action and a time for reflection. The tools that I’ve mentioned this week can be used for either, but you have to take the time to reflect. Review your old bookmarks, re-read comments and look at posts with new eyes.

I decided to use a single theme for the week on the advice of Bill Fitzgerald. It takes more concentration but in some ways is easier because of the self-imposed constraints. As an aside, with WordPress you can write all of your posts at the same time and then edit the timestamp so that they publish in order on consecutive days. This is handy if you’re going to be away but want to keep publishing.

Step 3: Converse

The idea behind these last few posts has been to look at pragmatic ways to employ some tools to build resilience into organisations as they get swept by the third wave. Jon Husband describes the new organisational structure for the networked knowledge economy as a wirearchy. An important aspect of working in a networked structure is that every node (person) can now influence the entire network; quite different from a hierarchical, industrial organisation, with mostly up and down information flows.

In third wave economies knowledge workers are valued for their individual talents and the networks that they belong to. Titles and positions blur when the work requires creativity. Third wave organisations have to be creative because the second wave economies are already taking the cookie-cutter jobs and going to the cheapest possible labour pool.

A third wave workplace is more like this:


A workplace where everyone can connect with anyone else makes each node important and means that no one can hide in the corner office, especially when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan. That is why conversation is becoming very important. Conversations help people make meaning, whether it’s between co-workers, with potential employees, customers or suppliers. These roles are also blurring, so each conversation has to be at a human level to value each individual. For instance, treating a customer as just another “consumer” can backfire when that customer is also a blogger with an audience of millions.

We learn through conversations and the Web gives us all kinds of options. Your organisation can let those with experience write about it (blogs) or you can record professional development events for use later (podcasts). If podcasts are way too technical for your group, then burn them on a CD and leave them at the door for the commute home. You can let everyone into the conversation while creating new procedures (wikis) or you can record events as pictures and videos and let people continue to talk about them (e.g. Flickr or YouTube).

As our societies changed into democracies, they became noisier. So too will the third wave workplace. However, that noise will be sound of knowledge resilience.

Step 2: Aggregate

Let’s say that you’ve actually got your team using social bookmarks (my last post) and it’s going gangbusters, with hundreds of articles tagged and dozens of people sharing information. You’re getting into attention deficit, with too much to read and not enough time. Now what?

What you need is a feed reader, which is a way for you to decide what you want to keep track of and pulls all of your information sources into one location. Feed readers can be web or desktop applications. Popular web versions are Bloglines and Google Reader, while the Thunderbird e-mail client has an integrated feed reader or you can use NewsGator with MS Outlook.

I use Bloglines but many of my online compatriots seem to be moving to Google Reader. There are dozens of other options.


Feed readers let you pull any new information from a site that has what’s called an RSS feed. Using automatic subscription widgets that can be put into a browser makes this easy and you don’t really need to know about RSS. Like social bookmarks, feed readers can be public or private, and your feed reader can keep track of all those social bookmarks, because they have RSS feeds. For instance, you can subscribe to my bookmarks or you can view the my public feed reader.

There are many resources online that can walk you through the set up of feed reader. If you’re stumped, leave a comment here or send me an e-mail and I’ll connect you with the appropriate resource.

The bottom line is that in Step 1 you started to share information that was previously locked-up on your workstation. With Step 2 you are using a tool that lets you control what you want to monitor and how you want to see it. You’re pulling information, instead of having it pushed at you, as you would with an e-mail newsletter. Pull is replacing push because we’re getting inundated with information. For instance, Jay Cross recently shut down his newsletter, replacing it with existing blogs and other social networking applications, such as the Internet Time Community (worth joining if you’re interested in learning technologies).

Aggregating your information sources (news, blogs, bookmarks) is not going to solve all of your knowledge sharing needs, but it sure is better than using e-mail. Most kids only use e-mail to communicate with their parents; it’s so last millennium 😉

Step 1: Free your Bookmarks

Here is the first small step toward knowledge resilience:

Perhaps the simplest way to start sharing organisational knowledge is with social bookmarks. Most workers still have their list of Bookmarks/Favourites in their web browser, but when they’re not at their computer these links aren’t accessible. Enter the social bookmark.

Social bookmarks are web sites that let you create an account in order to save web pages. They differ from those on your browser in that 1) they’re accessible from anywhere; 2) you can clip a piece of the page for reference; 3) you add categories (a.k.a. tags); 4) you can search your bookmarks; and 5) you can share your bookmarks with others.

Here’s an example from the application:


Other social bookmarks I’ve used are Furl and Ma.gnolia.

Update: I now use Diigo

One advantage of social bookmarks is that they don’t require the IT department’s permission to use. You can start sharing what you find interesting/important with your team or section without any new technology other than a web browser and access to the Internet. You’ll also find that you will be sending a lot fewer e-mails saying, “hey, check this out”. By creating your own “tag” you can have everyone finding information about competitors or new trends. A tag such as “ABC123” can be used by everyone to identify something for a specific project, and then you can search for that tag and the system will show you what everyone has found.

If you want to keep all of this secret, you’ll have to mark all your posts as private and then give others your password. Another option would be use an open source social bookmarking system and bring it inside your company’s firewall, but that would take some cooperation from the IT department. An example of an OS social bookmarking application is Steve Mallett’s [no longer available, but Ma.gnolia is now open source]

As you continue to use social bookmarks you will also see others who have bookmarked similar items and then follow their links to show even more interesting stuff in your field of interest. The more you share, the more you learn.

I use social bookmarks for everything except some password-protected sites, like my bank. I will also set up a new category for a client if it can help us communicate better.

To learn even more, watch Lee Lefever’s Video: Social Bookmarking in plain English, showing how teachers can use social bookmarks for education, but the lessons are applicable for any workplace.

Small steps toward knowledge resilience

“It is not the biggest, the brightest, the best that will survive, but those that adapt the quickest.” Charles Darwin

In a few decades there may be only be one major automaker remaining. Can you imagine a world where automakers don’t reign supreme?

We take our current circumstances for granted, but so did carriage makers and chatauqua organisers. I don’t think that there is any doubt that we’re shifting our economic systems and we’re going to need new organisational structures to support how we live and work. But we’re currently in the period of change where second wave (industrial) and third wave (knowledge) economies co-exist and complete with each other.

Indicators of this fundamental economic change are that YouTube is getting bigger than broadcast media, and growing; while Facebook is grabbing everyone’s attention, including advertisers’. Old models, such as paying for information (newspapers, journals, thought-leaders) are declining. At the same time we are overwhelmed with all the information that is now freely available and we soon realise that we don’t have the attention span for most of it.

Many of my clients in traditional and hierarchical organisations are so busy with meetings, travel, commuting and other non-essential tasks that they don’t have time for their real job, which is probably some form of problem-solving. I’m in a non-traditional job (self-employed) and I have time to read dozens of books every year. I don’t spend time commuting and the only meetings I attend are focused on some deliverable. I have off-loaded some non-core tasks, such as accounting, and I have access to more cheap and free productivity tools than I can ever use. My work model is more effective and efficient for the knowledge economy than the industrial structures of most of my clients.

So how can industrial structures change into knowledge networks?

Business performance in a knowledge economy requires learning – all the time. Informal learning practices will have to be integrated into all of our work structures. Things like annotating, filing, reflecting, discussing and testing will be part of everyday work. If you need to be a creative problem-solver (what else is a knowledge worker?) then you’ll have to do the same. A lot of workers aren’t used to this, and those who want to be creative and flexible are often stymied by regulations and work structures. For instance, how many workers in large organisations are allowed to download and test new software applications? Of course their IT department says it’s for their own good that workstations are locked-down. A really effective IT department would ensure that there is a safe way for all workers to be creative with their productivity tools. My IT department does 😉

Part of the transition strategy for any organisation that wants to build third wave resilience into its second wave structure will be the development of informal learning strategies. Trying out personal knowledge management or finding ways to share and be creative on a continual basis will have to become part of the organisation’s DNA. This will be a major re-wiring exercise but the future will belong to the fast learners.

My next posts will focus on specific practices that could actually be implemented in organisations to make them more resilient in a networked knowledge economy. This is important for organisations as well as individuals, who may find themselves being laid-off from an under-performing company. Ross Dawson provides some recent examples:

There are 4,391 media layoffs in the US in first quarter of 2007 are, up 93% on the same period in 2006.
AOL Time Warner sacks 5000 staff.
San Francisco Chronicle announces plans to cut 25% of its newsroom staff.

Fragmenting the PLE

Jay Cross raises an interesting point about Personal Learning Environments (PLE), in that they eliminate the need to build your own way of engaging people and information on the Web. I haven’t followed PLE development in much detail but it seems to be a hot topic in public education and higher learning establishments. I’ve explained my own Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system, which keeps evolving over time. The concept of PKM on the Web is of some general interest, as it’s a favourite search term for visitors here.

For the past decade the learning management system (LMS) has been the required system for distributed teaching and training and it appears that the PLE is the next wave of LMS. But perhaps the one size fits everyone approach is the wrong way to support personal learning. Instead of trying to create THE BEST PLE for your organisation, it may be better to support individuals in weaving together their unique PLE, with small (learning) pieces, loosely joined.

It’s a different approach and won’t help you to become the local PLE system specialist with your own corner office, but it may actually improve lifelong learning.

For further reading: There is a similar conversation on Mike Caulfield’s blog about loosely coupled assessment.

Design for collaboration

David Sean Lester is focused on collaboration and makes some interesting points on what to consider when designing for collaborative learning. David’s premise is that collaborative learning happens best in a middlespace and then he provides a comparative list of design considerations to support collaborative versus individual learning, for example:

  • practice vs theory
  • learning environment vs learning requirement
  • distributed leadership vs designated leadership
  • role seeking vs goal seeking

This is a good list for any instructional designer who is looking at incorporating collaboration into the design of a program, not just adding a few collaborative activities.

I should note that David and I had corresponded several years ago but lost touch. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected and I came across his new website.

Plus ça change …

Maybe the more things change, the more they remain the same. I was reviewing a White Paper that I had written in 2000 for my employer at the time and found that not much has changed when it comes to workplace learning. This paper was loosely based on some parts of my thesis, which was published in 1998, so the major themes are at least a decade old.

Here was one of my opening statements on knowledge and learning:

Knowledge is the result of the process of learning, and learning can be defined as a process of giving meaning to our experiences. This view of learning as an active, continuous process is essential when examining workplace learning. Learning is not only some formal event, which happens in a classroom, resulting in information to perform a discrete task, but is also a continuing process of doing and reflecting. We know that people learn as they work, and that the pace of learning and re-learning is increasing everyday.

The “learning organization” was the rage in the late ’90’s, but you seem to hear less about it now.

The learning organization has the potential to become the model for the new workplace. Moving from an organization of many independent workers to a network of interdependent workers will require change on many levels. Implementing a learning organization requires that learning occurs at the individual, team and organizational levels. These changes threaten not only personal mental models but traditional power structures. Many employers and organizations are attempting to change their workplaces into more learning-oriented environments, but the current popularity of e-learning must survive the initial infatuation stage in order to develop stable systems for organizational learning.

It makes me think that when it comes to workplace learning, we haven’t advanced that much.

Many people are finding it difficult to make the transfer into the new knowledge-based economy This may indicate a need for adult learning expertise in order to increase business productivity. Workplaces have to allow for individual learning on the job because workers cannot become learners if the climate is not open to change. The changing role of the immediate supervisor to that of coach will be critical in achieving the ideal of the learning organization. The need for educated, knowledgeable workers with current skills and abilities will continue to increase but the power to change the workplace to a more learning-oriented, and therefore more adaptable, environment rests with those in charge: the employers.

I haven’t seen massive changes, have you?