Coulrophobia

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:asimov

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

*Coulrophobia:  (n) The fear of clowns.

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Education for Effect

Having been in the business of executive and management development for 18 years, I’m quite familiar with the questions clients have about return on investment (ROI).   We routinely include positioning on this in our work proposals, and follow through with components of program design that are explicitly intended to answer that question.  While some program outcomes can be readily measured, others take more time to see impact – so there is a range of applications that can and should be brought to bear as education service providers do their work.

Fundamentally, however, there is often a mindset shift that is required of education service providers.  It is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the event of education, and not on the impact it should have.  Think about how many resources are wrapped up in answering questions about the who, when, what, where and how of education.   Event planners, internal learning and development staff, assessment experts, systems engineers and support staff – all focused (and rightly so) on the delivery of the education.  But what about the ‘why’ of the intervention?

Mindsets need to change about why we, as learning and development leaders and providers, are here.  We are not here to provide learning events alone.  We are here to drive successful, behavioral impact in the business to improve business performance, on whatever metrics have driven the need for learning in the first place.  This has a few critical implications:

  • Often, different conversations with different stakeholders are needed.   You really need to be asking the question:  “As a result of this learning and development initiative, what organizational performance effect are you hoping to realize?”  That may mean that you need to talk to business leaders, and help forge or strengthen the alignment between the L&D function and the line.
  • Your designs, however beautiful and compelling, will be insufficient as long as they do not incorporate the insights from answering the question above.  No learning intervention design should leave the shop without a clear articulation of how you are going to assess the impact of the learning at the organizational level.

These can be tough conversations, especially in ‘hardened’ organizations where traditional educational models reign and budgets and infrastructure are relatively secure.  It can, in fact, be quite threatening to put your reputation on the line, as a learning and development professional, by putting real business impact metrics in place.  However, this is our responsibility – to do anything less would be a disservice.   And, with the many options we have available to us for ensuring that there is accountability, support and process to favor effective application of learning at work, we really don’t have any excuse.

Further good resources here:  Arun’s work at Design4Performance; Conrad and Bob’s 2012 article on the 5 moments of learning need.

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Towards a Pedagogy of Technology, 2

Next installment in this mini-series.  This one is about critically assessing the pedagogical utility of the technology at hand.

Claim 2:  Every tool has its purpose.  Or purposes.

Effectively – every tool has its purpose.  Some can serve more than one, from a pedagogical standpoint.  Thankfully, some good work has been done on this front:  The SAMR model (thank you, Dr. Ruben Puentedura) gives us a framework for thinking about whether the tech at hand is a

  • Substitute – for some existing method or practice.  Think about how polling platforms on mobiles provide a replacement for hand distributing polling questions, or just counting physical hands.
  • Augmentation – enhancing a particular method or practice.  The same example above can be applied here.  New polling tech doesn’t require people to be in the same physical location.  Polling is now ‘augmented’ to reach beyond a physical classroom.
  • Modification – significantly changing the method.  So, think about using shared Google docs to compose a paper.  The rapid collaborative nature of that approach to composition is significantly different than doing hard-copy edits / reviews.
  • Redefinition – my personal favorite:  tech that allows us to do things that were previously undoable.  Think about digital geo-location scavenger hunts.

More recently, that model informs a display created by Allan Carrington that captures a vast array of modern tech, and classifies them along the SAMR categories.  Click here for a PDF of that.  Carrington has done the yeoman’s task of combining a list of modern tech, aligning those with the SAMR framework, detailing what activities these apps and technologies allow, and also what action verbs (think Bloom’s Taxonomy) are implied in these.

For those of us in the adult education arena, we must, must, MUST not fall into the all-too-common trap of recreating bad pedagogy in new technology.  For example, some years back, a tragic thing occurred when a brand new and amazing technology – 3D, avatar-based environments – came into being.  Universities and institutions around the world leapt into action, and nearly every one that I visited (either in Second Life, or in Protosphere, or others) set as their first task to replicate the very buildings of their campuses, complete with tight classrooms with fixed chairs…. in rows…. facing a wall where, guess what, some version of PowerPoint could be displayed.

I nearly cried.

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Towards a Pedagogy of Technology

This is the first in a series of ideas I’d like to share about how to position technology tools in the design and delivery of education.

Four claims for better learning design:

Claim 1: There is an ‘e’ in learning.  It is time for us to move beyond the 1990’s interpretation of technology-mediated learning design.  We still say ‘e-learning’ and that implies often (unfortunately, and understandably) a sub-standard and lonely learning experience – picture the poor soul subjected to hours of ‘click-and-learn’ under the buzzing fluorescent light of the after-hours office.

E-Learning t-shirt 2001

A t-shirt from 2001 from a very recognizable high-tech firm (who shall remain nameless).

Here’s a simple way of thinking about it: There is an ‘e’ in learning.  You may think it trite, but my contention is that as long as we continue to differentiate what is ‘electronic’ from whatever the rest of the learning is, we will continue to constrain our thinking and handicap our designs.  It is our opportunity, as learning designers, to prove this to the world.

Fortunately, that should be easy with more brainpower devoted to appropriately innovative (attention, here, as innovation needs to follow learner context rather than lead with shiny tech) uses of new technologies, the extensions of learning outside the classroom (as referenced in 70, 20, 10) and care in how we develop the designers in our businesses and our network of education providers to operate in these models.

This calls upon us to go beyond content production and to deeply examine the range of tools available to the learner participants, and assess their pedagogical value.

More on that later.

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Closing the Human Distance

We are a connected people.

Years ago, the telephone was a feared technology.  Imagine the heated debates in the business boardrooms – What in the world will happen if we allow people to have them?  Why, they could call anybody, and say anything!!

By and large, people didn’t, although I feel sure that some fraction of the general population for whom the house or work phone was a new tech did transgress lines of propriety.  Technology is just a set of tools; what we choose to do with them is on us.

And I remember in the 70’s as a young teen, vying for time on the home phone to call that particular friend.  We had agreed at school on the specific time – it had to be within a particular window because there was dinner time, chores, homework, etc. and there was only one phone in a house of seven people.  wallphone

Once on the phone, we would stay on for as long as we possibly could, seeking whatever privacy could be afforded by the length of the cord.  And, yes, some unkind things were said, as young teens will often do.  That telephone technology, though, allowed us to talk intimately about things that were going on in our lives, and in our friend’s lives.  It became an essential channel for connection when we were not together at school, or church, or whatever.

Later, as a nineteen year old on a year abroad in France, that same technology was the only

steve-1982

Me on my way to a year in France – pre-Internet or cellphones!

means of live communication with my parents.  It was expensive, making an international call, so I only did it very occasionally, and always after having arranged weeks ahead of time when that call would be.  ‘Very occasionally’, by the way, means that I only had maybe 4 or 5 phone calls with the US during my entire year. The other means of communication was the postal service, and, if they weren’t on strike in France, the most expedient service still required about 10 – 14 days before receipt of a letter.

And so, on either the house phone of the family where I lived (with ZERO privacy) or at a booth at the local Postes Téléphones Télégraphique (PTT) office, I’d dial a million numbers and wait for the connection, hear a crackly voice on the other end, and dive into a rushed conversation trying to get as many details in as I could in the minutes I had purchased.  Sometimes the connection was amazingly clear, and someone would inevitably say “Wow! It sounds like you are right next door!”

Those were vital moments, though, reconnecting over great distance through technology.

I once observed a public phone in Paris that had a long line of obviously foreign people standing and waiting turns.  That was a clear sign that something had broken on the phone, and that it was basically open for service to any number you’d care to dial.  I waited in line behind I think a Russian man.  Given the fortuitousness of the situation, I did not have anyone prepared to receive my call back in the States, so I just took a chance on my best friend.

When the Russian finally hung up, I dialed the many numbers to get to my friend.  (Remember when you had to remember phone numbers?)  It eventually rang.  He picked up.

Communications technologies today abound.  The sheer number of apps available on portable devices has very nearly made the conventional telephone obsolete.  And with wireless services, we are free to connect just about wherever we are, and whenever we wish.   My sons have never known a world without mobile phones.  They have had their own since they were teenagers.  And they’ve had access to computers and all the good and bad that the Internet provides.

Let’s look at the good power of the mobile phone, coupled with the Internet.

Think about this:  If you know the mobile number of a phone anywhere in the world, and if you have a Skype account, you can call that number from your computer for just pennies per minute.  Say, for example, you happen to have the number for a person in Cambodia, or Rwanda, or Columbia you can, in the comfort of your home (or at a local coffee shop for that matter) call them up.

Think about this, too:  If you have a Skype conversation going, you can use other Internet-based technology to broadcast your conversation to a particular channel on the web.  Kind of like having your own personal radio station.  Other people on computers wherever they are in the world could ‘dial in’ to your channel, and hear your conversation with that faraway person.  And all that faraway person needs is a basic cell phone.  And suddenly, they can be heard by many people.  Indeed, a LOT of people.

And finally:  If you have this conversation happening, and you’ve let the Internet-going listeners know when you are going to have it, suddenly you have a live, web-broadcasted conversation with someone very far away from you (and perhaps from most of your audience), AND your audience can use a chat tool to tell you what questions THEY have for the person on the other end of the line.  A one-to-one conversation suddenly becomes a facilitated one-to-many conversation.digital-cockpit

global-contacts

The ‘digital cockpit’ in my house, and the locations of individuals / organizations I ended up connecting with for non-profit work.

Everyone is learning.  Human distance disappears.   Everyone feels connected.

What if we really are all ‘right next door’?  Would that change how we feel about people that are far away, geographically?

This is the promise of new communications technologies, to bring us closer as humans who happen to live at great distance from each other.  We feel connected to them, and empathize with them.  Just as I felt my friend’s anguish over middle-school drama back in the 70’s, so we feel our fellow human’s joys and sorrows.

The good power of text messaging.

In the late 90’s there were a few chat clients that came out.  Being a person interested in new communications technologies and education, I was (and am) always trying new things.  I downloaded the AOL Instant Messenger client and created an account.  aolrunningman

At the time, you could just see whoever was online – anyone, anywhere.  I remember randomly choosing someone I saw that had an interesting name.   I think I just said ‘Hello!’.   I remember now the nervous giddiness that ensued, waiting to see if I’d get a response.

Bling.

“Hello!”, the answer came.

What followed was an exchange of basic information – who we were, what we did for jobs, where we were, etc.  He was Turkish gentleman, employed at a bank there in Istanbul.  I had never, and have never, been to Istanbul.  He had never been to the US.  We chatted for some time.

Over the weeks and months that followed, we would occasionally just say ‘Hi’ to each other, and ask each other about our kids, work, etc.  I had a connection with this guy, and I had never met him.  I cared about his story – his family, his life, his worries, etc.  I didn’t know how much I cared at first.  Not until the earthquake of 1999.

istanbul-earthquake

Istanbul.  1999.

I must’ve heard about it in the news, I’m not sure.  But the first thing I did when I got to work was IM my friend in Istanbul.  No answer.  Several days went by with me checking in.  Finally he answered – he was quick to tell me that he and his family were fine, but that there was some pretty serious local damage.  We had a short exchange about that.  I was relieved to know he was okay.  And I felt special, to be honest, that I had an insight from someone there.

I honestly believe that if I had not made that early, text-only, connection, that the events in Istanbul would have just rushed past me like so many other news items do – just noise in the background that may cause a moment’s superficial concern.  The connection with my friend there was human, not just technical.

I lost touch with that friend in Istanbul – I’m not sure why or how, honestly.  I think my friends list grew and that the technology changed in some ways that I ended up switching to other services.  But that’s okay; to this day, I still think about Turkey and Istanbul in particular, and feel like I know someone there.  And I care about what happens there as a result.

I believe mine is a story shared by many; and as communication technologies continue to develop, we will very likely have more tools at our disposal for connecting with people in meaningful ways. Connecting carries the possibility of care, and that is a very good thing.  And you might agree with me that care (connection, compassion, concern) is something that we can never have enough of.

I invite you to join me (and millions of others) in closing the human distance that would otherwise be there.   Choose your channel.  Reach out.

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Faith in the back seat

The other night my wife and I were out to get some Sunday dinner.  The events of the weekend having conspired to leave us little energy or food ready to cook, we set out to find something simple at a local restaurant.  That’s when we met Faith.

Turning the corner onto a 2-lane highway, there was a lady standing on the side of the road, shifting and looking nervously back and forth down the road.  Given the time of day (getting dark), location and weather, I pulled over and rolled the window down.

Faith grew up in New Jersey, and spent some time traveling in Europe.  She was at one faithpoint a model living in NYC, and she rattled off the names of ‘haute couture’ designers for whom she had worked.  She could speak a little French, as her mother-in-law was French – we had a good laugh about ‘merde, alors!’.

She raised four children, was divorced years ago, and went to school in Florida following a dream of becoming a lawyer.  Bills piled up and work was hard to find, and she quit school with $90,000 in student loans.

We drove past a house where she thought a friend might be, but the car wasn’t there.  She told us how she was working odd jobs, and was scared to death to get a full time job because the loan collectors would find her.  Her friend owed her five dollars, after partial payment for cleaning a room in the house.

We wound up at a local pizza joint – we were all hungry.  Faith gestured and scratched with the pattern of those under the influence.  I’m pretty sure she was a drug user.  And we had a conversation about history, politics, international culture and kids.  She said she’d probably vote for Trump in the upcoming election because we need a strong military and need to kick ISIS out of our country.

All of this just reminded me of how lucky I am (and we are), and also how much more we need to do to connect with those that are so often marginalized, so that we understand their reality – so that we empathize, and are more considerate in our thinking about those, including Faith, who might be standing in the cold.

 

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Soft Skills, Hard Results

This is a repost of something I wrote for work.  We often overlook the opportunities to structure follow-up and reconnection with participants after the ‘event’ of learning is done.   This is just a little story about that…

It was pretty early in my day.  I set my coffee maker up the night prior, with an early start of 05:30.   By 6:00, I was in my desk chair, at home, logging in to a webinar hosted from the other side of the world.

These leaders run businesses around the world – from cement factories to retail clothing to telecommunications services.  I sip my coffee and think back to what feels like ages ago – when we were all together in Mumbai, sharing stories, debating issues, gaining insights, and resolving to do something important – to make a difference.

It was actually only 3 months ago, and the time had gone by very quickly.  In today’s world, you blink and things change.  This is the reality that these business leaders face, and what’s fascinating for me is their sense of responsibility for the world around them.   It was this whirlwind of change that fueled much of our discussions together in Mumbai.   They were not only concerned about the performance of their various businesses (the ‘bottom line’), but also the well-being of their workforce, and of the larger communities in which they operate.

It won’t be news to anyone that has spent time working in that part of the world, but for those that haven’t, India is a fascinating, bustling, deeply culturally complex nation.  It is growing, in population and in business operations.   Much of India is still quite rural, with villages scattered around its vast land area.  And of course there are the giant urban areas of key cities.  In the outlying areas, however, the businesses that operate there often are the sole providers of employment.

I had quite a mix in the classroom.  Some had traveled from Canada to be in the room.  Others had come in from rural areas northeast of Mumbai.  Still others had arrived from  Indonesia and North Africa.  All of them were excited to have some time together, as is always the case – time to learn from each other, and learn more about themselves, as leaders.  We spent a good deal of time working on issues pertinent to the overall enterprise, including trends affecting the various businesses, natural resource shortages, environmental impacts, new hire attraction and retention, and local community stewardship.  These are heady issues.  They go beyond what we may think of as basic management skills.  This is really about helping these leaders be ready for what’s next – for them, their businesses, and the communities within which they operate.

It was time to start.  The presentation slides were in place.  Only 5 slides.  Mostly photos from when we were together to spur memories and hopefully a few smiles around the world.  The participating leaders arrived – each greeting the rest with gusto.  The lines were crackly and sometimes there were strange noises that sounded like an echo chamber.  But we got down to it – the last slide simply said “What have you achieved?”.

The program sponsor, a senior executive in the organization, was on the line, and gave a heartfelt message of pleasure to be rejoining this group.  As I opened the floor up to the participants, I saw the hands go up in the webinar.  I started in. It was great.  There were a number of stories told; some were about ongoing progress being made with new projects taken on.  Other stories were about issues that were uncovered, and requests for advice from others in the room.  Hands went up – it was easy to moderate.  Ideas were shared and the network established 3 months prior was put into action.

One particular story stands out.  As part of the design of this developmental  program, each of the leaders went through a 360 process.   Their results were conveyed to them by a qualified expert while we were together in Mumbai.  They had time, individually, to reflect, discuss and plan what steps they would take, given their results.  Notably, a number of participants needed to be more enabling and less authoritarian in their leadership style.

This one man, let’s call him S.P., he was quite affected by his scores and realized that his style in his team meetings was creating the very source of frustration that he’d been struggling with for so long.  His team was silent.  They never brought any ideas to the table.  He was constantly having to tell them what to do.

After receiving his 360 scores, discussing with our educator and with his peers, he decided to do something about it.  Each of the participants were asked to articulate 3 actions they were going to take at the end of the residential program, how they would know those actions were successful, and a general timeline for completing them.  His was really simple:  Open up his team meetings by doing a lot more listening, encouraging his team members to share ideas, and having them lead parts of the meetings.

As he relayed his story, others on the line affirmed that they, too, had similar results.  S.P.s were quite dramatic.  One of his team members had recently brought forth an innovative idea on how to improve a process within their workflow that is now saving the organization, by his calculation, over $10,000 every month.

It’s not a million-dollar idea.  But it is just one of potentially many more, and, more than the positive bottom line impact on the financial report, this shift in mindset and skillset towards ‘soft’ skills in leadership has created a sense of shared ownership and innovation, with clearly some ‘hard’ results.

I looked out the window after closing down the webinar.  The sun was out; time for another cup of coffee.

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Original post; August 24, 2015 @ http://www.dukece.com/soft-skills-hard-results/ 

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