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ASTD / ISPI Social Learning Workshop

May 27, 2009

Last week, I had the opportunity to present at a combined ASTD / ISPI Social Learning workshop.  A lot of it was a rehash of some of the other presentations I have done via webinars, but live and with an active audience.  I really like having a live audience.  Don’t get me wrong, webinars are great, but there is something more spontaneous and vibrant about the live experience.

I particularly like it when the audience challenges me, and in this case, that happened about 60 seconds into the presentation.  I was doing a typical audience survey, trying to get a handle on what they knew about social media before diving in more deeply.  My final question was whether anyone was “live tweeting” my session.  Bam!  Multiple hands shoot up almost as if they were waiting for me to ask that question.  “Why would I live tweet anything?”  “Isn’t it rude to have a laptop open when someone is presenting?”  “What exactly is the point of tweeting?”  I think I’ve answered these pretty well already, here and here.  What I said in the session was a succinct rehash of the points from these previous posts.

One thing that was interesting though was when the “turn” happened.  I think I won them over when I started talking about learning styles and the fact that everyone has expertise worth sharing.  Some of them were won over by the argument that many, if not most, learners need to actively engage with the material.  My basic argument went like this: if we accept the notion of learning styles, we have to acknowlede that asking learners to sit there like passive lumps for 20-30 min chunks of time (in the best of scenarios) is probably not conducive to real engagement and synthesis.  My other argument was a bit more brutal.  In a nutshell, I asked who among them thought so highly of themselves that they felt they had nothing to learn from the knowledge and expertise of their students.  My point of course was that we all have expertise in something and we’re pretty damn full of ourselves if we don’t look for opportunities to grow and learn from our colleagues.  Teacher today; student tomorrow and vice versa.  We need to start treating learners less like the unwashed masses and more like the professional colleagues they are.

Another interesting moment in the session came when I introduced the stories around Cisco’s iZone and iPrize initiatives.  (You can find both on my Case Studies pages.)  In each case, Cisco is driving innovation from crowdsourced initiatives.  In the case of iZone, the initiatives are internal to Cisco, driven by employee contributions.  In the second, they looked to the public.  To me, these are obvious examples of emergent and collaborative learning.  So naturally I asked how many of my session participants felt like these examples should be within their scope of their responsibilities – 3 hands went up.  3 hands out of 90 participants.  Ouch.  Naturally, I then said something like “And this is why many of you will be looking for work in a few years.”  Yeah, I’m like that sometimes.

I also made the obvious connections for them.  On the one hand, we all accept that it’s our job to share the company’s vision about product and product direction.  We also all agree that it’s our job to train sales people and in some cases, to train customers.  But apparently, when the workers or customers define the vision about product and company direction, it’s not our job to facilitate that exchange or provide a platform for it.  I realize that the first scenario is much neater and cleaner, and that the second scenario is messier and less tidy.  I get that.  I really do.  Once you strip away the messiness though, what you have is the same scenario, even the same actors, just different roles.   And in one scenario we’re the Director and Producer, and in the other we’re in the audience watching while others take the reins.  Why is this exactly?  Why are we so willing to abrogate our responsibilities?

The other point that I think hit home for folks in the session was my comparison of the learning space with the encyclopedia and news industries.  It’s an uncomfortable comparison, but an accurate one I think.  Both the news industry and the encyclopedia industry were and are about packaging up expertise into neat little bundles and then presenting them to the masses.  Sound familiar?  Pretty much what trainers do right?  And what happened to the news industry and the encyclopedia industry?  Yea, exactly.  My challenge to them?  “You are all intermediaries in a world which is becoming increasingly disintermediated.  You need to redefine yourselves now while you still have time.”  To their credit, the participants rolled with the message and asked all the right questions.

These were the highlights on my part of the session.  Bill Cava and Mark Bucceri both did a great job on their parts as well, and the whole thing was masterfully coordinated by Jean Marrapodi.  I’m hoping I have the chance to do a session like this again as it was ridiculously fun.  The SlideShare is below.  No audio on this one I’m afraid as I miscued the mic.  Hopefully the comments above will provide the necessary flavor and backstory.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wendi permalink
    June 3, 2009 9:11 am

    Enjoyed the session and learned new ideas. Agree interaction was fabulous. Jean M is fabuous too! MASS ISPI hopes to bring another session to chapter in the fall.

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