2011 Resolution Reality Check

As I gleaned my Google Reader for interesting things to report to the Workplace Learning Today readers, I noticed a few predictable patterns in early January posts. I found could classify about 50% of the blog posts I surveyed into 3 categories: the past year in review, predictions for the new year and of course, new year resolutions. The latter category was the one that really caught my attention, as it seems to be the one area where I see many people, myself included, shooting themselves in the foot.

The following are a sampling of the well intentioned personal and professional improvement 2011 resolutions posts that I found:

There are even smart phone apps that claim to help reinforce new year resolutions. But I couldn’t help wonder if making resolutions is such a wise thing to do. So I kept searching.

I came across a post by corporate consultant Stephen Shapiro who discovered in his research that New Year’s Resolutions just don’t work.

According to our study, only 8% of Americans say they always achieve their New Year’s resolutions. The way it seems to work now, setting a New Year’s Resolution is a recipe for defeat.

He goes on to write that people eventually put an end to the misery of trying to keep up the resolution and call the whole thing off. One of the core issues, according to Shapiro’s research, is that when making a resolution, people focus on where they want to be rather than enjoying where they are right now.

We sacrifice today in the hope that a better future will emerge — only to discover that achievement rarely leads to true joy.

Now Shapiro isn’t against self-improvement, but rather provides detailed guidelines for making more sustainable resolutions. The headlines are:

  1. Choose a broad theme rather than specific measurable goal.
  2. Choose an expansive and empowering theme.
  3. Reflect on the previous year.
  4. Develop your theme jointly.
  5. Remind yourself of your theme.
  6. Remain open to new possibilities and to changes in direction at any point in the future.

Personal growth blogger Tina Su echoes this type of resolution in posting how she will approach and envision her 2011 year:

The commitment I will make today is to relinquish an idealistic definition of perfection that has bubbled up empty goals, with only a façade of meaning. I can, then, wholeheartedly make room to embrace true commitments that honestly serve who I am; even in all of its imperfection.

These are truly phenomenal tips for steering resolutions down a more successful path. In addition, I’d add the following bit of advice from Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself.

I guess that I already broke that rule once, stating that one of my resolutions was to blog more.

References:

Practice Makes Perfect, or at Least Expert

The premise of Tony Schwartz’s article is that any talent, skill or ability can be developed like a muscle, that is by working it out, by pushing past the comfort zone, breaking it and then resting. It reminds me very much like Steven Covey’s 7th habit, Sharpen the Saw.

Schwartz refers to Aristotle’s “We are what we repeatedly do” explaining that repetition and practice is the key to real performance improvement as well as overall benefits for focussing, being creative, empathic and less stressed.

If you want to be really good at something, it’s going to involve relentlessly pushing past your comfort zone, along with frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures. That’s true as long as you want to continue to improve, or even maintain a high level of excellence. The reward is that being really good at something you’ve earned through your own hard work can be immensely satisfying.

Here, then, are the six keys to achieving excellence we’ve found are most effective for our clients:

  1. Pursue what you love.
  2. Do the hardest work first.
  3. Practice intensely.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks.
  6. Ritualize practice.

He details these keys in his post, giving tips on how one might start on this path of self-improvement.

Reference:

E-Learning Study Shows Rippling Impact of Professional Development

ScienceDaily reports on Boston College researchers who engaged in large-scale randomized experiments with the purpose of studying the impact of online professional development for teachers who aimed at improving their instructional practices as well as their subject matter knowledge. In the e-Learning for Educators: Effects of Online Professional Development on Teachers and their Students study, what they observed was not only that engaging in professional development had an impact on the teachers’ performance, but that it had a rippling impact on their student’s achievements.

Boston College Associate Professor of Education Laura O’Dwyer reported that:

“The studies also show that teacher participation in online professional development can translate into improvements in targeted student outcomes.”

In addition, study Director Lynch School Associate Professor Michael Russell stated that:

“Given the positive effects found across these studies, it is reasonable to expect that on-line professional development is an effective strategy for supporting teaching in difficult-to-staff content areas, like mathematics and science.”

One could easily transpose these findings to the workplace training world and make a case for the importance of professional development of training professionals. The more we know, the more we can help.

References:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Building the Argument for Changes in Enterprise Learning

Today Jay Cross posted his elevator speech on what he does in his post Enterprise learning:

Most of the businesses and governments live in the last century. They cling to industrial-age beliefs that the world is predictable, management has the answers, and workers are under their control. In the real world, no one has the answers, collective intelligence beats top-down decisions, and management’s task is to inspire people rather than tell them what to do.

Corporations need to replace traditional training, knowledge management, and in-house communications with something more informal, interactive, collaborative, self-service, impromptu, and flexible. Instead of pushing content, they need to be facilitating conversation. I try to help them get there.

So what do you do?

I think when Jay asked “what do you do?” he meant, “how do you define yourself”. I could actually steal Jay’s elevator speech because that it pretty much what I do. Or at least what I’d like to be doing more and more of. But I can’t sell a service that people won’t buy, right? So I’m going to interpret it another way. What I do is try not to get discouraged/feel frustrated by those who cling to the industrial-age beliefs and want me to implement top-down learning systems. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some break-throughs, but I find I face so much resistance.

I know there has been a lot of research on why there is so much resistance to change.

Sometimes I wonder if my argument for change is not solid enough.

Perhaps this might help. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently released a report of their research on the use of social media by the Inc 500. I discovered this report via Ross Dawson who writes that “this is one of the first longitudinal studies, showing changes in adoption of social media tools from one year ago”.

In addition, a little over a month ago, Tony Karrer blogged about a Fortune Magazine interview with GE’s CIO who reports that their professional networking site gets 25 million hits per day and is “is becoming sort of a heartbeat of the company”.

There are definitely no lack of arguments for this change.

My concerns are the following:

  • I’ve found I’ve been able to implement change slowly: a little blog here, a little discussion forum there. But is this the most effective way to implement this kind of change?
  • Perhaps eventually they’ll think of a larger scale implementation, but I need to show the results and evaluation is a little trickier in this arena. What are the ways that we can concretely assess success with this type of learning?

I’m curious what kind of arguments and approaches have been successful in helping organizations change. I’d love some feedback.

References:

Diversity 08 Conference

As part of my work with the “Leverage Immigrant Talent to Strengthen Canadian Business” project for the University of Ottawa, I will be co-presenting along with Dr. Linda Manning and Dr. John Paul Hatala at the Diversity 08 Conference in Montreal Canada on June 20th 2008.

Our two conferences are entitled:

The Diversity 08 conference will address themes relating to managing cultural diversity in public sector organizations as well as the private sector.

Dr. Manning is the Director and Senior Researcher, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa, and Dr. Hatala is an Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University.

Web 2.0 in Industry and in Academia

I delivered a presentation on Designing eLearning Environments for Learning Organizations at the ISPI Montreal’s 2006 Conference, which was assisted by Lt(N) Brett Christensen & Lt(N) Jason Barr of the Learning Technology and Innovation Cell of the Canadian Forces. Since then, we have been in communication discussing the role of eLearning/Web 2.0 to support virtual communities of practice and performance improvement

As a result, I have been invited to co-animate an interactive workshop with them on the application of Web 2.0 services to training, education and operations at the Canadian Forces Training Development Branch Association (CFTDBA) 2007 Conference on May 30th, 2007.

Click here to view the promotional Podcast (6 min.) to find out more. It requires the Flash Player to run

Here is the presentation team, minus Major Lemieux who had to leave right after his part of the presentation. In this picture: Lt(N) Brett Christensen & Lt(N) Jason Barr of the CFTDC R&D Company as well as LCdr Bruce Forrester, DTEP 3 and myself.

Organizational Learning Strategy and eLearning

Situating the Current Popular eLearning Offering

When one decides to venture into the world of eLearning, he or she will quickly come across the following terms:

  • Learning object: a pre-defined parcel of learning that elaborates on a subject or a notion. It is usually developed with rich multimedia.
  • Learning Content Management System (LCMS): a system that enables the organization and sequencing of learning objects to follow a preset learning path.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS): a system that manages individual learning paths and tracks the learner’s participation and results. It usually interacts with an LCMS and many systems today integrate both.

These technologies are usually worked into a training oriented design where information is essentially pushed to the learner. A certain degree of computer programmed interactivity is planned with the objective of keeping the learner engaged. However, the overwhelming majority of learning objects, at best, transfer a small amount of procedural knowledge—how to do something—and are often limited to declarative knowledge—what is something.

This approach, if properly developed, can be useful when a content push is required such as in the case of introducing new information, demonstrating a step-by-step procedure or other similar processes, etc. But it doesn’t even begin to address the need to develop situational, critical and creative thinking skills at an individual level. This approach cannot transfer contextual knowledge, causal knowledge or foster the development or transferable skills. In essence, it is an incomplete solution and we must push the eLearning offering further.

Looking At a Larger Picture

Organizational development experts began to really expand on the concept of a Learning Organisation in the early 1990s. Peter Senge, a leading expert defines learning organizations as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” (Senge 1990: 3)

The idea that was brought forward by many experts in this field was one of transformation through systems thinking primarily at three levels:

  1. Aligning Objectives: Building a shared vision by linking individual performance and objectives with organizational performance objectives.
  2. Empowering Individuals: Enabling individuals within an organisation to develop personal mastery and reach their goals by providing them with mental models and continuous learning opportunities as well as encouraging creative and critical thinking.
  3. Cultivating Communities: Promoting team learning, cultivating inquiry and dialogue, addressing differences and tensions and using them to stimulate innovation.

Now fifteen years later, the American Management Association reported in their 2005 Global Study of Leadership that “fostering creativity and innovation” was the fifth most highly ranked leadership competency today. They insisted that the “the leader must foster creativity and innovation, both by providing the opportunity to tackle big business issues and by creating a culture where risk-taking and decentralized decision-making are encouraged and rewarded. All too often, executives preach risk-taking and the encouragement of change, but practice control and adherence to established policies and practices.” (AMA 2005: 61)

That said, in order to entrust employees with the mandate of being change agents, the manager needs evidence that employees have the requisite skills and competencies. The plan to develop these skills and competency needs to be embedded in the organization’s learning strategy.

Dynamic eLearning Environments for the Learning Organization

eLearning expert Stephen Downes explains that today’s Web user expects more than a content push. With the advent of social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts and other types of conversational Web usage, online users are creating connections in a complex self-directed learning network. Many Virtual  Learning Environment Systems such as Moodle, in recognizing that a series of sequenced learning objects will not suffice, are strategically integrating these functionalities within their systems with the intention of fostering a socio-constructivist learning environment.

Downes, as well as many experts in the field, insist that eLearning must look at these current networking and information sharing practices and embed them into our eLearning strategies. “Learning is characterized not only by greater autonomy for the learner, but also a greater emphasis on active learning, with creation, communication and participation playing key roles, and on changing roles for the teacher, indeed, even a collapse of the distinction between teacher and student altogether.” (Downes 2005)

By developing learning strategies that incorporate these social networking concepts, the potential for designing and developing learner-centered environments that foster reflective, creative and critical thinking is limitless.