Shifting Perspective: Recap of Learning Solutions #LSCon and Learning Ecosystems #Ecocon

How do you capture the “vibe” of two collocated conferences with over 100 sessions? The Learning Solutions and Learning and Performance Ecosystems conferences held in late March by the eLearning Guild in Orlando, Florida each had their own vibe but the overarching phrase I would use to describe them would be “Shifting Perspectives.” We have all heard countless times that the learning industry like so many others is in the crosshairs of major upheavals fueled by technology and driven by intense economic forces. These two conferences went far in showing concrete examples of thinking and methodologies that are equipped to handle this level of change. The key to making a difference is in shifting our perspective and these sessions made a strong case for doing just that.

Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, the gurus of Performance Support held a Morning Buzz session on Wednesday. These sessions are usually supposed to be informal chats over coffee about topics of interest but Bob and Conrad led a full scale invasion of their topic piling on a wealth of information and insight. Their key message was that much of what people need to know is needed at the moment when the work is being done. Learning groups need to shift their perspective from pulling people out of the work to learn through training towards bringing learning into the workflow as Performance Support. “When we enter the classroom, we leave context behind. We then have to work hard to recreate the context.” Bob explained. “With Performance Support, the context is already there in the work.”

The keynote speaker Tom Wujec used the recent history of technological disruption to show the necessity for changing perspective in order to keep up. He challenged the crowd by saying “As educators we have an obligation to help people understand how to use technology.”

The audience at Learning Solutions is always lively, fun and a bit irreverent but over on the Learning Ecosystems side, things were more serious. Here were the people who have been tasked in their companies with creating this amorphous thing called an Ecosystem. When Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman, both outspoken proponents of the Ecosystems concept gave their presentations, the attendees were hanging on every word. Marc explained that we all already have Ecosystems. The question is whether they are robust enough to serve our needs. Again we were being encouraged to shift our perspectives from being focused on what we need to deliver as learning professionals to focus more on what the associates need to know to do their jobs. This expands learning beyond just training and across a spectrum of resources: Talent Management, Knowledge Management, Social Media collaboration, access to experts and Performance Support as well as standard training.

The person who for me gave the best hands-on example of this kind of shift in perspective was my friend JD Dillon who recounted his approach over the past five years transforming corporate learning at Kaplan. Instead of focusing on the content of courses, JD focused on the knowledge that people needed access to. If it wasn’t written down and available for everyone then it wasn’t going to be provided as learning. To that end he built a Wiki of the entire body of knowledge of how work gets done at Kaplan. More importantly he built it and maintained it by creating a culture of collaboration. as the work process evolves, the people doing the work continuously contribute to the Wiki. The next shift happens in moving needs analysis directly to the learners themselves. Every morning everyone plays games on the Gaming-Assessment engine provided by Axonify. When they struggle they are sent to the exact place in the Wiki where the information exists. When they win, they get points that can be traded for swag or bid on things like a 25 minute meeting with the CEO. This twist in focus means that the daily life of an employee is tied in with learning and contributing to knowledge. This frees the L&D department to create targeted learning that covers deeper more impactful topics.

The world around us is shifting rapidly and shifting our perspectives is how we will adapt and better serve our constituents. Conferences like these are good places to be be reminded and encouraged in this direction.

Finding the Embedded Meaning in Unstructured Data

If you are implementing learning technology you probably need data, and a lot of it. Maybe you need course data for an LMS of you need content for a content management system or a learning portal.

The data you need is in the heads of learning folk. But when you get that data it is usually unstructured: merged cells, inconsistent hierarchies, superfluous columns.  You roll your eyes once again and IM your tech buddies about what idiots your stakeholders are. But this doesn’t help you at all.  It will take you many meetings to tease out the data that you need and by that time you will be frustrated and at risk of missing your deadlines and your stakeholders will have lost faith in your process.

You need to let go of your smugness about understanding the need for structured data.  You don’t have time for it.

I was staring at one of these unstructured data sets one day and I had an epiphany. Once I let go of my frustration and tried to see things from my stakeholders’ view I realized something important.  Learning folk aren’t taught data structure but they are rewarded for imparting meaning into the visual format of documents.  How can you blame them for expecting that the meaning implied in formatting is transferable to systems?

All of those shifts in metadata and hierarchy tell a story. A computer program can’t read that story but as a human you can read it. It is your job to find that story and interpret it in a way that can be replicated in the system.

It may take longer to extract but it sure beats countless frustrating meetings.

10 Things to Take Out of Elearning

“In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped”  –  Lao-Tsu – The Tao Te Ching

Designers of eLearning are creative people who want everyone to love what they do. They want to put in all the newest and best ideas into their work. Unfortunately learners don’t always want or need what is produced. I may be called a heretic by my more traditionalist friends but I propose to do away with some elements of typical eLearning that have been thought to be sacred cows. Continue reading

10 Ideas for Integrating Social Media with Formal Courses

There is a lot of excitement being generated around using Social Media for learning and with good reason. Social Media tools support Informal Learning which is recognized as the primary way that people learn (an interview with Jay Cross author of “Informal Learning”). However, some of this buzz reminds me of the early days of eLearning when it was proclaimed that “classroom training is dead” (see this article from way back in 1996). Obviously, classroom training is still predominant (Bersin). Continue reading


Welcome to the “Creating Understanding” blog. The truth is that you can’t make someone understand something. You can only create the environment and framework for them to understand. This blog is about my exploration of how Learning Technologies can be best used to create an environment where learning professionals can achieve business goals by getting the right message to the right people as efficiently and effectively as possible given the resources available. There seems to be a sea change happening in the Enterprise Learning space. People are questioning the assumptions of the old course assembly line. I think this is a good thing. We should question any assumption that makes things harder for learners and the people paying for the learning. But we also shouldn’t take for granted that newer beats older. Just like the fact that eLearning didn’t entirely replace instructor led training, I don’t think Social Media will entirely replace eLearning. The criticisms of big Learning Management Systems are valid but there still is a value in using them in certain situations. These are all just tools. I believe that you choose the tool for each task based on what best serves the needs. In this blog, I will be examining these issues and hopefully, I will be able to create a dialog around them. I’m glad to have you join me.