RefME as an example for viral apps

Do you remember Harvard referencing and building lengthy bibliographies during your student days?  If yes, did you find it time consuming?  Yep, thought so, did you ever use the techniques again (presuming you’ve not continued in academia)?  No?  Didn’t think so.

Even if we’re kind to academic referencing it is, at best, a necessary evil to show the development of research skills and the correct representation of ideas (i.e. to avoid plagiarism).  I’ve been to two events this week, the first on Adobe products will get a longer post but the second, on RefME, showed how a tool can go viral with users if it is really well targeted on solving an actual problem.

RefME has built a following of more than one million users quicker than Facebook or Twitter – all thanks to the humble citation!  Why?  Well those negative experiences of citation and bibliography building are now finally tackled through this very easy to use app.

When I studied there were some tools in this space, some institutionally backed, but none as easy as RefME appears from the demos at the #BLEevent.  Overall, I took away a key message here – focus on your audience (whoever they may be) and their challenges/frustrations.  If you are facing a lack of adoption with your corporate/institutional technology then it is probably fair to presume that it is (a) not easy enough to use and/or (b) not solving a problem that is felt keenly enough.

It will be interesting to see if any institutions opt to stand against it as a way of students ‘cheating’ by not having to spend hours formatting their own lists … not to mention all the librarians who will have another thing they ‘own’ taken away from them by technology.

Why I work in ‘learning’

I have had a lot of conversations of late as to why I do what I do and how my career has developed.  The below is a little reflection I initially drafted in a coffee shop earlier in the week…


My primary driver in career considerations, when younger, was that I wanted to do something that would help people better themselves. This was partly driven by, whilst living in Toronto for a year, spending a lot of time in Toronto’s libraries. The library was a haven for me as a temporary resident, providing internet access (when it was not as ubiquitous as today) as well as newspapers, books and entertainment. My academic studies, that followed, in the library/information world further fueled my interest in learning.

I have written before about the particular educational informatics module that was at the heart of my professional focus on completion of my MA and, realistically, still is. My career since then has seen time spent in FE, HE and workplace learning but, in all those environments, my interest in supporting people to better themselves has remained. This has, of course, taken different flavors, from supporting people to pass exams, supporting less able people with basic English language skills, creating an information architecture for tutors and students to interact, developing complex career pathways and learning opportunities, etc.

My view is that personal empowerment is all important, I would argue only with this can you have a truly engaged populace (when it comes to education) or workforce (for organizational L&D). As such I have no interest in being the holder of knowledge, rather the architect and facilitator. This is one area where I differ to some of the people I have met through the years in the learning and library professional communities.

One annoyance of mine, with both the HE and L&D professional worlds is that they too often look for the differences between themselves. I seriously believe you can only support a workforce if you are aware of the school and post compulsory education systems your workplace are emerging from. Similarly universities, as is well recognized, need better links with employers to understand their needs.

Whose education/learning is it then? The answer is increasingly complex, we no longer need a basic workforce for factory, field and forces but one able to adapt. I would see myself as an example of this, taking the ‘I want to help people be better’ mentality to different sectors and roles; the balance of who benefits most from my work will vary between the individual, organization and society.

In terms of L&D specifically I would see the recent recognition of value for skills like curation as, largely, nothing new but recognition of failings in the past. Underpinning all of this is the inevitable move to digital and I’ll post soon some thoughts on some recent posts related to eLearning and the nature of L&D.

I will finish with saying that my ethos of looking to better people and therefore our organizations and society doesn’t necessarily mean I want to work in ‘L&D’. I see the need for far less boundaries in supporting workplace/student performance and there also needs to be a recognition that different traditional professionals are all having similar conversations, for example much of this paper for CIOs will sound familiar to learning professionals facing the need to change for our future digital workplaces.

A webinar day: global love for learning

Yesterday (19th Nov) I planned to attend a few webinars – some rough notes below for the ones I made it to:

The Connected Global Educator (Global Education Conference)

The first session from this year’s GEC I have been able to attend.  The GEC schedule is always hugely impressive and a great example of virtual tools being used to learn globally.  However, it does not seem to attract huge audiences, at least live, with only 7 attendees (split between US, UK, Belarus, Nepal, Argentina and possibly elsewhere) for this session (with the presenter and moderator from Australia).

The presenter (Anne Mirtschin) talked about how she develops learner curiosity through global tools and collaboration.  She connects with people globally with her countryside school in Australia talking to experts, community groups, other schools, etc. around the world to help learning be “far more effective than a textbook”.  Using webcams, etc. also gives the students transferable skills, recognizing that people will talk via Skype, etc. in increasingly global workplaces, as well as with friends and families abroad.  As well as synchronous sessions she has also used asynchronous tools, for example sending video recordings back and forth with US schools.

As well as her own activities can make us of globally organised events, for example, “International Dot Day”.  Lots of good examples were run through, including using WeChat to communicate with Chinese students.  She has had other educators contact her directly – finding her via Google – for example a rural Japanese school connected with them.

My take on all of this is it is amazing for cultural awareness and other learning opportunities.

Showing the value of learning as a service (LSG)

About how the presenter has changed the perception of learning and L&D at Rentokill during 3 years at the company.

Have made the move away from L&D being the experts, controlling things through a center of excellence model.  Looked critically at their setup, for example, was the LMS just there for L&D rather than there to facilitate and democratize learning?  Partnered with a start up (Fuse[?]) to see what could impact on business, lead to creating community based platform to source and share knowledge.  Have given subject matter experts content creator/recorder tools – would have been doing it anyway locally but ability to do it easily amplified this.  Particularly powerful as do on mobile whilst doing job.  Realize time for 40mins eLearning had gone, follow lead of YouTube.

Made use of other tools, including mobile assessments and reflective questions.  Including observational assessment guidance for managers.

Need to assess UG content?  No.  Likes, shares, etc. will see cream rise to top.  Similarly, advantages if previous misunderstandings are now being communicated out as those people can be corrected.

Put price on items to change mindset – give business choice of going to them or elsewhere.  Made people realise the benefit for L&D.  Show can provide value compared to external vendors, make it easier to increase headcount based on demand from business.

Measure total of ‘learning interventions’, measure of access to digital resources – like YouTube play counts.  However, even existing content has had big increases in use – not just growth through chunking.

With good content, created a revenue generating external learning platform for customers.  This is same Fuse platform.  For bigger customers they provide content so they can deploy themselves via an LMS or other system.

Overall a fantastic presentation on how they have transformed learning, changing the approach to learning and the business relationship.

Linking Colleagues, Researchers, Industries and Investments Today – Dr. Mirzi L. Betasolo (GEC)

Joined but unfortunately the presenter had not made the session.

Love Sharing, Love Learning (LSG)

Presentation based on some of points from new booklet Charles Jennings has done with Cornerstone.

Opening question on how people are supporting learning and sharing – wide range of ideas and tools put forward by the audience, as you would expect.

Humans are a social species – talking about natural behaviors.  Technology now driving how we do this.

New work environments emerging, as a result of digital and social for many organizations the “20%” is much bigger in the mix.

Conversation a key learning tool.  Need to create the correct environments, with openness and sharing.  Need trust, honesty, etc.  Can use questions, for example, if a performance manager you should not be talking for the majority of a conversation – mention for US after action review process.

UGC, shared search, all mentioned as playing part in wider changes.  L&D role can be in speeding up knowledge sharing, [step out of the way].

No longer information scarcity, world now is one of information abundance.  Mention for Jarche with KPM/SSS and those skills important in new world.

One role of L&D to find what is not available on the Internet [i.e. the real USP knowledge of your organization] – but now have options to do that seeking/sharing quicker.

Survey of College & University Faculty Workplace Engagement (Inside Higher Ed)

This sounded like a really good session considering the current focus on engagement in the corporate world.  The figures, from US Higher Ed, showed some very low numbers in terms of workplace engagement.  Clearly work to be done in this space.

CIPD Exhibition: November 5th 2015 – The (Re)Birth of Humane Resources?

It was good to see a real recognition of the need for change at this year’s CIPD Conference Exhibition.  There were some good points made by a number of people, a lot coming up in more than one session, my summary and internalization of what I picked up:

  1. Neuroscience hugely important for HR, especially for L&D.  This includes the need to play with emotions and help people from their ‘comfort zone’ to be able to stretch via learning.  For example, when do we ever ask if people are happy approaching learning in a certain way?  How far is pushing people out of their comfort zone (for example making them do role plays when they don’t like them) acceptable?  Overall, we are emotional animals and L&D’s role is to tweak and nurture curiosity.  One thing to avoid is creating anxiety by suggesting certain things are difficult, for example, by insisting people find public speaking and other activities nerve wracking it makes the next generation think the same.  Dealing with anxiety is one of the many areas where ongoing, spaced, learning can help – not just about the forgetting curve.  As well as skills and knowledge development think about confidence too.  Stella Collins ran through 5 specific tips for L&D practice: Guessing is sticky/Curiosity is addictive/We ‘feel’ metaphors/Emotions are memorable/Context is king – just five of the areas where L&D practice is backed by science.
  2. Easy to use tech can start to make HR less annoying.  We all use mobile Apps to make life easier – time has come for internal processes to be as easy.  This includes a certain amount of automation, for example, around identify one’s own profile versus possible future roles.  Supposedly good ideas, such as keeping your workforce healthy, can be reinforced through the use of tech such as Fitbits and using that data to create leader-boards or other competitive elements.
  3. Motivation.  One presentation outlined this as a combination of beliefs, dreams and values.  Yet research (and common sense) enforces the importance of line manager on employee engagement.  The importance of managers living your values and acting consistently has never been greater.
  4. The blend of organizational design, commercial imperatives and people needs to shift.  Automation of boring work will help but HR needs to refocus on Humane Resources.  HR was originally designed, in the industrial age, to help the workers – although worker ‘welfare’ now has negative connotations.  HR needs to support efficiency through a better working environment.  Negative impacts of change can be seen to include online application processes and other HR process work that has been dehumanized.  Ultimately people think Google as a good place to work as it is seen, even if incorrectly, as fun.  If you are after the top talent then the need to consider the nature of work and the workplace is imperative.
  5. People now consider themselves parts of global groups by default – geographic boundaries are an artificial construct when globally connected.  This will only accelerate but doesn’t have to be negative, for example, Nestle have reverse mentoring where junior people support more senior people, including on tech topics.  RBS adoption of Facebook for Work example of implication in working practices for even the biggest organisations.
  6. Tech changes allow for individual voices to be louder.  However, we face major risks (such as global warming) and the collective voice needs to be harnessed better to lobby governments.  Scope here for fundamentally changing business – I’ve mentioned Holocracy before, but other models too.  Options in the future include the election of leadership teams based on actual people skills and representation of values, rather than length of experience or opaque targets/promotions.
  7. Don’t forget about some existing tools that can be used to drive real change, for example, well implemented 360 feedback can shift behaviors.  A lot of the success of this relies on push notifications to make activities routine – people expect these now, similar to notifications on mobile phones, etc.