Celebrating Our 500th Blog Post!!! (Remembering our first ever and sharing our top 10 of all times)

That last blog post tipped it over – 500 blog posts, written since 5 October 2006. With an average of 50 per year (nearly weekly) that’s not too bad. In this celebratory blog post – I reread our first ever blog post and, using our stats, link to our Top 10 of all times.

Here is our very first blog post – it was about blogging, I wonder if I heeded my own advice?

What Did I Notice Sailing Around the Blogosphere? Learning About Blogs (first published on 6 October 2006)

We have just started our blog about learning at our organization and in doing so, I did some learning myself about blogs (after being completely inspired by a presentation on the power of this medium by Alex Steffan from www.worldchanging.com). I spent around 3 hours looking at many blogs about learning and here is what I noticed:

1. The blog itself needs a distinguishable title and a good tag line that talks about what the theme is. Otherwise it is hard to find it;
2. Colour and font are important for readability;
3. Short is definitely good. But too short unless there is some pithy content is not good. www.Dormgrandpop.com site has good length – long enough to develop a thought, and not too long to get boring;
4. Links are valuable;
5. Postings have great title names – clever (think New Scientist);
6. No spelling errors. This reduces trust in content;
7. Write in full sentences and with proper punctuation and capitalisation – otherwise it is not easy to take seriously; and
8. Archives are hard to use if there is not a search function on the site. It is hard to look into the date archives if you are looking for something special. Thematic archives seem easier to use, except that not too many blogs have thematic archives (some do.)

We are just going to start our blog and get going. We will no doubt find our pace in a few days…

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Well, I think for the most part we stuck to those observations.  I still believe in using English my mother would approve of (wait, is that a stranded preposition??) We have our search feature and our posts are tagged by topic to make them easier to use. Perhaps the posts are a little longer than I recommended to me by my 10-year younger self. Maybe I am getting wordier as I get older?

And for our top 10 blog posts of all times – here’s what the wisdom of crowds thinks from 10th most popular to the 1st…..drum roll please!

10. Looking for a productivity gadget that’s low tech for a change? Try Nu Board
09.  Fast and easy workshop reports with Penultimate
08. Suggested Facilitation Strategies: As the Facilitator how do you work with personal desires for harmony or debate? 
07. The Connected Facilitator: What’s in the online toolbox?
06. Online Facilitation: Adapting to an online environment with free(mium) tools – Part II
05. Good Learning Design Discussions: Where to start?
04. Must See for Learning Practitioners and Educators: Remembering Rita Pierson
03. New Systems Thinking Game: The Flashmob Game
02. Learning with the Business Model Generation’s Canvas

and the most popular post of all time…
01. Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic (The drier the topic the better!) 

There seems to be a little technology bias in the crowds, and a soft spot for games. Learning is one of our leitmotivs, so that isn’t surprising, and facilitation is one of the most common tools we use to help groups and teams with their reflective practice and learning work.

Well, on to our next milestone, wonder what will be popular 10 years from now?

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Making Meetings Meaningful – Greatest Hits from an Organization’s Learning Department

In doing the research for a participants’ guide for the Facilitation learning programme we’re launching with a partner next week, I found a nice “greatest hits” collection that we made of some of our blogging reflections on the topic of making the most of internal meetings.  These posts were written from inside a large organization’s learning department and give some insight into the internal dialogues, learning and engagement processes (all kinds of meetings and gatherings) that institutions convene to help work through issues and generally get things done.

I am delighted now that we captured our learning at the time in this format – a blog- and wrote it with the spirit of creating “reusable learning objects” (I was always banging on about RLOs in the organization, now that I am actually reusing them I am delighted!)

This collection of 18 posts is organized below (with summaries and links) into the following categories that explore aspects of how to Make Meetings Meaningful:

  1. Purpose
  2. Positioning, and
  3. Process (e.g. design, implementation, reflection) 
  

1) What’s the Purpose?

Are we having conversations that matter?
How are the conversations our organization is having changing the nature of relationships and the way people, groups and societies around the world are thinking and behaving? In other words, to what extent are our conversations bringing about the change we seek and helping achieve our objectives? And how can we continue to improve the quality of our conversations to better ensure that they matter?

  

What Is the Purpose of ‘Free Coffee Mornings’?
What value do weekly free coffee mornings have in fostering staff networking and informal learning in our organization? We decided to explore the opinions of others in our organization on this topic, through a short questionnaire. Many staff commented on the exercise itself, pointing out learning about how to make the most of free coffee mornings in the future to engage with staff, about how enthusiastic staff are to express their opinions, and the importance of ‘social spaces’ and time for team-building and collaboration across ‘silos’.

You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?
What are some of the different purposes of a Staff Meeting?

-To update and inform staff members of activities in the institution
-To profile people who have done good work and let them share their reflections
-To maintain transparency and an open environment for sharing
-To bring staff together for a shared experience once and a while
Have you ever been to a great staff meeting? What was it about the meeting that made it useful, interesting, and made you excited to go to the next staff meeting?

Post: You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?

Networking – In or Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Monday afternoon, a two hour session was held titled, ‘Learn Something New: People and Networking’. The objective was to not to provide a taught course on Networking, but do create an environment where people can share and exchange about networking, and do it at the same time. … Some suggestions were offered about how we can do more networking, and how we can help create work environments where networking and interaction is one of the key objectives. Longer coffee/lunch breaks? Open spaces in the agenda for interaction? Introductory sessions which serve to connect people and help them build relationships?

2. Can Meetings be Used for Positioning?

In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk”?
We’ve all heard of “walking the talk” – but what of “talking the walk”? In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk” and reflect the core values employed in our work?… Our conversations can serve to enforce or discredit our messages and ourselves in powerful and lasting ways. Walking the talk is imperative. Talking the walk is so important too. People notice.

No Such Thing as a Pointless Question: The Impact of Simply Asking
The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way. With our questions we get people to focus on something – what is that thing? What is our purpose of the question we are asking and what impact will it have on the way that person and the room think and feel? If people go in the direction you question them, where do you want them to go?

Me and My Multiple Intelligences. We and Ours.
In our organizations, what are we doing to make sure we interact in ways that address diversity of intelligences and learning styles? And how can we engage the multiple intelligences of our colleagues to best answer this question?

3) How Effective is our Meeting Process?

a) Design and preparation

How Old is Your Knowledge?
Workplace learning is 20% formal and 80% informal. Informal learning is an interesting combination of reading, internet surfing and search, audio-visual inputs, speeches and presentations, meetings, and conversations in the cafeteria, corridors, and on the bus. For the most part in these activities learning is quite accidental and not a deliberate objective. There are learning opportunities around every corner. What are you doing to structure your informal learning?

What Kind of a Discussion do You Want?
It is thought-provoking to hear people come away from discussions that they have lead and say, “Why do you think people reacted that way to my ideas?” Another question they could ask might be, “What could I have done differently to develop a generative discussion rather than a debate?” … If one sets up an academic situation, then people will be happy to react as though they are in one! Rarely do people throw a professor or a keynote speaker for that matter a soft ball…

A Courtroom or a Concert?
If I was going to run an important meeting, which environment would I want to create? How would I want my participants and speakers to feel when they left the room? What would I want people to get out of it? Would it be a zero sum gain, or would it be a step of a creative, hopeful process? When I sent out my next invitation for the group to meet again, what would be people’s reactions? Would they be excited that their favorite group was holding a concert again? Or would they dread the eyes of the jury?

Bottoms on Seats – How Do You Make That Memorable?
People travel to the venue, they walk into a bustling and colourful conference venue (exhibitions, restaurants, meeting spaces, and all), then they walk into their first of many small workshop rooms and basically sit there (different small rooms of course) for 75% of the conference… We spend a lot of energy thinking about communication to conference participants and the media around the event to make it colourful, interesting and engaging; how can we make sure that this does not stop at the workshop door?

Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds in our Organization
Next week, our organization is hosting a week of meetings, bringing together in headquarters senior staff from our offices around the world. During these meetings, how smart will our crowd(s) be? How smart could it/they be? As session organizers, what can we do to make our crowds as smart as possible – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future?

Lights, Camera, Action: Working with Star Speakers
Here is a lesson that I absolutely need to learn as a workshop facilitator: No matter how well you brief a plenary speaker who is a subject matter expert, they will go over the time. … Plan for it in as many ways as possible, especially by allocating substantial discussion times (even after they get cut down) so that this critical part of the learning process is always there to help people follow your star.

  

b) Implementation

Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We Just Went to a Great Staff Meeting – What

Happened? (Reprise)

We decided to use our own communications unit meeting to generate additional creative ideas, and then to share them with the team who is responsible for our staff meetings… Here was our question: You just went to a great staff meeting – you left excited, energised and hopeful. Tell us – what happened? We first worked in pairs to create our stories, then shared them with each other. Here are some of the ideas that emerged.

Ballroom Learning and Large Groups: Using Socratic Questioning
I am sitting in a hotel ballroom with 140 people at a conference titled, “Capacity Development Strategies: Let the evidence speak” and the level of some of the participants has dictated a certain room layout and format – we have a head table with four speakers and 140+ people sitting shoulder to shoulder behind tables in the room… If learning is the goal, and this formal room layout is a given, how might we best work with this format for optimal exchange?

What Exactly Are You Facilitating?
I have had a few people ask me about the value of facilitating other people’s workshops. What does that contribute to the grand scheme of things? The overall goal is not to just to move people around a room for a day. A good Facilitator is a process person with their eye on outcomes and learning – there is reason for every interaction, what is it and how can a process be designed that makes those conversations easier, smoother, and more productive? After all, facilitation comes from the Latin word “facil” which means to make something easy. Good facilitation means making group dialogue, decision-making, information sharing, and learning processes easier and more effective for everyone: your workshop hosts, your participants, and yourself.

c) Reflection and follow-up

Helping Other People Do Great Work
How transferable was my experience last week and what can it prompt me to learn about how to help our guest speakers do great work for us at the upcoming workshop? What more could I do in the next few days that could make all the difference for a first-timer, to create an environment where people are proud of their contributions, others appreciate it, and generally helps everyone do great work?

Dialoguing about dialogue
“Listen to one another with your full attention. Think about what is said, how it is said and the intent behind this. How does it make you feel – physically, intellectually and emotionally – as a participant in this dialogue process? How does it make others feel?” There is still much to explore and emerge about the role of dialogue in change processes. Along the way, how can we replicate such experiential approaches in our own institutions for collective learning about the important role of dialogue in change?

I found it interesting to look back, now that I am working from the outside and don’t always have seamless, day-to-day contact with such micro-learning processes, to remember how valuable it was to capture this nuanced process learning through a blog. Even after some time I find the learning very clearly reusable.  
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Ahead of the Curve: This Year’s Learning Trends at Online Educa

I just spent the last two days at Online Educa, one of the largest global conferences for technology-supported learning and training, held annually in Berlin. It is my third time attending and every time I return full of new ideas and a glimpse at the future learning trends through the eyes of some of the top thinkers, academics and techno-geeks. This year was no different.

Each year there is some tool or topic that is capturing the excitement and imagination of the 2000+ participants. When I first attended in 2006 it was blogs and wikis, with many people enthusing about their experiences with these young tools. At that time we had just started this blog, so were eager to hear how people were experimenting with theirs for learning. Informal learning was also a topic with Jay Cross’ original book on this published.

In 2007, the buzz was around real learning applications in virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL), which most people had discarded as playgrounds for slackers. Many formal and informal learning experts were exploring and exploiting their potential for all kinds of learning. Podcasting was also a hot topic, and mobile learning was a beginning topic of conversation then, but was being drowned out by SL avatars and a much bigger conversation about the quality and quantity of user-generated content. (I’ll never forget plenary speaker Andrew Keen -author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture- who was boo-ed for proclaiming to the audience of thousands of otherwise very polite internet enthusiasts that wikipedia and the internet was being written by monkeys, or something to that extent.)

Trending this year were a few things: Tools like Twitter were not only mentioned in practically every session, but also was being actively used to extend the learning beyond the seminar rooms throughout the conference. All kinds of video application was also a trend, from having school kids use the video clips they took with their phone for show and tell, to the question of whether YouTube and its mega supply of how-to, just-in-time learning content might ever replace formal training. Mobile learning was also very big this year, with everyone doing it on their I-phones (or other, although I saw lots of them) as well as discussing the future of learning as being “hand held”. This was linked to an ongoing discussion about the coming of cloud computing, having everything in the “cloud” with ubiquitous access, where any user can access any content, anytime with their phone, PDA or even a TV. One plenary speaker heralded the end of “bulky” laptops, while holding up one of the smallest I’ve seen.

I myself found it fascinating that I only turned on my own PC once the whole two days (and that was for a skype call to Sweden). Not that I was taking notes and talking instead, no, I was on my phone the whole time. I used it to Twitter the conference, used it to give feedback in sessions on Backnoise.com, to ask questions of other participants, to meet and interact with many people, and more. Instead of sitting down to write my blog posts, I micro-blogged the whole time (I would have never found the hour it takes me to write a proper blog post during that fast-paced conference.) And in doing got some experiential learning in “going mobile”, learning alot about this new handheld future, from many who do it so expertly.

In fact, my last Tweet from the Conference was: “#oeb2009 Difference @ OEB for me this yr: Didn’t use my laptop at all- all interaction with mobile & found it great- Next yr no pc 4 me!”

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11 Ways to Build More Learning Into Your Work Life

Learning can be a useful accelerator for the work you do. It can help keep you motivated, let you experience your progress in a different way, keep you engaged with wider processes. So how can you build more learning into your work life? As a learning practitioner, I asked myself this question, and here is what I came up with:

1. Ask great questions
It is surprising how many people don’t ask any questions, or only ask rhetorical, obvious or yes/no questions. Try to ask engagement questions that people want to answer, questions that ask people to think and share. Ask questions of yourself (like I just did). For all of your questions, consider how you ask them – an approach like Appreciative Inquiry can help you refine your questioning practice (it even works on yourself).

2. Listen for learning
Listening is a companion to number 1: How often do you ask yourself as you go into a listening or a conversation opportunity, “What do I want to learn?” Answering this question can help you listen very differently and more deliberately. You can also ask yourself, “How am I listening to this?” This can help you explore your openness to learning at that moment, and to notice when you are most receptive to new ideas and messages (and when you are not).

3. Be a better storyteller
Storytelling has so many contributions to make to learning, as we have written about so many times. It helps take you through the process of packaging your learning for better recall and resuse, makes it easier to repeat/retell (thus further embedding it), and makes your learning more useful not only to you, but also to others, as you do the work for them to distill the most meaningful parts of some experience or learning.

4. Start a blog/vlog
For so many reasons, blogs help you be a part of the conversation (even if you are only talking to yourself). They provide an opportunity to notice your experience and a provide a virtual place to record it. Because it’s public, it asks for some quality control (through, say, number 3 above.) Its chronological organization and tagging helps structure your experience, so it can be used as a knowledge management tool. And I personally use it to strengthen my reflective practice, more on this below.

5. Join a community of practice
These can be physical, virtual or both. They can help you share and be shared with, providing rich opportunities for peer learning. They can be even more useful if you use them to practice some of these other learning tools, like asking great questions, and listening for learning. If you don’t find a community of practice that fits, can you start one? (Ning makes this easy for virtual CoPs.)

6. Practice it
Find opportunities to try something again. Maybe you went to a great visual facilitation workshop – how can you continue to practice that even if you are a beginner? As you sit in on a conference call, or in a meeting, can you doodle icons of the conversation process ?

7. Move your learning into a different side of your brain
Can you add an image to the theory, or link your learning to a physical experience that makes the point visceral? Can you draw a diagram that explains your thinking in addition to writing a paragraph about it? Can you move your learning from knowledge to behaviour change, from left brain to right?

8. Notice/Map your personal knowledge management system
If knowledge is a flow, how are you tracking the flows? What kinds of tools are you using to manage this flow – google is good of course, and what other kind of nets are you throwing out in the ocean of information to help you get the quality of inputs you need when you need them? In effect, what are you using as your personal knowledge management system? For example, do you have a list of the gurus in your field whose blogs or tweets you follow? Do you tag useful incoming content in your gmail or in a delicious account? Can you improve your email management system (e.g. through something like Inbox Zero?) Plenty of opportunities exist in the Web2.0 world of today.

9. Be deliberate about reflection
People use different means for this, and generally agree that they are more fully present for learning when they are actively reflecting on their experience. Capture, whatever your tool – journaling, blogging, songwriting, slam poetry – is helpful for many reasons that can be found in the points above. The choices you make about what to record helps to prioritise information, makes it more reusable and, depending on your tool, makes it available on demand for both yourself and others.

10. Help other people learn
In addition to the obvious social value of this, learning through teaching (with a small “t”, thus not necessaily in a formal learning setting) is a well known way to embed learning. How can you volunteer your learning to others and in doing so practice and progress your own? Every conversation is an opportunity to exchange, so you don’t need to have a classroom environment to help other people learn.

11. Know your own learning preferences
There are of course diagnostics around this, and I think one of the simplest ways to identify your learning preferences is to ask yourself some questions (and voila we’re back to point 1): “When was the last time I learned something new? What were the conditions that helped me learn? What was I doing? What were the people around me doing to help me learn? In what situations do I learn the best?”

Learning happens continually, and still there are always opportunities to integrate it more powerfully into personal practice and team practice, even without a training budget. For example, just writing this blog post gave me an opportunity for learning, which combined many of the above. Once you get out of the formal learning environment it’s free for the most part, it’s relatively easy, and still, it takes a little thought, and perhaps a change in daily practice. The rewards, however, can be great – a boost in productivity, satisfaction, direct engagement with your topic, as well as an opportunity to strengthen yourself as a practitioner and further increase the value of your contribution to your community(ies) of choice.

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New Bloggers: Boost Your Chances of Success

I am way behind in my blogging, mostly because I have been completely obsessed with another blog – one I set up in July for my Father that is not as different as I had imagined from this blog on Learning. The topics are very different, his blog (Outdoors with Martin) is about squirrel hunting, building farm ponds and the best places to catch large mouth bass. But his orientation is purely “how to” which definitely appeals to my learning side.

But that is not what is keeping me on his blog more than mine right now. Granted I try to post one of his articles per day (he is an outdoor and travel journalist with an archive of thousands of published newspaper articles just the perfect length for a blog), which takes me about 20 minutes to put in the links (they were originally print based), and update any dates or figures (what is the 2009 teal duck limit in Ohio?) Sometimes I find out odd things that need a little rewrite, like that the great State Park Lodge that my father raved about in a 2005 article burned down last year.) It is critical for him that all the dates, telephone numbers and so on are up-to-date.

But just the time spent on the other blog isn’t what’s keeping me off this blog.

It’s the STATISTICS!

Oh my, I love the statistics that WordPress gives you (we decided to set it up on a different blog platform as a comparative experiment). We have set up a Sitemeter account for the new blog too. We are literally swimming in positive feedback – data about where the people come from who are checking your blog, who has referred you, which article is getting the most hits, what key words people typed into a search engine to get what article. That information sets up a positive feedback loop that just keeps you, the blogger, on that site, posting, researching, reading.

Maybe it is just for the extremely curious, but I think there is a business end to this too. For example, there are a few topics that are getting by far the most traffic on my father’s site, odd things – using solunar tables for hunting and fishing is the top, after that building perfect farm ponds, raising peacocks, and growing nut trees. I would think that it might be interesting to write more on these niches, if that is getting the most interest. Reader feedback, that is one of the reasons to write a blog.

When Lizzie and I set up this Learning blog in 2006, we made a decision NOT to collect statistics. I set up a SiteMeter page, but it never worked on this Blogger site (maybe because we had a referral page?) In any case, we decided we didn’t want to be driven by the statistics but by our own learning and desires to create reusable learning content. I still think that is completely valid. However, I guess I didn’t know what I was missing!

Now my suggestion for a new blogger would be to use a site that has a good stats function (like WordPress and not Blogger – sorry Blogger!), and link up Sitemeter as well. And to actively use that information on what people are reading, how they are skipping through your blog, and how they are finding you, to make your blog even better and keep you interested and energised, through powerful direct feedback.

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Trendspotting: Micro-Lit (and Other Applications)

We are coming up to our major Congress, now two weeks away, and working on our assessment instruments among other things. We feel keen to gather as much data, information and feedback as possible from the thousands of participants attending to help us learn more about them, their ideas and opinions, and to make decisions about future work and future Congresses. But what are we going to do with all that information?

Lizzie and I spoke yesterday with our Monitoring & Evaluation officer about a draft feedback form for participants attending the set of 54 Learning Opportunities (skills building workshops) that will be held on site. We asked everything we were interested in in an innovative way, so that the form was a learning intervention in itself, helped people tap in on what they were learning and practiced summarising it for people (e.g. If you met a colleague in the corridor on your way out of this workshop, what would you tell them that you learned?) Our M&E colleague usefully pointed out that our questionnaire was mostly qualitative and would generate reams of results that would be time consuming and costly to crunch. Did we want to think of a few ways of getting high quality and more importantly shorter responses?

Yesterday we received an email from a former colleague and fellow blogger, Michelle, asking for an activity to help teach the skills of synthesizing and making summaries which she could use in a communications course she was giving. We had never really done that and it struck me as a challenge; synthesizing is indeed an essential knowledge management skill, useful for everyone. How can we help people take lots of information and crystallize the most essential elements for themselves and others?

I read a recent article on the new trend for Micro-lit, which is both an art form in itself and a practice of using just a few words to synthesize, what in otherwords, would take many other words. This has been inspired by the oft-cited 6 word novel that Hemingway wrote on a dare: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Now there are 4 word film reviews, 12-word novel contests, etc. The trend must be a backlash from today’s information overload, as well as people’s increasing comfort writing text messages, using Skype Chat, Twitter etc. People are getting better at saying a lot with just a few words.

So how can we take advantage of this – well, for our assessment we decided to ask people a few questions in a different way, such as “What 5 words would you use to describe this learning opportunity?”, and for Michelle, I suggested a couple of synthesis activities, such as writing a Haiku that summarizes a session participants had earlier in the training (I’ve had participants write systems haikus), or to pick an article out of the newspaper and write a one sentence review. Or what about a 6 word bio for yourself?

As writers, bloggers, trainers, facilitators, and colleagues the words we generate compete with the steady flow of information that sweeps through our lives. We need to think more about the other end of that information production process – to what others can do with that information – and to help them out a little by synthesizing our selves, and potentially helping them to do it too through the questions we ask.

So why is this blog post so long? Maybe I should have written a 5 word blog post instead:

Think more and write less.

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Like a Surgeon

This week’s conference extravaganza has been an eye opener (11 workshops and breakout sessions for a 500+ person conference, with effectively 2 Facilitators). Trying to process, reflect and be appreciative about what has transpired (and blogging about it each night ) has been incredibly useful to capture learning. We came here to help create the subtle environment for generative dialogue. Instead we were working very low on Maslow’s hierarcy of needs. That’s ok, it was what was needed. Tonight I’m going to use an analogy to try to crystalise what it has felt like to be here trying to focus on process facilitation.

This week we are like surgeons to whom the patient has come a little too late.

You work very hard to diagnose the problem, try different experimental interventions; but it is late in the game and you don’t see a significant change. When you finally have all the information, you can see clearly that many months ago, this condition would have been easily treated, but now the condition is too advanced to treat. However, you are compassionate and committed to remaining a caregiver. And you spend your time now focusing on making the patient comfortable, fluffing the pillow, administering local pain relievers, helping the patient maintain dignity – generally creating a nice environment for the final days – and making sure the strongest memories that visitors and loved ones have of your patient are good ones. No level of intervention at this point, no matter how invasive, will change the patient’s outcome; so you put your energies into administering care and support, and do it in the nicest possible way. (e.g. My most significant contribution today was buying a bottle of rum for the drafting team.)

There is a real role here for preventive medicine. We need to get to the patients much earlier. We need to help establish good habits, good reflexes, good decision making, good planning, and thus good healthy, interactive workshops and peer learning sessions, and happy participants. Surgeons are trained to do amazing things, if its not too late.

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Happy 100th Blog Post! What Blogging Has Brought to Us

Today we are celebrating – in the last 7 months we have written 100 blog posts! What is this practice contributing to our work? Here are some of the things that we have identified…

Making Space for Reflective Practice – Many people say they are too busy to think or be creative. For us blogging has created a space for reflection, and reflection is an essential part of our learning process (see Kolb’s Learning Model). In writing our blog posts, we are not skipping that essential step: taking an experience, reflecting on it, then applying our learning to new experiences. Our blog helps us map our learning on a daily basis, which encourages us and focuses us on constant improvement. No learning gets lost or goes unnoticed!

Capturing our Knowledge as it Develops – Our blog is a way to synthesize and record our knowledge and ideas as they develop. It is a way to capture and create new knowledge and meaning for ourselves. It is a means of analysis (in a most non-scientific way.) And it organizes these ideas for us so that we can track them and refer back to them later.

Fostering Creative Thinking and Writing – Our blog helps prepare us for conversations where we need to articulate new ideas. It helps commit our learning to memory, helps us develop our story, and practice telling it (albeit in writing) as the message is already “chewed over” in our heads.

Developing our Personal Knowledge Management Systems – Through exploring blogging and the theories behind it, it has introduced us to new thinking about personal knowledge management while at the same time providing a new tool in our personal knowledge management tool box. It also helps us practice what we preach in terms of experimentation and creativity.

Connecting Us for Quality Inputs – Our blog has enabled valuable comment from others in the blogosphere through a self-selecting mechanism (comments are opt-in) which in our experience been about quality versus quantity.

Even now, writing this 100th blog post has given us an opportunity to reflect again on what we are learning to help us consider what we can change, do more of, or explore further to improve our learning with this tool.

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Blogging Across Cultures – How Well Does This Practice Translate?

Blogging seems to be slowly coming into our daily conversations at work as people start to experiment, and open up to the power of this tool. In our discussions we have seen some very different reactions to the notion of blogs by people at different levels of our international institution. In some of our conversations we have been wondering about the links between culture and blogging.

Do certain cultures take to the practice more naturally than others? (This includes national cultures and organisational/team cultures.)

Within the field of intercultural communication, there are some sets of cultural assumptions that seem to, broadly speaking, be embraced by different cultural groups. One of these is called “Power Distance”. If you think of this as a continuum, from Low Power Distance to High Power Distance (with most cultures falling somewhere in between), here are some of the features at the extremes:

Low Power Distance – This features a democratic management style, power is not jeaously guarded, subordinates take initiative and are not overly deferential to managers. In cultures with low power distance, the CEO or boss might go to the cafeteria and have lunch with the staff uninvited; young professionals could comfortably contest ideas in meetings run by senior staff members; and hierarchies would be flatter.

High Power Distance – This is a more authoritarian culture, power is more centralised, there is more deference to authority and managers tend to hold on to power. In cultures with high power distance, CEOs would have lunch with Senior Managers in a separate room with reservations (and have a better lunch than the staff); plenary discussions would not feature much open dissent of ideas, certainly not by younger staff; and hierarchies would have many levels between general staff and the top management.

So how might this relate to blogging? Well, blogging is definitely a democratising tool, it lets people at any rank in an organization make their viewpoints known (agree or disagree); it allows anyone to start a discussion, a movement or an activity; it allows many voices in an organization rather than one top one; it distributes the right and ability to speak, share and discuss across an organization or a community. Would blogging be considered threatening in a culture with high power distance, or at least might there be strong cultural norms that create a disincentive to blogging? When we send out our draft blogging policy for internal discussion, what might be some of the responses based on cultural interpretations of this new medium? I would be curious to see what others think about the cultural aspects of blogging practice.

Blog Smart – Is That Enough for our Blogging Policy?

We are here this week at a strategic planning meeting for a major group affiliated with our organization. We have started having interesting side conversations one of which is about the trend for blogging and how some major businesses have been encouraging all staff members to set up blogs. Apparently Microsoft has over 1000 bloggers on staff. Other businesses have equally liberal viewpoints on blogging and actively encourage it as a way to open direct conversations with customers. The new book, Naked Conversations, by Soble and Israel, talks more about this radical transparency which is increasingly seen as having business value.

I am intrigued by the fact that when we started our blog 7 months ago, we were not exactly encouraged to blog as there was no policy about that in our institution. In fact we did not advertise the fact that we were experimenting with this new medium of expression, and working to understand how it could contribute to our learning in the organization. Now, half a year later, we are talking about it openly in organizational meetings and handing out our URL to those interested in interacting with us in virtual space. We have even given two internal workshops on setting up and using blogs and wikis. At the same time, we still do not have a policy on blogging, nor our institution’s name on our blog.

Perhaps the next step is to draft our own policy and to use that to start an internal discussion about this. What might our policy entail? I understand that Microsoft is using the phrase Blog Smart to underline their policy – don’t expose trade secrets, don’t discuss personnel issues or company finances, be honest. That’s a lot of don’ts, and perhaps that is still a form of guidance that can help people get the good out of the practice.

For our blog we have decided on some parameters, which include being appreciative, being authentic, be personal, and focus on learning. Maybe some of these could feature in our blog policy. We would be interested to hear from others about their policies – are there some good guidelines, or examples that we could draw from while we draft our own?

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Know Any Informal Learning Bloggers in the Arab Region? Na’am? Shukran!

Lizzie and I are here at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), in Egypt with our colleague Rania, who works in our Amman office. We are here planning a workshop on new learning (formal and informal) for sustainable development in the Arab region this September. We are going to be inviting some Universities who are developing and delivering e-learning courses in the region (on our topic of environment and development) and will also be inviting people who are using informal learning tools (like blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) to foster learning on this topic in the region.

We were delighted to hear today about how the library is a great forum, source of inspiration and an experimentation space. The senior staff member that we spoke to told us that it was “born digital” and as a result is encouraging students to help their professors enter the internet age, from offering to put their lecture notes into PowerPoint to engaging them in internet-based chats, and more. The learners are helping their teachers to help them learn. We are interested to know how Web 2.0 is supporting these efforts to enhance learning across the board in this region.

Rania told us this morning about a Jordanian blogger who is writing about environment and development news in the region. This blogger says that, “Blogging has became a highly effective and free expression medium that is spreading all over the Arab world. Amongst thousands of blogs in the Arab World very little focus can be found on environmental issues. ” We have already found some bloggers who are talking about this topic, like him. That is however just one part of our search…

Does anyone know any Arab region bloggers who are writing about formal and informal learning? We would be happy to know about them too!

Getting Back in Shape: Blogging and Jogging

Draft one (late February):

So, I’m sitting on the train this morning; the air is cool, sky clear, and I’m enjoying the aroma of a pain au chocolat that I’ve just bought, asking myself – At what point did I slip back into this naughty habit? And I realize that it was just about the same moment that I slipped out of other good habits, such as writing my blog posts or going for a run. Broken routine!

Draft two (today):

About three weeks later, I’m in a hotel room in Alexandria, Egypt. I haven’t posted anything on our blog in weeks and I decide it’s finally time to get back in shape. I’m a little reticent having not been exercising my blog-writing skills recently. The thoughts don’t translate into words quite as nimbly, just like that first sluggish jog after an indulgent, feasting holiday period. I know that there will be a feel good factor at the end; that the next time I jog / blog it will be that little bit easier; that the nimbleness will return as the muscles are trained for these workouts and re-learn the fluency that comes with practice. So here goes, time for that first step back into blogging. And time to reconnect with my blogging friends to help me along the way…

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How is Information Like Electicity or Water?

Information is a Flow. Like electricity or water in your house, it is constantly available, you know where to get it, and you can turn it off or on whenever you like. You would never keep buckets and buckets of water around, all over your house, just in case you need it…

This was a thought-provoking comment by Teemu Arina at the Educa Online Conference in his presentation on Blogs as Reflective Practice.

If information flows, then why do people keep so much of it around? Why do I keep every newsletter or email that I receive, carefully filed, when the information is constantly being updated on some portal or another, changing or becoming obsolete?

Corporate learning experts carried this notion a step further with the advice that structured workplace learning should be less about giving staff the information than about giving them the skills to find it – to know where to go, whom to go to, and what to do with it when you finally get it. How might that change the way learning is approached in institutions?

How can we let go of that need to keep those buckets around us, just in case we need them?

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Are We Sinking or Thinking? Learning at the Workplace Re-Invented Online

Well, it turns out that many institutions have figured this one out – using blogs for reflective practice. A quick google showed that many environments that are education and learning-based are using them.

I found an interesting upcoming conference titled Online Educa Berlin 2006 http://www.online-educa.com/ with a parallel stream titled, “Social Technologies in Educational Practice”. Some of the presentations were:

*Blogs as Reflective Practice (Dicole Oy, Finland)
*Wikis and Blogs: Teaching English to the ‘Net Generation’ (University of Padua, Italy)
*Everything 2.0: What Do New and Emerging Social Technlogies Offer Learning and Teaching? (King’s College London, UK)
*Learning by Storytelling in Weblogs (Newlearning, University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, Germany)

Apparently there are many organizations who are exploring how they can use blogs and other new technologies to help people learn.

Another presentation in a different stream was titled, “Are we Sinking or Thinking? Language Learning at the Workplace Re-Invented Live Online” – I adapted it as the title of this blog entry (I think perhaps it could be more appreciative!)

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Blogging as Reflective Practice?

Many people say that they do not have time for reflection in the workplace. Meetings after meetings with two minutes in-between, emails interrupted by visitors in turn interrupted by telephone calls. Forgetting to have lunch?

Reflection however is what helps people process the various inputs that they are receiving. It helps them develop their own opinions; link new ideas to their own experiences to either validate them or question them; and consider possible actions (proactive or reactive.)

Building in reflective practice however takes commitment, perseverence and motivation. You have to make the time and you need to see positive results in order to have the incentive to keep it up. Learning and change can be that incentive, the possibility of dialogue can also be an incentive.

I am interested in how blogging can be used for reflective practice in the workplace – how it can be used to capture the progress that people make when they are thinking through issues and ideas. And how it can be used to start discussions, both within an institution and outside. Discussions that might not happen otherwise due to lack of time and attention.

How can we get our organization to promote blogging by staff members to help them reflect on the work they are doing and develop conversations around the things they are noticing, and the questions they have? It could help people understand more about the work staff members are doing and the processes that they are undergoing themselves as they develop their own capacities in many areas. It would help people get to know each other.

Are there any non-governmental organizations that actively promote blogging for this kind of purpose? Imagine an organization where every individual or team kept a blog. One that captured for themselves, their team and others some of the things they notice every day, funny things, celebrations, learning points, frustrations even. I can imagine myself checking one of my colleagues blogs thinking, “I wonder what’s going on in the DG’s office today?”

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To Blog or Not to Blog?

Why do people blog?

“Why do you want to blog?” my husband, the software engineer asked me. “Is it for visibility? Is it an ego-thing? Is it to start a discussion on an interesting topic? Is it to gather a community of like-minded people around you?”

What good questions. What was it about blogging that made it an interesting way to capture our thoughts? And what did we hope to accomplish by starting and maintaining a blog? Here are a few responses:

1. What a great way to explore a new communication medium!
2. This gives us a new way to follow our favorite topic – learning – and to capture this journey for ourselves;
3. It presents a creative way to practice Appreciative Inquiry within an organization;
4. It might get other people who are passionate about institutional and personal learning to start a conversation with us;
5. It gives us a reason to be deliberate about our learning;
6. It might give other people some ideas or things to think about (it certainly does for our team);
7. It is a useful way to frame our experiences for one another in our team; it asks us to be concise and make a point;
8. Everyone else is doing it! (actually at the moment I’ve only found one other blogger in the Bangkok office);

These are some of my reasons for blogging, and, I can say, that I notice that it has created a whole new sense of energy and purpose for our team. This blog helps us to capture and crystallize our learning points as we work through our day, and practice communicating them to each other. It’s a storytelling tool – a way to create a meaningful narrative and draw a single thread of learning out of the deluge of information, stimulating conversations and multi-sensory inputs that we get every day.

I find that I listen more deliberately. It makes me want to be an active learner and not a passive learner, at least I want to notice what I am learning so that I can value it (and potentially write about it). I think this blog is more for us than for anyone else. However, at some point it might get noticed. We are sure that others will see that we are writing with appreciation, good will and good intent.

Most of all this learning blog makes me want to ask really good questions. Like, “It’s 10:30 at night, what else should I have been doing when I was working up this blog entry?”

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What Did I Notice Sailing Around the Blogosphere? Learning About Blogs

We have just started our blog about learning at our organization and in doing so, I did some learning myself about blogs (after being completely inspired by a presentation on the power of this medium by Alex Steffan from www.worldchanging.com). I spent around 3 hours looking at many blogs about learning and here is what I noticed:

1. The blog itself needs a distinguishable title and a good tag line that talks about what the theme is. Otherwise it is hard to find it;
2. Colour and font are important for readability;
3. Short is definitely good. But too short unless there is some pithy content is not good. www.Dormgrandpop.com site has good length – long enough to develop a thought, and not too long to get boring;
4. Links are valuable;
5. Postings have great title names – clever (think New Scientist);
6. No spelling errors. This reduces trust in content;
7. Write in full sentences and with proper punctuation and capitalisation – otherwise it is not easy to take seriously; and
8. Archives are hard to use if there is not a search function on the site. It is hard to look into the date archives if you are looking for something special. Thematic archives seem easier to use, except that not too many blogs have thematic archives (some do.)

We are just going to start our blog and get going. We will no doubt find our pace in a few days…