Category: Communities

Do You Need a Mentor or a Network?

Maria often works from her local coffee shop. She always engages in a bit of people watching while she’s there. For the last two months, she’s been observing Jack, another frequent patron of the coffee shop. Jack meets clients for a coffee at least once a month. Maria is impressed by how effectively Jack builds relationships with his clients, and she wanted to learn more about his strategy. Although they’ve never spoken before, Maria decided to approach him after his latest client left.

Woman and man shaking hands in a coffee shop

“Hi, Jack. That was a great closing you did with Priya. I’ve seen you here a bunch of times, and I’m always impressed with your work.”

“Um, thanks.”

“I’m so inspired by you! Will you be my mentor?”

“Uh, what?”

“Will you be my mentor? You know, meet with me for an hour or two a week, answer my questions, coach me so I can improve my skills? What do you say?”

Jack packed up his laptop and bag. “I’m sorry, I don’t know you. That’s a big time commitment for someone I just met. Besides, I need to go now. But here’s my card. Why don’t you email me so we can set up some consulting? I’ll send you my standard rates.”

Maria left the coffee shop feeling a bit deflated and surprised that Jack didn’t agree to be her mentor. She wasn’t quite sure what went wrong.

Requests for Mentors

If you saw this behavior in a coffee shop, how would you feel? It would be a bit bizarre, wouldn’t it? We don’t go up to strangers and ask them to donate hours of their time.

Online, however, these sorts of requests are commonplace. Here’s a sampling of messages I’ve received in the last few months:

  • “I’ve been on the lookout for experienced professionals such as you who can offer professional advice/opinions and if possible act as a mentor to our team.”
  • “I was basically looking for some kind of mentor as this field is very new to me. “
  • “Would you be interested in mentoring me on this project?”
  • “Will you mentor me in instructional design and e-learning?”
  • “Given the experience and skills you have, I am sure you are the right person to guide / mentor me.”

I receive so many requests to mentor people that if I mentored everyone who asked, I’d never have time to do any actual instructional design work. It’s just not feasible to spend that kind of time one-on-one with everyone who is looking for a mentor. When people ask me to mentor them, I wonder if they really understand what they’re asking. Do they really expect months of free consulting? Their requests are the online equivalent of Maria badgering Jack in the coffee shop. I try to answer a few questions for free, but a long-term relationship would mean taking time away from paying clients. It’s flattering. I just can’t do that kind of mentoring.

Personal Learning Networks

What do you do if you’re new to the field and need some help though? Rather than looking for a single mentor who will spend hours working with you (a pretty big commitment to request of a stranger), work on building your personal learning network or PLN. A PLN is basically a group of people you’re loosely connected to, usually online, who support you in small ways. You can help your PLN by sharing helpful resources or answering questions yourself as you’re able. Instead of asking a single person for a significant amount of time in a one-way mentor relationship, you find a large group of people who can all help you a little bit.

Kathy Schrock’s guide to creating a PLN is one place to start learning about PLNs. This concept has taken hold more in K-12 education than in the workplace, but I think the ideas and strategies can work for people in any field. Harold Jarche’s PKM (Personal Knowledge Mastery) model is a related but more comprehensive structure for workplace learning. In Jarche’s Seek – Sense -Share model, you Seek knowledge from your network and Share what you learn back to the network. That network could be called a PLN.

Whether you call it a PLN or something else, most of us in today’s workforce aren’t going to have a single one-on-one mentor who guides and shapes our careers. That’s the old way of learning in a hierarchical organization. In a networked world, our lifelong learning should take advantage of the availability of the network. In fact, you can probably learn more from a network than from a single person, even if you only learn a small amount from each individual in your network.

Your Network

Where do you find your network? How do you connect with people? How do you share what you’re learning so the relationship is reciprocal?


12+ Books for Instructional Designers

If you’re looking for some reading to improve your skills or get started in the field of instructional design, check out these books.

ID books

General Instructional Design and E-Learning

Design For How People Learn (now in its second edition) by Julie Dirksen is one of my favorite books in the field. I’ve recommended it many times. It’s easy to read and understand. It makes research about learning accessible in ways you can apply immediately. The illustrations are charming and reinforce the concepts well. Read my review for more details.

The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean is especially good for career changers and those who landed in instructional design from other fields. It provides a model for the range of skills that fall under the umbrella of “instructional design.” It includes practical tips on topics such as working with SMEs and avoiding “clicky clicky bling bling” or flashy interactivity and multimedia for the sake of being flashy. The design models in chapter 4 are probably familiar to many with experience in the field but very helpful to beginners who want to do more than just the same type of course and interaction for every situation.

Designing Successful e-Learning by Michael Allen tells you to “Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting.” All of Allen’s books are focused on helping people design e-learning that is interactive, engaging, and useful.

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer is one of the first books on e-learning I bought, and I still refer to it when I need evidence to justify decisions to clients. If you’ve ever wondered if formal or conversational style is better for learning (conversational) or if your on-screen text should replicate what’s on the screen (no, it shouldn’t), this book explains it with the research to back it up. It’s not perfect; the authors do sometimes disregard research that contradicts their own findings, and they sometimes make their principles seem more absolute than they probably are in real life. However, it’s still a solid reference.

First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instructionis David Merrill’s effort to distill the common principles from multiple instructional design theories. A shorter, earlier explanation of these principles is available as a free PDF.

Games and Scenario-Based Learning

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp explains how to do more with gamification than just badges and points. Karl summarizes research and game theory and explains how substantive elements of games like narrative can be used to improve learning design. I wrote more about this gamification research previously.

Scenario-based e-Learning by Ruth Clark is similar to eLearning and the Science of Instruction in that it summarizes research findings. This book is specifically focused on developing scenario-based e-learning, including everything from simple branching scenarios to complex simulations.

Learning Communities

Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt is aimed more at online instructors than instructional designers, but it’s a wonderful resource for IDs working in higher education or supporting online and blended learning communities.

Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith is about how technology can enable communities of practice.

Other Topics

Learning Everywhere by Chad Udell is a fantastic resource on mobile learning, providing everything from a big picture view of broad categories of mobile learning to specific technical considerations and pitfalls. You can read my review of the book for more details.

Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth is full of visuals and explains how to “show your work” by sharing what you’re doing and learning using social tools. The book explains the benefits of creating a culture where people share their processes and discoveries.

Now updated to E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 9, which I’m sure is just as good as the last edition. E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 8 by Diane Elkins, Desiree Pinder, and Tim Slade sat on my desk for multiple weeks because I used it so often that it wasn’t worth bothering to put it back on the shelf. This book was an immense help to me in learning Captivate 8. I’m sure their other books on Storyline 2, Lectora, etc. are equally valuable.

More Reading Lists

I received so many great suggestions after posting this list that I posted 20+ More Books for Instructional Designers.

If that’s not enough, these reading lists will give you additional ideas.

Your Selections

Did I miss one of your favorite books? Leave a comment with your suggestions.

Lurking or Legitimate Peripheral Participation

During the July 7 early #lrnchat about social media and social learning, there was a lot of discussion about lurking.

Can I Play?In response to the question “What are some ways you learn through social media that aren’t collaborative, with other people per-se?”

I replied:

I do a fair amount of lurking (ie “legitimate peripheral participation”)

I also retweeted this message by Colby Fordham:

We all like sharers, but there is a value in lurking. [You] have to [learn] the rules and important topics.

and Jane Bozarth replied

…and then stop lurking

Often, lurking is just a temporary phase, and you do jump in afterwards. But is that always necessary? I have lots of online communities where I sit on the periphery and lurk, long past the initial phase of learning how the community works.

A few examples:

  • YouTube: Most of the time on YouTube, I’m just watching. I’m not creating my own videos, commenting, sharing, or bookmarking. I have a few videos, but I’m lurking at least 90% of the time.
  • Kongregate: Technically, I am not a lurker on this gaming site by the strictest definition, since I do rate games. I read through the forums and chat  sometimes, but rarely jump into the conversation.
  • News: I don’t get a newspaper in “dead tree” format; I get most of my news online. I read several newspapers and blogs, all of which have commenting or community features. Most of the time I don’t even read the user discussions, and I never add my own comments.
  • Slashdot: I skim the RSS feed, but I don’t have an account and have never commented.
  • Wikipedia: At one point, I contributed quite a bit (2500+ edits), but it’s been over a year since I’ve been active.

I learn on all those sites. (Yes, even Kongregate: I learn game strategies on the forums. What I learn is of limited use in the rest of my life, but it’s useful for my goals when I’m on that site.) I’ll be honest; I’m not really interested in getting sucked into the high drama conversations on most of those sites. Wikipedia, for example, can be pretty intense and nasty. It’s the only place online I’ve actually been directly threatened (although there was no actual danger, it was still disconcerting). If I’m going to be part of conversations, I’d rather they be part of the learning community, or at least more productive than many of the conversations at the sites above.

Would I be a better gamer if I was active in the Kongregate forums? Most likely. But I’m not looking for a high level of expertise in gaming. So why should I expend my energy there, when peripheral participation gets me enough expertise to meet my personal goals?

In the #lrnchat conversation, Jane called this behavior “taking,” and she’s right—I’m reading and taking advantage of the resources without giving back. I give back here, but I don’t give back in every community that I use. My giving is very uneven, and sometimes I just lurk.

Is it wrong to lurk, or is it appropriate to have different levels of participation in different online communities? Should we exclude anyone from reading the RSS feeds of our blogs if they aren’t commenting,  bookmarking, +1-ing, etc?

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith call lurking “legitimate peripheral participation”:

From a community of practice perspective, lurking is interpreted as “legitimate peripheral participation,” a crucial process by which communities offer learning opportunities to those on the periphery. Rather than a simple distinction between active and passive members, this perspective draws attention to the richness of the periphery and the learning enabled (or not) by it. (p. 9)

Do the people active in a community learn more than those on the edges? Yes, I do believe that. But if your goal isn’t to be an expert, peripheral participation may give you enough learning to meet your needs. You can learn via social media without it actually being social learning.

What do you think? Are there communities where you are in the center of the action, but others where you’re on the periphery? Is there a place for lurking in learning communities, or should everyone be an active participant? If we’re designing learning with social media, can we focus just on social learning, or can we also support use of social media for peripheral participation?

Image credit:

Can I play? by jaxxon

LearnTrends: Personal Knowledge Management

These are my live blogged notes from Harold Jarche’s LearnTrends session on Personal Knowledge Management. My side comments are in italics. Update: The recording of this session (and the rest of LearnTrends) is now available.

Sense-making with PKM

When he moved to consulting and didn’t have an IT department and those resources, he realized he had to do something different.

Idea from Will Richardson: what do you do when you read a blog post and come across an interesting few sentences? What do you do with that system?

PKM is a set of problem-solving skills for work, focused on getting things done but not necessarily task focused

Personal directed learning as well as accidental, serendipitous learning

Too much information

More important advances in the future will be our advances in dealing with information & problem solving, not in computer technology (he was quoting someone–didn’t catch who, and this is only a paraphrase)

  • Big KM = enterprise KM, lots of structure
  • Little KM = processes used by distributed teams
  • Personal KM = ad hoc, DIY, cheap/free

A PKM Method

Not the only method–not something to force people into, just one way. Basically, this is Harold’s way of dealing with the flow of info

Internal processes

  • Sort
  • Categorize
  • Make Explicit
  • Retrieve

External processes

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Exchange

Interesting discussion in the chat about whether if you don’t pay for services if you can trust it. I asked if that included open source tools too–basically he trusts libre tools but not gratis ones

Harold uses different tools for different purposes

  • Google Reader to pull everything in. Used to use Bloglines, accumulated lots of saved items but never looked back at them. He forces himself to not have too many interesting things in the “holding pen” at a time.
  • Delicious: what he uses to save things instead of Bloglines
  • WordPress
  • Twitter
  • Ning

Don’t worry about missing something interesting; somebody else will pick it up or you can ask someone in your network about it later. In the network, good things come back around.

Important to have a data backup plan. This is related to the trust issue–I’m more likely to trust services that let me get my data out to back it up somewhere.

Make the data searchable and shareable with others

When you bookmark on delicious, you can also see how others have tagged it

Over time, your practices change. For example, he now makes clearer blog titles so in 3 years he can find info easily, rather than being witty in his titles

If you follow dull people on Twitter, Twitter will be boring. He is collecting his “best of Twitter” in his “Friday Finds” each week. He uses favorites throughout the week and looks for patterns and groups. Makes it explicit by posting to his blog.

Other models for PKM

Different models will resonate with different people

Urs Frei: spiral model

Web Tools for Critical Thinking (Dave Pollard)

  • Observe & Study
  • Participate
  • Challenge & Evaluate
  • Tentative Opinions

People worry about putting ideas out there b/c not polished & edited, but you have to get out and participate.

It doesn’t make sense to work through this on our own–we should be sharing and working through things together

PKM is very much individualized process–we have to figure out how to make sense of things

As citizens, PKM is part of our social responsibility; we should be learning about issues together


How does PKM relate to L&D organizations?

Too much of our training has been “we’ll tell you where to get the info.” We can’t assume that we will know all of that anymore.

Social bookmarks are an easy first step–lots of people can have a purpose for this

Social bookmarking sites are less often blocked by corporate firewalls. However, getting people to use the tools is a bigger challenge than IT lockdown

Need to find ways to give people some personal control within any system. What is effective for one person may not be for another.

Difference between PKM/PLE/PLN: PKM is more work-focused

Jay Cross: we have cast the IT department as the bad guy for too long. IT is focused on an entirely different set of goals from most of us.

Virginia Yonkers observed that Harold’s tools are mostly text–someone asked about multimedia in his PKM. He takes pictures, is starting to do slides, may do YouTube in the future

LearnTrends: Extending Learning to the Edges of Organizations

Live blogged notes from Extending Learning to the Edges of Organizations with Charles Jennings & Andy McGovern. My side comments are in italics. Update: The recording of this session (and the rest of LearnTrends) is now available.

Official description:

Thomson Reuters meets the challenge of supporting the learning and development of its employees across the world through the innovative use of technology and a strategy based on the 70:20:10 model. The firm has recently deployed learning solutions using 2.0 technologies including a ‘Learning Exchange’ based on Sun technology, a virtual Technology Institute and other global immersive eLearning solutions including a virtual world collaboration environment.

Charles Jennings

70-20-10 model–not original to them, others have adopted it since

  • 70% learn and develop thru experience
  • 20% learn & develop thru others
  • 10% learn & develop through structured courses & programs

90% experiential learning & development

What’s in the 70 +20?

  • social learning — sharing experiences
  • workplace learning & perf support
  • LiveLabs & scenarios — “day in the life”
  • learnscapes — immersive simulations

“What’s the difference between learning physics and being a physicist?” –Jerome Bruner

Having the theoretical knowedge doesn’t make you a physicist. We teach not to create little living libraries on the subject, but practitioners.

Aspects of learning

  • Experience
  • Practice
  • Conversation
  • Reflection

Performance support–business process guidance & JIT learning

Difference between a map & GPS. GPS provides incremental instruction. A map lays out the whole journey, but you can’t remember the whole journey at once so you end up using it incrementally anyway.

We should be doing incremental instruction for process and procedure, not formal learning

LiveLabs: not simulations, using the actual network tools & hardware. Hands on practice with actual tools, but in a safe environment

Andy McGovern

Working with Sun for Thomson Reuters Social Learning Exchange (SLX)

A cross between YouTube & iTunes. Doesn’t replace the LMS. Focus on the tacit knowledge that is usually hard to share. Get experts to share, make it easy for them.

Not a lot of instructional design, just getting people to share content

Tried to show video of Meet Charlotte, but video doesn’t work well over Elluminate

Public version from Sun:, site about the product here: SLX

This is not a synchronous platform–experts can use a webcam and easily record and upload content. More like an intranet YouTube. Support communities of practice around domains

Virtual Collaborative Environment–prebuilt auditorium, conference rooms. They are using this with a group that has been outsourced. Works for them to collectively get together across time zones. They use it asynchronously too

Virtual World: Teleplace

Institute of Technology: Information shared with a heavily modified version of Sharepoint. Integrates JIT learning from their Books 24X7 site

None of these tools will work if you don’t spend significant time engaging with the business–engaging learners, change management. If you don’t engage them, they won’t use it and will find something else.


How do you measure value? Business results?

  • One answer in chat: money saved by meeting in VW instead of F2F
  • Teleplace VW is about cost reduction in travel
  • Broader is about enhancing collaboration–how you measure that depends on the tool. Harder to measure with general teams than specific ones with specific goals. Still working on that.
  • Business results: for SLX, they are looking at how expert knowledge is transferred to others & applied
  • ROI $3 Million for one project based on time saved finding solutions to problems. Metric is reducing time to competence

SLX makes it easy to attribute who contributes, comments, uses content. Attribution makes it not smart to be inappropriate.

Community ratings help judge what’s valuable–self regulating

They expect some people to record videos, but also asking people to record WebEx sessions and share those. Sounds like this is also about collecting things that may be happening anyway and just making it easier to share. Video won’t be the primary content in the long run

Most work gets done based on trust–you trust that your manager won’t undermine you, your manager trusts you to do your job. Relationships are important and matter for the learning. Important to get the ear of senior managers so they see the value of this and not just formal learning.

In chat: Christy Confetti Higgins: FYI – from Outsell Inc. – corporate high tech workers spend on average of 6.2 hours finding information vs. 5.4 hours applying it – anything we can do to save people time looking for business information (like Books24x7), the better and higher ROI