Category: Lifelong Learning

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?

 

Giving Thanks

"I'm thankful for mommy and dada and the leaves and the cookies." Happy Thanksgiving! E

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US this week, I’ve been reflecting on how much I have to be thankful for.

I have a career where I get to write, be creative, and solve problems. I’m always learning new content, skills, and technology.

I’m grateful for working from home and the flexibility of setting my schedule. Yes, I often work at night after my two-year-old daughter goes to bed or early in the morning before she wakes up, but that means I get to spend more time reading and playing with her.

My daughter, “E,” made the card above at preschool. As you can see, she has her own list of what she’s thankful for. I can’t argue with anything on her list.🙂

I’m thankful for everyone who reads my blog, comments, and shares. Social media has allowed me to connect with so many wonderful, smart, talented people.

Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week or not, I hope you have much to be thankful for in your work, friends, and family.

 

Remembering Jay Cross and His Work

It’s been a week since Jay Cross passed. I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but like many in the field, I read his writing and had great respect for his work. Someone asked me recently about what makes a thought leader, and Jay was one of the first people I mentioned as an example. We often overuse the word “innovate,” but Jay truly did innovate and lead the industry forward. He was the guru of informal learning who pushed us to think outside of the traditional model of formal courses and training. He may not actually have been the one to coin the term “e-learning,” but he certainly shaped and led the field.

Between his books, a dozen years of blogging, and other writing, Jay shared many ideas worth remembering. What better way to remember him than with a small sampling of his own ideas?

Meeting Jay Cross

Formal and Informal Learning

“Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route.”
Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance

Training versus Learning

“Training is imposed on people (for example, by the training department), as if they are cogs. Learning is what people choose to take in (whether or not through training), as if they can make decisions for themselves. Training assumes the trainer is in control; learning puts the learner at the helm.”
Why Corporate Training is Broken And How to Fix It

Conversation

“Conversation is the most powerful learning technology ever invented. Conversations carry news, create meaning, foster cooperation, and spark innovation. Encouraging open, honest conversation through work space design, setting ground rules for conversing productively, and baking conversation into the corporate culture spread intellectual capital, improve cooperation, and strengthen personal relationships.”
Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance

Emotion

“Businesses have been trying to promote passion in the workplace while keeping other emotions at bay. Denying people their emotions is de-humanizing. We have to start treating people like people.”
The Coherent Organization

Perpetual Beta

“Nothing is forever. In the long run, evolution keeps life and the lessons of experience in perpetual beta. Even when something is a perfect fit with its environment, environmental change will render it obsolete.

Everything flows. In the long run, everything is beta or dead.

The opposite of Perpetual Beta is closure. The topic is no longer a subject for discussion. People cease trying to make improvements, for the ones worth making have already been made. We’ve closed the book on it.

Closure makes room for the next chapters but it shuts down attention in the brain. Never tell people they’ve graduated from anything because it causes their memories to atrophy. Keep the things you want to keep alive in beta; close out the others by withdrawing your attention.”
Should Learning Content be in Perpetual Beta?

Real Learning

“You are learning all the time, taking in new information and making sense of it. You learn by doing, through conversations, and from the school of hard knocks. You, rather than a teacher or institution, are in charge of the process.

Learning is not something that happens to you at events or in courses. It is something that you own and experience continuously, with other people, in your life, and your work.

Learning is how you solve problems, grow professionally, and achieve your goals.”
Real Learning

Others Remember

Many others have written more eloquently in Jay’s memory. If I missed your post or you have memories to share, please leave a comment.

Image Credit: Meeting Jay Cross by Alan Levine

1 Million Views. Thank You!

Today, I reached a milestone in my blog: 1 million total views. Thank you to everyone who is reading this, from the long term readers who have been there since the beginning to the ones who just found me today.

All time views 1,000,083

It’s taken me over 8 years to reach this milestone, and I’m hardly the most-viewed blog in our field. It’s still a bit mind-boggling to me though. One million is one of those numbers that’s hard to really wrap your head around.

For those out there struggling with low traffic on a new blog, don’t give up hope! I average 16,000 views and 8,000 unique visitors a month now. Look how low my numbers were in 2007 though (I started in December 2006, so the 6 views in 2006 don’t really count). In 2007, I averaged 1400 views a month. I get as many views now in 3 days as I did in an entire month in 2007.

Chart of views from 2006 to 2015

This is post number 950. That post count includes all 678 of my links and bookmarks posts. Until 2010, I posted bookmarks via Diigo every day I saved a link. Hundreds of my early posts were daily bookmark posts (I posted 286 times in 2007, for example). Now I consolidate and post links roughly every other week. As for non-bookmark posts, my current goal is to write a new regular post every two weeks.

So thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, and sharing. When I started this journey, I had no idea how much I would learn, both from writing posts and from conversations with all you amazing people out there.

I’m looking forward to continuing these conversations with you in the years to come. Here’s to the next 1 million views!

20+ More Books for Instructional Designers

In response to my list of 12+ Books for Instructional Designers, I received a lot of great suggestions for further reading. My “to read” list is now quite long, but I’m slowly making my way through these suggestions. Here are 20+ more books suggested by others.

Instructional Design and Learning DesignStack of books

ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design by Chuck Hodell was suggested by Phrodeo, who is using it as a textbook in a course she’s taking.

Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning was recommended by another student, Alisa, who says “I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.”

Design Alchemy: Author Roderick Sims suggested that I include “texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design” such as his own book.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design: Miriam Larson suggested her book, co-authored with Barbara Lockee. This book was positively reviewed in Education Review.

E-Learning and Blended Learning

Although I have several of Michael Allen’s books, I haven’t read Leaving ADDIE for SAM yet. Several people recommended that (including some who said they wished their organizations would pay more attention to it and move to a more agile approach).

William Horton’s e-Learning by Design is Nahla Anwer Aly’s favorite book in the field. I read it a number of years ago. Although I don’t refer back to it as often as some of my other books, it’s a strong selection, especially for those early in their careers.

Patti Shank’s The Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 1 and Volume Two: Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning have lots of inspiration. Even though it was published in 2007, I still pull out the first volume sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas.

Research

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is geared more towards teachers and professors or those interested in the psychology of how we learn rather than specifically aimed at instructional designers. The authors have done an amazing job of reviewing, summarizing, and organizing dozens of studies about how we learn. As instructional designers, we often work hard to make learning easier, but the research shows that “desirable difficulties” can actually increase learning. I’m a few chapters into this book currently, and I’ve already picked up a few new ideas. I do wish the book had some visuals to help explain the concepts. As an instructional designer, especially one who develops self-paced e-learning, you’ll need to reflect on your own about how to apply these ideas to your work. Most of the examples are from classrooms, either academic or corporate.

Richard Mayer’s Applying the Science of Learning was recommended by Clare Dygert, who says, “If you want to create e-learning that works the way a human brain wants it to work, read this book!”

Urban Myths about Learning and Education was just published in March. Will Thalheimer gave it a positive review. My one caution with this book is that Paul Kirschner is one of the authors, and he has shown some (in my opinion) irrational bias against discovery learning, project-based learning, and constructivism in the past. Based on Thalheimer’s review, it sounds like Kirschner is more nuanced in this book, noting situations where the methods he previously labeled as “failures” do, in fact, have benefits. (For a balanced review of Kirschner’s previous attack piece on constructivism, see Don Clark’s review five years after its publication.

Visual Design

Connie Malamed just published a new book, Visual Design Solutions. Cammy Bean recommends it for all of those of us who need to communicate visually in our e-learning but lack the formal training on how to do so. Cammy also says it can be helpful for IDs who work with graphic designers so you can communicate with those team members more effectively. Unlike a lot of visual design books out there, this is focused specifically on visual design for learning.

Connie’s previous book, Visual Language for Designers, was helpful to me in learning about the fundamentals of visual design. Jeffrey Dalto reminded me that I inadvertently forgot her first book from my initial list (sorry Connie!). Jeffrey’s review can be found at Creating Visuals for Training.

Performance Consulting

Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It was recommended by Mike Taylor, who also recommended the next selection.

Dana and Jim Robinson’s Performance Consulting was also recommended. Mike says neither of these books is very recent, but they have remained relevant.

Other Books

Joel Gendelman’s Consulting Basics was a critical resource for me when I made the leap from being an employee to being a freelance instructional designer. I regularly recommend this book to people who are just getting started in the freelance world or hoping to make the switch. The tips are very practical and concrete, and my own consulting agreements borrow heavily from the examples provided in this book.

Daniel Pink’s Drive explains three principles of motivation that go deeper than just rewards and punishments: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More money won’t always motivate behavior change (in fact, sometimes it might be counterproductive). Helping people improve their skills can be even more motivating, and that’s certainly part of what we should be doing as instructional designers.

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains how to make information easier to understand. This was suggested by Luis Flores, who says, “As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable.”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is about why some stories and ideas are memorable while others aren’t. Robert Beck says, “Its principles are ones that I often turn to for reminders of how to make learning more compelling and memorable.”

TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks was also recommended by Robert Beck. He says, “If IDs keep in mind the elements of a powerful story and how to deliver a spellbinding presentation to an audience, they’ll likely design an effective training product.”

John Medina’s Brain Rules was Robert Beck’s third recommendation, and I’ve heard these principles mentioned by a number of others in the field. I’m a little cautious about neuroscience claims; I’m not sure that the research is as solid as it is sometimes conveyed. However, I know many people have gotten excited about Medina’s work.

The Essential Persona Lifecycle by Adlin and Pruitt was recommended by Ieva Swanson. I have seen examples of personas used effectively for different projects, including creating a learning portal. This isn’t an area I personally know much about, but I can see the value in exploring it further.

Your Suggestions

Even though I have now shared over 30 books, I’m sure I missed some great reads. Tell me your suggestions!