Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Radical collaboration

Yesterday, I came across this TED talk by Ramona Pierson, CEO of Declara. Pierson was seriously injured in a car accident several years ago. In fact, that she survived is nothing short of astonishing.



Please don't get so lost in the sensational story of her injuries and the fact that she now looks so unscathed that you lose the message that this young woman was moved into an old age home, and that fact probably saved - if not her life - her ability to function and lead the life she has.

This was radical collaboration. A bunch of people came together and taught her some vital skills. Sometimes they were skills the bunch of people didn't have themselves, so they more or less made it up as they went along. Others were skills some members of the bunch had honed and flexed decades previously. This was outside the box/left field/pick your cliche thinking in action. Was this bunch a collection of young buck mavericks, known for flying off at a tangent? Not even a little bit. This was a bunch of senior citizens in an old age home. They didn't hold a thought shower. They didn't run a few ideas up the flagpole and see who saluted. They all just pitched in and did what they could. It was probably quite messy, because it was life and not corporate business. And just look at their results.

By and large, people in old age homes are considered to have done their bit for society. They are now being afforded the chance to put their feet up and take it easy in the final years of their lives. They can even be quite disempowered. They are as likely to be 'done to' as school children - not consulted about their schedules and preferences, but with activities planned and scheduled by well-meaning people who believe they know what's best for them. Old age homes aren't exactly sought after harvesting grounds for recruitment agencies. And yet, and yet.

I find this story inspiring on so many levels.

I am also inspired by Pierson's approach to recruitment (among other things). However, rather than diluting this particular slant by going down that rabbit hole, let me leave you with a link to an interview she did with Business Week, so that you can explore more on your own.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can we stop with the age labels already?

At a recent meeting, one attendee made an observation about how, when it comes to learning solutions, young people are comfortable with the use of technology, while older people are not. I challenged this, pointing out that I (being north of my 50th birthday) fall into the 'older' category, and I am perfectly comfortable with digital solutions (just as well, since I design them!). The person responded with, "Yes, but you're the exception."

It wasn't an unfriendly exchange, that was simply her perception. One that I'm finding to be fairly widespread, and many late adopters are citing this as their reason for delaying the deployment of digital learning components in their learning solutions - they still have some older people on the staff.

But is time we put this perception to bed, now. For one thing, it's ageist.
Jane Hart and Harry get techie together
I think generational labels like digital immigrants/natives, millennials, GenY, etc are anything but helpful in this regard, because they carry with them implications which the reality simply doesn't bear out. In fact, many of the movers and shakers in this field are no longer in the first flush of youth by any stretch of the imagination.

Let's look at some case studies:
  • Today, I read a blog post by Tony Bates, announcing his retirement. Tony recently turned 75, and many commenters are skeptical that he will be able to stay retired, because he lives and breathes online learning.
  • Jay Cross is often credited with being the first person to use the term e-learning. Whether or not this is true isn't really the point. What is the point is that Jay is one of the movers and shakers in the field of digital learning, and - as far as I know - his 60th birthday is in the past. The link takes you to a website, but you'll find him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Diigo, Pinterest... 
  • Jay is the CEO of the Internet Time Alliance, a collective which helps organisations become more networked, collaborative, distributed and agile. The other members of this group are Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings (think 70:20:10), Clark Quinn and Jane Hart (of the annual 100 top tools list - see photo). I'm on hugging terms with all these people, so I hope they won't mind me telling you that none of them will ever see 50 again. On his Facebook page, Charles recently shared a video of himself playing the banjo (the man is a skilled musician, as so many learning geeks appear to be) on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Jane Hart's Facebook page is full of photos of her adored grandchildren.
  • Stephen Downes is a highly regarded "commentator in the fields of online learning and new media" (as his wikipedia page asserts). His OLDaily blog posts are varied and interesting - required reading for anyone who wants to keep up to date with developments in the field. He celebrated his 55th birthday earlier this month.
  • Together with Stephen Downes, George Siemens developed the Theory of Connectivism as a way of describing learning in the digital era. In his early 40s, George is probably going to be the baby of this group that I'm throwing together here today.  I just hope he doesn't mind being lumped together with all these oldies ;)
There are many other examples of luminaries in the field, and I could sit here all day, listing people - purely from memory - who are leading lights in the field and north of 50. But let's come down a notch to more everyday people:
  • My Facebook friends list includes at least two people in their 80s.
  • I keep in touch with my 74 year old Mom by means of WhatsApp and Skype. When a WhatsApp message arrives from her, my screen announces her as 'Barbara the Legend'. And that's what she is.
  • My doctors' surgery has an interactive screen by which patients of all ages make their arrival known. I've seen them do it.
  • Buying groceries online and having them delivered is a boon for elderly and/or infirm customers. I have no concrete examples, but I'm confident they exist, and that more people would use the facility if they just got a little help with the initial learning curve.
  • Autobanks are used by people of all ages. Next time you use one, take a look at the demographic of the other users.
  • eReaders are a great tool for bookworms with arthritis and/or grandchildren. Imagine being a grandparent with an entire library of books in your handbag/pocket! I'm not a granny yet, but I know all about how the pain of arthritis! There are some fabulous interactive ebooks to explore with grandchildren.
  • I've read Amazon book and product reviews by people of all ages.
  • And on and on and on
We have got to stop thinking of digital spaces as being the comfort zone of the 'young'. Jane Bozarth often refers to herself as 'the oldest millennial'. I think there are several others who might give her a run for her money (caveat: I have no idea how old Jane is).
Give your older staff members some credit. I'm pretty sure they'll surprise you.
Before I go, let me share this BBC article (with video) about 'cybergrannies'.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Running an Articulate Storyline module on a non-iOS mobile device

A lot of blood, sweat and swearing has gone into the back story behind today's post.
 
I am preparing to run a short internal workshop about the use of technology in learning. As part of that, I thought I might start with a brief, fun quiz, designed to demonstrate to my largely tech-shy colleagues that they are not as digitally illiterate as they think. Of course, it makes sense to deliver that quiz using technology in an intuitive enough form that it supports my message, right?
 
Devising the quiz
So I opted to use Articulate Storyline. I am fairly adept with Articulate Studio, having used it to build solutions for several of my clients when I had my own business, but I have only recently been coming to grips with Storyline. It's very handy for this sort of thing. So here we had learning experience 1. I made a few mistakes, and oversights, which revealed themselves in the test stages, but I managed to sort them out (I think).
 
The challenges
Creating the quiz proved to be the easy bit. The difficult bit comes when we start looking at the tech for the workshop. Here are the challenges I faced:
  • There isn't enough cabling in any of our meeting rooms for everyone to bring along their laptops and access the quiz on our shared drive.
  • There is only one, rather feeble, wifi network in our offices, which doesn't reach the meeting rooms.
  • We have no supported tablets in our offices. We do, however, have some unsupported ones. These are generic non-iOS devices.
  • The unsupported devices don't have access to our network drives.
  • I don't have a space suitable for hosting the quiz module in a workable format.
  • Normally speaking, in order to run an Articulate module on a tablet, you have to publish an html5 version and download the Articulate Mobile Player app from iTunes. That means it's only available to iOS devices.
With the help of my remarkably supportive husband for some bits, this is what I will be doing:

Creating a wifi hotspot
I will create a wifi hotspot in the meeting room by bridging the networks on my laptop as follows (I hope - this bit has yet to be tested!):

Hosting space
The tablets can then use that wifi to access the quiz. However, as I mentioned, there isn't a suitable space for me to host the quiz. So I'm hoping that I will be able to impose on the good graces of the people at Articulate to host the quiz on their tempshare space for the occasion. It is a little frustrating that I need to do this at all, but let's not go there for now.

Accessing the quiz
Of course, the resultant link from the tempshare space will be a long-ass string of letters and numbers and I don't have a way of storing that link on the tablets, so I will use Bitly to shorten it and then, rather clunkily, ask my attendees to enter it manually into the address bar of the browser.

Browser
This brings me to the matter of the browser. As I mentioned, these are non-iOS devices. In order to run an Articulate module on a mobile device, said device needs to have the appropriate app. This app is only available from iTunes, so applies only to iOS mobile devices. However, thanks to this post by Robert George on the Articulate forum, I discovered that the way forward on my cheap and cheerful tablets was a browser called Dolphin.

Having done that, I no longer needed the mobile player app. The tablet could run the quiz without it.

So, at about midnight last night, my husband and I high fived each other and dragged our exhausted butts to bed.

Now to see if I can replicate this in the office! It all hangs on that wifi connection!

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Learning about women's cricket

If you know anything about me, you'll know that I have many passions and hot button topics in life. I am passionate about learning, and am embarked on a lifelong, lifewide learning experience.

I am passionate about equality. Including - and perhaps especially - gender equality. I am hesitant to call myself a feminist, because the stereotypes associated with that term don't fit me comfortably as the happily married mother of sons, but I suspect I am often described as such. I will probably write more on that subject another day.

I am also passionate about sport. Like many South African women, I can happily join in a conversation about almost any sport, without feeling as if the conversation excludes me or goes over my head. Almost any sport. I'm not a fan of the sport known as football in the UK and soccer in most other parts of the English speaking world.

I do love cricket - pretty much in any format, 5-day tests, one day games, day/night games. I get a little tired of the endless T20 competitions, though, I confess. I only played cricket once, briefly, which 'epic fail' you can read more about here. My husband is even more passionate about cricket. He is possibly the only Swede ever to have opened the batting for a first division South African cricket team.

I has been a source of frustration in my life that sportswomen have endured the uphill struggles that they have. So, when my husband shared this link on my Facebook page today, it filled me delight, and I felt the need to share it with you.

Here's a potted history of women's cricket in England, from Enid Blakewell to Charlotte Edwards. I am thrilled that Blakewell's role in the women's game has finally been recognized by Wisden, if a little late in the day. I am also delighted that she's alive to see it. Too often these sorts of oversights are rectified posthumously.


Late adopters and that widening chasm

I believe it was David Lloyd George who said you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps. And for late adopters of digital technologies in learning and development, that chasm is becoming ever wider.

A chasm is a scary enough thing when it's narrow. The wider it gets, the scarier it gets. Fortunately, the technology exists to create stepping stones across the chasm.

One of the things I have noticed, talking to late adopters is that many of them are of the opinion that their target user audience isn't ready to use digital technologies as part of their working/learning day.

I'd like to address this from two angles.

First of all, digital tech is here to stay, and it's evolving all the time. At some point, the chasm will have to be crossed, and I reckon sooner is better than later. That much is pretty inevitable to both providers and consumers of learning solutions. In five or ten years' time, the learning landscape is going to look very different, and as for the learner profile..! There seems to be a general consensus that by that time, even our late adopters are going to have to be functioning in that space. One very positive aspect to being a late adopter is that you don't have to follow the path taken by the trailblazers - they made a lot of mistakes. Just check where they are now, and plot a path to join them there.

But I am seeing a tendency to postpone thinking about how they're going to get there. It is possible to introduce aspects of tech that set things in motion.
  • You could digitise your happy sheets, for example. Such a small thing. 
  • You could move assessments online.
  • You could introduce a tip/challenge of the week sent out to mobile phones.
  • User manuals/process documentation could be moved online (or if that's too scary, locally based on computers/tablets), leveraging the navigational advantages that that brings, and paving the way for a full blown point-of-need performance support tool.
Secondly, the user audience is seldom as digitally incompetent as the stakeholders seem to think. Many people, who are not regarded as being particularly digitally literate:
  • Search for information using a search engine such as Google
  • Have Facebook accounts
  • Can take a photo with their smart phone and upload it to Facebook or send it to someone
  • Can use a satnav, either a purpose-made one or on their smart phones
  • Find and watch clips on YouTube
  • Book flights/holidays online
  • Buy their groceries online
  • Buy goods from Amazon and/or eBay and pay for them via PayPal
  • Access their children's VLEs in the school portal
  • etc. etc.
So I think we can gently challenge the perception of the stakeholders on that score - their user audience can often do more than they're given credit for, and there's no reason why they can't start to do some of those things as part of their learning experience.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The importance of testing your design

Is it just me? Sometimes I write something - an email, a post for this blog, a journal article, a proposal, whatever - and then edit and re-edit, tweak and retweak before sending it off. Some time later, I will have reason to revisit the piece - perhaps because the reader has requested clarification - and my jaw will drop when I see what a scramble I submitted. Am I the only one?


Bear with me. We are going somewhere with this.


Our company's London offices are housed in a beautiful landmark building with great views of the Thames and some wonderful meeting rooms and function spaces.


But today I want to talk about the design of the cloakrooms on the 10th floor. They're unisex, which some people might struggle with, but that's not my beef. The stall I used today has a little hand basin inside, which is great. But then, with dripping hands, I looked around for the means to dry them. Nothing. Just the loo roll, which isn't ideal for the purpose for several reasons. With wet hands, I opened the door, and there was one of those whizzy air blade thingies on the wall outside. Outside.


Um...what...? 


It's just a little thing, but it puts me in mind of the basic principles of intuitive design.


When you put your first design proposal (no matter it is that you're designing) in front of the client, they will almost inevitably request changes. And that's fine - that's what the initial design proposal is for. But, once the discussions have been held, and the changes agreed upon, it's important to make sure that the impact of the tweaks and changes don't result in something that makes no sense or serves no purpose or becomes a genuine inconvenience to the user.


When you've been close to the piece from the outset, you're probably not best positioned to notice where the amendments have actually broken it. This is where things like user acceptance testing, or focus groups, or even just the bloke at the next desk become a useful sounding board to make sure that you're still designing something that works.


It's a little thing. But it matters.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Labels and semantics

Recently, I engaged in a discussion on Facebook with the friend of a friend. The topic of the discussion was autism. It wasn't unfriendly, but there was disagreement. And I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

The FOAF - let's call her Tanya - is on the autistic spectrum. In the UK, in terms of the Disability Discrimination Act and its associated guidelines, we are discouraged from referring to people like Tanya as 'autistic' or 'suffering from autism'. We are to say 'people with autism'. Because to say that someone is autistic (or diabetic or cerebral palsied or whatever) is to imply that they are defined by their condition. To say that they suffer from autism (or diabetes or cerebral palsy or whatever) is to imply that they are victims defeated by their condition. I mentioned this in the exchange.

Tanya was not impressed.

She referred to herself as autistic. And she had a fairly strong and succint argument as to why.

She pointed out that the very political correctness around the way that labels are used is in itself discriminatory because - and here's where she completely took the wind out my sails - labels that we perceive as not implying any shortcoming are not applied in that way.

We say the slim woman, the athletic man, the intelligent child, the blond woman, the healthy man, the honest child. We don't get hung up on saying things like 'the woman with slimness', the man with athleticism' and so forth.

She also took another stance I found unexpected and interesting.

I mentioned that I have long considered autism to be a spectrum we're all on somewhere.

She didn't like that.

For her, discovering she was autistic was a revelation. It explained why some things were a challenge for her, that came easily to others. Better than that, autism enabled her to do things that other people can't do. She was unique. She was special. And she wasn't about to give up on that to some warm and fuzzy liberal who wanted to paint the entire human race in varying shades of her colour.

Fair point, Tanya. Fair point.
 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are we becoming too well informed to think?

Today I came across a newspaper article in which we read how a body builder/personal trainer was advised by an NHS nurse that her BMI (body mass index) was too high and that she should eat less and exercise more. The newspaper article was accompanied by a picture of the body builder. She is what my sons call 'stacked'. Maybe you don't like that particular kind of body shape, and that's fine. But this woman has clearly worked very hard on getting her body to look the way she wants it to look. I'm pretty sure her body fat percentage is very low, but muscle weighs far more than fat, so a very muscular person, on the basis of BMI alone will register as overweight or even obese.


I think it's safe to say that the nurse in question made no effort to address the woman's unique case. She unquestioningly followed a single set of guidelines as issued by the NHS.


We seem to have guidelines for everything these days. So much so, that I wonder whether we're in danger of giving up the effort of thinking for ourselves.


Sometimes guidelines are treated as inflexible rules. I mentioned once before on this blog about a friend of mine whose baby was struggling with reflux problems. She was worried about him, because when she laid him down to sleep, he would spit up and start choking. Because I had a son with a similar problem (apparently it's quite common for baby boys to have a slightly underdeveloped valve between the end of the oesophagus and the start of the stomach - it usually resolves once they become able to sit up by themselves), I suggested that she try laying him down on his side with a rolled up towel behind him to hold him in position, so that if he spit up in his sleep, it wouldn't get caught in his throat. Her response was "Ooh, no. We're not allowed to do that. The health visitor says we have to put him down on his back." Not allowed to. Not allowed to make a decision in respect of your own child that is contrary to what the health visitor has recommended based on the guidelines handed down to her by a faceless organisation that has never met the individual child in question.


A few years back, we read glowing obituaries for a traffic engineer in Europe (I wish I could remember more details about him) whose view was that more information to drivers made roads less safe. He was credited with revolutionising traffic safety by removing most of the information given to drivers and allowing them to take ownership of their own driving habits.


Now that I have health and safety guidelines that tell me it isn't safe to stand on a chair on top of a desk to change a light bulb, and warning signs over the hot taps in public facilities telling me that the water is hot, and labels on bags of nuts telling me that they contain nuts... do I need to do any thinking for myself? Perhaps the rationale is that it frees up my brain for important things. But I maintain that the more we are protected from the possibility of making stupid choices, the less likely it is that we will make inspired ones.


I have no research to go on here, but I wonder if it isn't a bit like a sine wave. The ubiquitous 'they' are trying to remove the bottom half of the wave, but actually what's happening is that the entire wave pattern is getting flattened as the top half is reduced proportionately. Spike Milligan is reported to have hated the medication that took away the swooping lows of his bipolar disorder (or manic depression as it was known back then), because it also robbed him of the soaring highs. The two things aren't directly related, of course, but I wonder, if in the process of trying to move the whole wave upward, we don't actually just reduce its amplitude. And if we reduce it enough, will we all just, well, 'flatline' a la the movie Serenity?


Surely being allowed to make a few stupid mistakes, will encourage us to think a bit more? Surely looking at a competitive body builder, a nurse can set the BMI guidelines aside? Surely the mother of a baby with reflux can experiment to see what works best for her own baby?