Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Taking time for training

That training I took last week really set me back. Two days of work missed and I'm scrambling to get things done. Is this an argument for e-learning? That my time might've been better spent doing the training online, where I might've been able to test out of certain modules in which my skills were up-to-snuff and take only the modules that I needed, shortening my time away from work? Maybe. But, still, there is something to be said for getting away from the office so that your entire attention is focused on what you're learning, right?

Oh wait, my entire attention wasn't focused. I spent my breaks checking email back at work, wishing that I had more time to get something more productive than just email done. The training came at the worst possible time, so my stress level was high. I probably wasn't absorbing the information as well as I could've.

So this is an argument for e-learning, which I could've scheduled for myself (versus being tied into dates scheduled way in advance when I couldn't have predicted my workload) and that I could've shrunk down by pre-testing to just the information I needed. Perhaps with those adjustments I would've been more relaxed, better able to concentrate and focus, and would've retained more knowledge.

But what about the social interaction? The group work we did, critiquing each other's writing? Here's the argument for synchronous e-learning. For virtual classrooms, for live chat, for shared whiteboards.

But I'm not advocating blindly turning every training course into e-learning. There are certain skills that need to be learned in a classroom. Very technical or hands-on ones, for instance. Some soft skills that would be hard to teach without being face-to-face. I'm sure you can think of examples.

It's important for training managers to design training on a case-by-case basis and find the format that works best for the subject matter and learners. In my case, a shortened synchronous course scheduled at regular intervals, so I could pick the date and time that worked best for me on short notice.

After allowing people to test out of basic information, the course could be set at an advanced level. A second synchronous course could be taught on the basics. Is my wish list extravagent? Maybe for small organizations, but not for big companies that offer lots of training. These adjustments sure would've saved my sanity the last couple of weeks. (Although, I have to admit an office move also contributed to my crunched time and there's nothing training could've done about that!)

Monday, January 26, 2004

Testing, Testing, 123

By popular request, we now have an RSS feed for this blog (as well as an Atom feed). Please let me know if this doesn't work and I'll try to sort it out.


Thursday, January 22, 2004

Work-life balance, where did you go?

The books editor of T+D magazine, Josie Rossi, and I seem to have spotted a trend. Or, should we say, an anti-trend.

Josie was remarking to me that she is having trouble finding recent (within the last couple of years) books on work-life balance to mention in her column. (She writes a sidebar called "If This, Then..." which offers a list of books similar to the main one reviewed each month.)

She spent two hours on yesterday she said, as well as time perusing catalogues of book publishers. And she came up with very little. The books she did find focused on the work aspect (how to manage your stress, for example) without the life component. I thought that was strange and said maybe work-life balance just petered out as a hot topic. I know it was all the rage not too long ago, but maybe it was overhyped.

Then it occurred to me that maybe the reason is the recession--which just happens to be a couple of years old. I bet that people haven't been focusing on work-life balance because they've been concentrating on not losing their jobs. Employees are working harder and more hours because with layoffs, companies are understaffed. But people don't feel secure enough in their jobs to complain.

I predict that as the economy recovers, work-life balance issues will come to the forefront again. Evidence? Josie just returned to my office to tell me there's a book coming out in May called The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality. But no additional information about the book is available on Amazon yet, which Josie says is unusual. It's almost as if the publisher wants to wait to see if the economy is truly bouncing back--and the issue returning to the minds of workers--before publicizing the book.

What do you think? Did we hit on something?

(Look for my March Intelligence column in T+D for discussion on whether the economy is truly recovering.)
Boost your brain

This Popular Science article tells how to increase your brain power. A lot of it is specific to science, but there's enough general information to make it a worthwhile read. (Warning: Taking the scientific assessment on page 2 could be damaging to your self-image. I scraped by with 4 correct out of 13 and consider myself lucky.)

If you're looking for more brain exercises, check out, which bills itself as the world's first virtual mental gymnasium. The site requires subscription, but there is a free one-week trial available.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Technology that reads your mind (and how you can use telekinesis and telepathy)

I've been reading (in BBC News and the Boston Globe) about technology being developed that will enable users to control machines with just their brain waves. Yes, this sci-fi technology is actually coming to fruition and being tested. Successful trials have been completed with monkeys, and researchers are working on getting approval from the FDA to test on humans.

This technology will be especially helpful for people in the disabled community who will be able to manipulate objects without the use of their bodies. They will be able to type, control wheelchairs, even use robotic arms, the Globe says. That could be an amazing breakthrough. In the work world, it would create a new meaning for the word accessibility, opening up types of employment to people with disabilities that haven't been possible before. (Or just helping employed workers with disabilities who rely on older technologies, like voice recognition, that may not be as accurate or efficient.)

This technology could also create big changes for the rest of the workforce. I was wishing this morning that my computer could just read my mind and know what I wanted to do, so I wouldn't have to remember how to complete various tasks in Windows or Word. Often I can't remember (or don't know) which menu I need to look under to fix something. Wouldn't it be great if I could just think, "Change formatting to double-spaced" or some such thing and it would be done for me? My work would be task-based and the computer would adapt to me instead of the other way around.

Take away the computer-on-a-desk model and replace it with the ubiquitous or pervasive computing model that many are talking about and I could close my door or turn on the lights in my office with my brain waves; communicate with another person via text chat on my smart-watch just by thinking (this would be invaluable for soldiers in the field who can't make noise or hold a bulky device); or flip the pages of a professional magazine written with electronic ink while keeping my hands free for eating my lunch. The possibilities are endless and increase exponentially with other developing technologies. It's not a far cry from the dreams of many, telekinesis and telepathy.

Of course, someone will have to train everyone on how to do all this...

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Are your learners visual illiterates? Are you?

To find out, read this article about the epidemic of visual illiteracy (not seeing what's right in front of you) and the Harvard professor who's working to combat it.

Thanks to the elearningpost daily links for pointing out the article.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

How to set a negative tone in your training from the time learners walk into the classroom

This week I am in training, learning about newswriting at a local editorial consultancy. Maybe you'll notice a difference in my Intelligence column or this blog. Maybe not. You can let me know.

Anyhow, here is something that bothers me about the training. Posted prominently on the walls of the classroom and the inside of the door are signs that read

Classroom Policies
--no eating or drinking
--no using cell phones during class
--no surfing the Web or checking email

Granted, below the last two items are more instructions that begin with please. But, what's large and visible are the headings.

I feel like I'm back in grade school. The signs set a negative tone and make me feel like a child. In the writing world, we're told to restate negatives as positives. So here's what I would rather read:

Classroom Policies

--The lunchroom is provided for eating and drinking. Bringing food and drink into the classroom may damage the computers.

--Breaks are a good opportunity to check your phone messages or return calls. Leaving the classroom during instruction time may distract other students and/or the instructor.

--Feel free to browse the Web or check email during breaks or lunchtime. We want to make sure you get your money's worth of instruction!

Or, as I like to say when editing, SSBB. (Something Similar But Better) What I'm going for is a more positive tone as well as a logical explanation of why the rule was created.


Monday, January 12, 2004

Google's not just a search engine; it's a way of life.

Is the Google toolbar a permanent fixture on your Web browser?

Do you use Google as a verb?

Have you ever Googled someone you just met to find out more about them?

Have you Googled old flames or ex-best friends to find out what they're up to?

If so, you're one of the many who find Google more than a handy tool. To its legions of fans, Google is a way of life.

Here's a good article on how to get more out of your Googling. And if you answered no to any of those questions, what are you waiting for? :)

Friday, January 09, 2004

The humble beginnings of videoconferencing, the mouse, hypertext, online collaboration, and just about everything else that matters in the computer world these days. (Okay, not quite, but still.)

This article from Wired is really interesting. Not only does it offer an inside look at the origins of these technologies we now take for granted (they were conceived of much earlier than you'd think), it also demonstrates what a few people with vision can achieve even when no one else "gets it" until much later.

Not to be missed: the photo of the first mouse, made out of a block of wood!
What is it about other people's reality that we're so attracted to? And can trainers tap into this trend?

I watched a television show about reality TV the other day. (Yes, I know, I need to get out more.) It postulated that the attraction to reality shows is partly due to a curiosity about what other people go through and how it measures up to our own experiences. That's different from pure voyeurism, which is attracted to the showy and dramatic over the portrayal of day-to-day life. (Some reality shows, of course, do cater to this voyeurism with flashy stunts or highly contrived situations, but many just portray daily life in a somewhat contrived situation.)

Is there a way that trainers can tap into the reality show trend and the curiosity behind it? Can role playing and/or job shadowing be adapted to appeal to people's natural thirst to know what other people's lives are like? Can technology help?

What about a training video that follows a day in the life of xyz person in xyz role? Or what if you could mount a head cam on someone like they do on the reality shows with physical stunts and show the day almost literally from someone's eyes? (This would require some editing, of course.)

If people in your company don't have a good understanding of what other people do, what if you arranged a job switch day? Rather than just having someone shadow a fellow worker, what if they had to try to do their job for a day? (Of course, they probably wouldn't do much actual work but they could still get a sense for the job.)

Or, if there's conflict between groups, departments, or people in your company, what if you brought them together and asked them to role play each other's situations--portraying how the other person or group would act and think. (Some may already do this.)

Or what if each department in your company put together a blog that kept other departments updated on the projects they were currently working on and the obstacles they were facing or successes they were achieving? Readers in other departments, in addition to getting a slice-of-life view and better understanding the other department's role, could chime in with suggestions, ideas, or offers of help when needed.

(See this article for more on blogs in the business world, and my article "We Learning" for more on using blogs as learning tools.)

This is just a start. What other ideas do you have?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Are you a geek?

Test your digital IQ with this fun little test.

I scored 90--not totally beyond help but pretty far gone. :)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Training ads can be fun...and addictive

This paper-in-the-wastebasket game is a clever advertisement for BBC Learning, but it's quite addictive. It took me a little while to remember my high school physics (hint--if the wind is blowing in one direction, you want to compensate in the opposite direction), but once I did I quickly beat my high score of one and made it up to seven in a row before I decided I better go finish writing my Try It column.

It seems like a simple game like this wouldn't be too hard to create with Flash or other tools (you tell me, practitioners out there) and might be a great way to advertise your newest e-learning or traditional training program internally. (You can copy the paper and wastebasket idea with your own metaphor, or--better yet--brainstorm your own game idea that relates to your training program.)

Friday, January 02, 2004

What to do with PowerPoint when you no longer use it for training (or use it minimally)

If you've decided to wean your company from the use of PowerPoint in training and/or e-learning (think interactivity) fear not that you've wasted your money on the software. You can use it to create art.

David Byrne, composer, photographer, and lead singer of the band Talking Heads, has turned PowerPoint into an artistic medium. Australian IT writes, "In his book and DVD compilation, Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information, Byrne twists PowerPoint...into a multimedia canvas, pontificating that the software's charts, graphs, bullet points and arrows have changed communication styles."

Read more about Byrne's use of PowerPoint and general musings on whether "Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely" in the article.