Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Can blogs be knowledge management tools?

There's an interesting discussion going on in the trdev email list about blogs and knowledge management. First, the original poster wrote that she reads a number of training and business blogs (including this one, I'm happy to report) and she was thinking about the potential for blogging in her organization, especially as a training and development tool. She asked people to let her know about their experiences.

Another list member expressed some skepticism because most of the blogs he'd seen were of the daily journal variety. So I piped up and wrote the following:

"While many blogs are similar to journals, the tool has evolved to be much more than that in many cases. Here's an article that might change your thinking a little, from Fast Company:

George Siemens of elearnspace offers a great article on blogs and learning: . See especially the Uses for Blogging and Benefits sections.

Also, see this article on blogs as personal knowledge management tools by Amy Gahran: (This is the link I published in this blog several weeks ago.)

More about blogs and learning can be found in my article, 'We Learning Part I,' There are additional links in there."

I also wrote that I was the author of this blog and it's definitely a work-in-progress/experiment. The content and format change slightly as time goes by, as I try to learn what you, my dear readers, are interested in and what keeps you all checking in. I said that right now the format is a sort of "best of my inbox"--thoughts on articles, press releases, other tidbits and items of note that I don't run in my Intelligence column in T+D for whatever reason.)

Since I wrote that message, I found some more great resources on corporate blogging, posted by Amy Gahran in her Contentious Weblog.

The discussion on trdev has continued. The original skeptical poster is rethinking his view. Others have voiced their opinions as well. One poster, Learning Circuits Answer Geek Godfrey Parkin, wrote that he sees blogs as "a sort of missing link between knowledge management and informal learning."

Great stuff. Feel free to jump in if you're a trdev member or would like to join the list. Or post your thoughts here.

Monday, March 29, 2004

A new generation at work

That's the slogan for Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, an event for children ages eight to 12 taking place April 22nd. I was surprised to read in the newsletter that 67 percent of those polled said their organization doesn't participate in this activity. Does your company?

In the upcoming April issue of T+D, I write about the workforce of tomorrow and how we can provide opportunities for young people to become better future employees. This event is one good way to do it.

The program benefits not only the children who participate and learn about their parent's job and the world of work in general, but also the parent and the workplace as a whole. Fathers, for example, thank the Ms. Foundation for Women (the event's organizer) for letting them be "public fathers" in the workplace and show the reason they may need to leave early for a parent-teacher conference. And organizations can benefit, the foundation says, from hearing what the next generation of workers expects and hopes for. The learning is multidirectional.

Once called Take Our Daughters to Work day, the revised name indicates the expanded focus on children of both genders. And the Our, says the foundation, expresses a hope that people will bring not just their own sons and daughters but also nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends, disadvantaged children, anyone who may benefit from seeing available opportunities in the work world.

The Website offers a ton of resources such as toolkits for organizers, parents, and educators; activities for children; a contest; and more.

Friday, March 26, 2004

What kind of social software are you?

Social software is the Next Big Thing, as I've reported in this blog and in my Learning Circuits articles ("We Learning" parts I and II).

This fun quiz will tell you what kind of social software you are. Obviously, it's not meant to be taken very seriously.

With the plethora of social software tools now available, you may very well end up as something you've never heard of. I came out as 3 degrees, a new Microsoft product I had heard of, but don't know very much about.

So, do what I did: Type the name of the software into your Google toolbar, hop on over to its Webpage, and use this opportunity to learn a little something more about the social software realm.

Three degrees is targeted at teens. Should I take that as a compliment or not?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Beware online diploma mills

Wired News published this article about the growing problem of online diploma mills--companies that offer fake educational degrees for money. As more and more people are participating in online learning, this is becoming a real concern--even among members of Congress and other high-level U.S. government employees.

Is your company hiring employees with fake degrees? Diploma mills are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, says Wired News. The U.S. Department of Education is looking into the problem and considering establishing an online service that people could use to check whether a degree is legitimate.

If you're investigating someone's degree or considering getting your own degree online, you might want to refer to this list from that I ran in my Intelligence column in the June 2003 issue of T+D.

Top Ten Signs That an Internet University Is a Degree Mill

1. The online university isn’t accredited.
2. The university is accredited, but not by an agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.
3. The only admission criterion is possession of a Visa or MasterCard. Academic record, GPA, and test scores aren’t required.
4. Students are promised a degree based solely on career experience.
5. Students are promised a diploma within 30 days of paying all fees, regardless of their academic status when beginning the program.
6. Students are promised a degree for a lump sum—usually US$2000 to $2500 for an undergraduate degree or $3000 to $5000 for a graduate one.
7. The Better Business Bureau in the state the university claims as headquarters has multiple complaints registered against the school.
8. The online admission counselor asserts that Internet-only universities can’t be accredited by a CHEA- recognized agency.
9. The university’s Website either doesn’t list faculty or lists faculty who attended non-CHEA accredited schools.
10. The school is located in a tiny island nation and claims it doesn’t need recognition from an outside accreditor. provides free listings of accredited online degree programs.

What's Chautauqua? It's a movement about learning in community that dates back to the turn of the century. This particular manifestation is a set of online conversations sponsored by Group Jazz, an organization that specializes in working with virtual teams and communities.

This month the conversation is on knowledge networks, based off of the book Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice. Contributors to the book who have years of experience facilitating virtual communities of practice will be participating.

Registration is required to join the asynchronous (not real-time) conversation, but it's free.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The mentoring motherlode

Thanks to Rey Carr who pointed out his chock-full-of-information mentoring Website in his post on the trdev email list.

The Canadian site offers definitions, articles, events, assessments, links, reviews, a virtual "ask a mentor" service, and more. Almost all of the offerings on this great resource site are free. Check it out!
A culture of mistakes

This Washington Post article telling me that today is International Goof-Off Day started me thinking about mistakes.

The article (which is in the KidsPost but is a good read nonetheless) lists a series of "goofs" that turned out to be great discoveries. Several of what are popular products today were once considered mistakes--for example, Coca-Cola, popsicles, and ice cream cones. And penicillin, of course, was a mistake that has saved many people's lives.

What is the culture around mistakes at your company? If happy accidents like those had occurred at your organization, would the product, service, or idea be tossed out the window before its discovery as a viable, even innovative and exciting idea? Would the person who made the mistake be punished before he or she had a chance to show what the value of the mistake was, or what valuable learning came from it?

The culture at some companies is such that people are scared to take risks and try new things, thus not making mistakes but perhaps wasting great ideas and talent (not to mention learning experiences). How can learning and development professionals help companies create a culture in which mistakes and the learning that comes from them are not only accepted but also welcomed? And how can workers learn to turn mistakes into successes? Please click on the comment link to share your thoughts with me and each other.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Tales of terrible e-learning and training nightmares

The creative folks over at Allen Interactions are offering "no boring e-learning" t-shirts to the five people with the most "painful, mind-numbing, and agonizing tales" of bad e-learning. Until April 25th, go to their message boards and post your story--leaving out details that would identify your company.

This is a great idea, and I've actually been working on a similar story idea for T+D --on Training Nightmares. It's a bit early to solicit submissions, but since this came up, I'll go ahead and ask anyone with a story about a training nightmare to submit it to me at ekaplan (at) (Not using the symbol helps keep spam trawlers from grabbing my address.) I'll keep those stories on file, as well as remind you all about submitting a little later.

This is going to be a fun, light piece about those experiences that made you say, "One day I'll laugh about this," even though you didn't feel like it at the time. Did no participants show up to your class? Did the projection screen fall on your foot? Did you get sick in the middle of a session? You get the idea. The piece will run in October's T+D--just in time for Halloween. I'll be writing it this summer.
The Future of Work

This week, the First World Congress on the Future of Work brought executives together to take an integrative, proactive look at the strategic management of people, technology, and facilities assets.

Delegates included 85 high-level decision makers in the HR, IT, and operations fields as well as government, education, and non-profit sector leaders. The invitation-only congress was put together by membership organization Future of Work and aimed to 1) find common ground between HR, IT, and facilities leaders 2) examine how knowlege work, creativity, and collaboration are changing the workforce and 3) better prepare organizations for the future by getting the groups to work together.

A Declaration of Independence signed by participants attempts to create a new community of interest, define its charter, and issue a public call for action.

The work-in-progress document "defines a set of design principles that will enable organizations to make the vision of the future of work real in their organizations." Delegates agreed to

*uphold and promote interdependence and collaboration through mutual consideration and respect among all stakeholders

*champion these principles of action in our firms, professional organizations, and the communities where we live

* strive in concert with others to discourage all animosities and resolve all conflicts arising from our differences in perspective

* actively encourage all those with whom we interact to join with us in promoting our vision of a more collaborative, more productive, and more satisfying way of life in all we do.

More resources are available on the conference Website, including an event Weblog. The postings on that are thin, but more information may be added after the conference wraps up.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Pioneering collaboration tool Groove launches new version

News today in the online collaboration arena: Groove is allowing paying customers to try out the beta (test) of version 3.0.

For those of you not familiar with Groove, some background. The application creates virtual collaborative workspaces. It has stood out among similar offerings because of its use of peer-to-peer technology (which means that users don't need Internet access) and its flexibility. Far-flung users of Groove can not only do the usual collaborative work--share and co-edit documents, co-navigate Webpages, chat, view multimedia presentations, and so forth--but also create their own customized tools within the program.

Applications such as Groove will become more important in the learning arena. In "We Learning" part I, I write about an instructor who has replaced virtual classroom technology with Groove. As workflow-based learning becomes more prevalent in companies, programs like Groove will be viewed even more as learning tools and will be integrated into other workplace systems.

The promise of Groove has been great, but as Robin Good writes on his Kolabora Website, the program has not gained widespread use because of its bandwidth and other technology needs. Version 3.0 aims to solve that problem. Good provides an in-depth analysis of what version 3.0 offers and doesn't offer as well as links to various articles on Groove.

If you're not a paying customer, you can still take a test-drive of the application. Version 2.5 is available with a free two-month trial for all users.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

T+D blog mentioned in Popular Science!

In January, I wrote in this blog about a Popular Science magazine article that described how to increase your brainpower. (See the fourth item in the January blog archives.) Well, the magazine has a new feature on its Letters page: a From the Blogs section that publishes excerpts from blogs that link to Popular Science. The T+D blog was chosen for excerpting in the April issue.

I don't think I said anything all that brilliant (in fact, as one friend told me jokingly, I admitted to the world how dumb I am because I reported I received only 4 out of 13 on the Popular Science quiz). But it's exciting to be mentioned in the magazine!

Unfortunately, I can't provide a link to the page because most of the magazine's content is available online only to subscribers. (I understand because T+D does the same thing.) But if you want to pick up a copy of the magazine at the newsstand, or if you're already a subscriber, check out page 10.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Would your (external or internal) customers sleep on the street to get your products or services?

Wired News pointed me to this item about the recent opening of the Apple store in San Francisco. More than 300 people camped out over one or two nights to be the first people in the doors when the store officially opened. Lest you think this is an isolated incident, see this Wired News article about the opening of the Tokyo store. There, the line stretched for 10 city blocks and was estimated to be made up of 2500 to 5000 people.

What inspires such extreme customer loyalty, and how can other companies harness that? A few clues come from an email by Ulan McKnight, who camped out for two nights and was the first person in the store. He wrote, "Those of us who think of our Macs as more than tools to get the job done understand that there is a bit of art that goes into everything Apple does. We stand in line because, in the simplest terms, we appreciate the art Apple creates."

We're not used to using the term art to describe consumer products. But maybe we should be. There is art in good design, in products or services that are not just beautiful or efficient but both.

There is art in the way the Apple computer and operating software, designed by the same people, integrate smoothly without crashing, and in the way the operating system ships with settings that could compromise security automatically turned off. There is art in the details--how the charger plug for the Powerbook has a light that turns color when the laptop is finished charging, and in the cool swooping motion a window makes when it's minimized.

What is art without an audience? The art Apple creates is art with a purpose. It is not art for art's sake, but art for someone, i.e. the consumer. Apple inspires such loyalty in its customers because its focus is absolutely customer-based, putting quality above profits. The company seems to constantly ask, What would work better for the consumer? What would he or she like?

That attitude is certainly something your company or department can emulate. We all need to make money, and Apple could probably stand to focus a little more on gaining marketshare, but customers can sniff out whether you're truly interested in them or just in the money they hold in their hand. (Or, in the case of internal customers, the numbers they represent).

Create high-quality, well designed products and services that work smoothly together, integrate easily, and protect your customers' best interests; focus on the details; and be driven by your customers' wants and needs. Then you won't have to force them to buy your products or use your services. They'll beat a path to your door, like Apple's.

(If you're thinking you're off the hook because your training department doesn't offer any external products or services, consider that this advice applies just as much for products and services offered internally. For example, classroom training, Web-based training, training manuals, synchronous online learning events, and so forth. )

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Personal knowledge management system

Writer, editor, and trainer Amy Gahran has an interesting idea in her Weblog about using a blog as a personal knowledge management system. If you're like her (and me), thoughts and ideas often occur to you that you want to try to remember. But, soon enough, they're lost as something else distracts you. A Weblog in which you jot down little tidbits of information and ideas can serve as your "backup brain," Gahran says.

The idea isn't her own--she provides several links to articles that discuss this. In one of them, James McGee of McGee's Musings says that knowledge management in an organization won't work until people learn "how to unpack what they know." That means "getting experts to figure out what they['re] expert at and make it accessible." Weblogs are one way that people can do that, as they let people store and share ideas.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Employee Appreciation Day

I received a press release today telling me that Friday, March 5th is Employee Appreciation Day. The idea for the day was create 10 years ago by Dr. Bob Nelson, called "the Guru of Thank You" and one of the founders of the National Association for Employee Recognition (NAER). The purpose of the day is "for employers worldwide to thank, acknowledge, and appreciate their employees for their ongoing efforts, contributions, and performance."

Dr. Nelson stresses that workers need recognition on a continuing basis, but setting aside a day for this helps to remind managers of its importance. It makes sense to me. There's a Boss's Day, so why not a day for employees?

If your company is short on cash, don't worry. The best forms of recognition, Nelson says, are often the efforts that cost little to nothing but are creative and come from the heart. Some examples:

1. At the headquarters of Kentucky Fried Chicken, they ask employees to bring in their musical instruments once a month, and then the musicians serenade the month's top performers.

2. A manager for a bookstore in New Mexico received a gold-painted spark plug with the words "This is for adding such a spark to our workplace." She's kept that award for 30 years.

3. A big insurance company lets award winners Dump a Dog: They're allowed to pick anything on their to-do list for their manager to do for them. (This award is very popular, as you can imagine.)

What creative ideas has your company come up with to thank employees? Use the comment feature on this blog to let your colleagues know what's worked for you.

But the best way to thank an employee, Nelson says, is to give him or her "simple, sincere, and specific" praise--whether in person or electronically, in writing or in public. Do that daily, he says, and you're "90 percent of the way toward creating a motivating work environment."

PS--Speaking of thanks, thank you for your patience and I apologize for the short hiatus in blog postings. I was in Florida attending my 87-year-old grandmother's wedding, if you can believe it!