Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Work Literacy Experience

Michele Martin wonders on her blog and on the course's Ning site whether the Work Literacy course has been successful and what defines the success of such online courses. I think the activities and discussions on the site are evidence enough to judge the ‘successfulness’ of a course like this. But, I shouldn't speak for others, so I’ll just talk about what my experience has been till now.

I joined the Work Literacy online course only out of curiosity. I was familiar with the tools but was not sure where and how they fit into my learning and in the learning I create for others. I had initially planned to be just a spectator – just observing what people do with all these tools, etc. But, the discussions pulled me in the very first week.

The learning community here made me realize that I need to get out of my zone and get involved in the discussions. I felt I had some experiences that I could share. For example, some of the tools featured or popular in the group were different from the ones I’d tried. So, I tried the featured/popular tools and blogged about the experience. I really enjoyed doing that apart from learning about more tools. Now, I know the differences between the various tools a little better. No one tool is absolutely the best. Each has its own pros and cons. So, when I need to use one of them to create some training, I think I’ll know which one will work best for that situation.

The other good thing that came out of this for me is I came across several ideas and actual implementations of the Web 2.0 tools in learning. In fact, one of the best things about this course was that it was conducted through Ning. And seeing it being implemented in real time for a real online course made its usefulness so much more evident.

The site served as a single central resource for all information and activities. This, I feel, was much better than having resources on multiple networks and multiple media. Though, there was some branching out to other sites, you could basically access whatever you need through the Ning site. So, I didn’t have to keep track of too many resources and networks.

The fact that we could choose our level of learning/interaction helped immensely. I didn’t feel pressured to complete everything. I lurked around, popped in on discussions, fiddled with the tools, and wrote about my experiences, depending on my level of familiarity with the tools and the amount of time I had. It was true self-paced learning.

To summarize:
I learned to use new Web 2.0 tools
I picked up new skills with tools I was already using.
I picked up ideas for using Web 2.0 for professional development (creating an online portfolio through delicious, LinkedIn, etc.)
I learned about how others implement Web 2.0 tools inBulleted List their course designs
I now use Web 2.0 more regularly for my personal learning.
I can now think of ways to use Web 2.0 in my organization and in the courses I design.

Basically, I am more confident about my Web 2.0 skills and I know what I can do with them. So, I guess I can say that the course was pretty successful for me. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RSS Feeds and Aggregators - Google and Netvibes

Week 4 of Work Literacy is about RSS feeds and aggregators. I decided to post about it here instead of writing a long comment on the forums. (It also makes up for my blog for the week.)
I’ve been using Google Reader and have been quite content with it. I can see the feeds like in an e-mail inbox, which works fine for me. I use several folders to sort the feeds and am able to track what’s new for a particular subject quite easily.
One of the aggregators recommended on Work Literacy is Netvibes. So, I created a Netvibes page today and found that it is quite good. You can add all sorts of feeds to it. I imported my feeds from Google Reader and each folder was added as a new tab very smoothly. I was impressed. I also added other feeds like news, Delicious, and Twitter to my private page. I realized that if I add these and my other social networking feeds to my public page, I'll be able to create a pretty decent online profile. Cool! I tried to do that and here’s the public profile I’ve created.
Btw, Mashable has this great piece on How to Manage Your Social Profiles and Create Virtual Business Cards. I think Netvibes is another tool you can possibly use to manage and share your multiple social profiles.
The only problem I faced is that I have to look through the entire page to find out what’s new on which feed. For example, I have one tab for e-learning that probably has about 20 blogs. So, there are 20 little modules on that tab and I need to search to see which ones have been updated. I found that somewhat cumbersome. If I break them into smaller groups, I’ll end up having too many tabs to scroll through. Is there an easier way to read through the feeds? Google Reader has read and unread posts and the feeds are added like new e-mails, which makes it easy to identify what has been updated. I can easily mark favorites with a star, edit tags, e-mail and share posts, etc. But, I’m just starting off with Netvibes. I’m sure it has features I don’t know about.
But, then again, as I’ve said before, I am a Google fan, and I think iGoogle works pretty much the same was as Netvibes does. It allows you to add all sorts of widgets, which includes direct RSS feeds. You can create tabs and arrange your widgets accordingly. I have widgets for news, reader, and e-mail on my iGoogle page. So, I only need to check that one Web page to get all updates. After I saw that Netvibes allows you to add Twitter, Delicious, etc., I looked at the Google gadgets more closely and sure enough, they too have a host of related gadgets I can add to my iGoogle page.
So, basically, apart from the public and private page feature of Netvibes (which I must say is a good thing to have), I don’t see anything that is radically different. I guess I’m going to continue using Reader for RSS and iGoogle as my aggregator till I find information that Netvibes has other better features I haven’t stumbled upon yet.

P.S. I've only had time to play with one new tool this week. If I can I'll try a couple more and post my views here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Social Bookmarks: Delicious, Notebook, etc

I'm reproducing a blog post I posted at the Work Literacy Ning site as a part of the social bookmarking week.

This workshop has been very exciting for me so far, even with my limited participation. Last week I learned some good stuff about social networking sites I was already using, but not to their full potential.
This week is about social bookmarking. I haven’t been big on sharing my bookmarks. Apart from the browser bookmarks, I’ve been using Google Bookmarks and Notebook from the Google toolbar on my browser to clip and organize my bookmarks. I use only my browser bookmarks for personal sites, such as banks. I use Notebook to clip and add notes to articles and blogs I find interesting or useful, and have also published them as posts on my blogs. Notebook also allows you to add links, clippings and notes to your bookmarks. You can create a “notebook” with a group of related or daily links, add your comments, and then publish it as a post to your blog or share it as an individual Web page. So, it can work as a social bookmark but not exactly in the way delicious or diigo does.
Since Delicious is the focus of this course, I decided to set up an account and try using it. And I quite like it. It is similar and different to Notebook in quite a few ways. Both allow you to add tags and comments to links and share them with your network. The way you group and share the links is different.
While anything you add to delicious is instantly shared on the public domain unless you specifically select the option to not do so, with Notebook, you have to specifically share each Notebook by publishing it and then maybe invite people to see it. But, with Notebook, I can invite others to collaborate. Instead of me just putting up my views about a particular topic or link, I can ask others to share what they think as well. So, we can probably use this as a collaborative tool for maybe a research project, a study, a book review, and so on.
Paradoxically, I like the openness of Delicious and the privacy of Notebook. I’ll use Delicious to just quickly share links with the world in general and my network in particular (when I build one). I’ll use Notebook when I find stuff that I find interesting but may not necessarily want to share, or when I find an article I need time to reflect and comment upon in depth. Notebook won’t force me to think up my notes and reflections immediately. I can take my time to think, rite, and then post.
I also tried Diigo briefly, but it gave me so much trouble with IE (we use it at work) that I stopped almost as soon as I started using it. From Melanie’s forum, I can see how useful Diigo can be in a learning environment. Maybe, when I want to implement social bookmarking as a learning/teaching strategy, I’ll consider Diigo more seriously.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How To Get Started in E-learning- The Big Question

The ASTD Big Question this month is what advice would you give to someone new to the field. Where do you start?

Well, here are some of my ideas:

  • Create a “to-learn list” for yourself. What do you think you need to learn before you can confidently say you’re ready to enter the field as a practitioner? Prioritize the list. Go at it one by one. Trying to do too much at a time can lead to information overload and pretty much ineffective. If possible, get your list whetted by an expert to weed out stuff you don’t really need to know (like maybe the technology behind an LMS or high-end graphic editing) and emphasize the stuff you should know (like which tools should be used for what).

  • Learn to use at least 2 or 3 different tools on your own. Hands-on learning is the best. Use whatever tools you have to create a small module on any topic. Start with describing and storyboarding your design in Word, move on to PowerPoint, and then use trial versions of other rapid-authoring tools like Captivate and Articulate to develop the entire module including screencasts, audio, etc. Use different tools to design and create the same topic. This will help you explore their features and enhance your module as you go along.

  • Create modules for different subjects. It will help you develop a variety of skills.

  • Find resources on the Web. Look for articles, blogs, and videos that can help you with each tool. The Rapid e-learning blog is a good starting point with lots of good ideas and tips.
    Subscribe to bloggers who regularly blog about the items on your “to-learn” list. Contact the ones that inspire you most. Ask them questions, comment on their posts. You can learn a lot from just interacting with the experts.

  • Create a Linked-in profile. You can get in touch with other professionals in the field apart from opening up job opportunities. Several organizations now look at Linked-In for potential recruits.

  • Blog about your experiences. It helps you get things into perspective and invite thoughts and comments from others. Plus it’s a good addition to your online profile.

  • Join an online network or community for e-learning professionals. Share your work with them and get their feedback. It will help you establish your presence and enhance your skills at the same time. You can put up your work on sites like SlideShare and YouTube.

  • Attend online learning workshops and webinars. For example, a good online workshop that’s happening right now is Work Literacy. It has some great resources and activities that can help you develop some neat Web 2.0 skills. You can use these skills to build your network or just get a hang of the tools that you can later use in your courseware development.

There are some good lists out there with more things you can do to become a better e-learning professional. A few I particularly like are:
Ten Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes To Be a More Successful e-learning Professional
Ten Web 2.0 Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes to Be a More Successful E-learning Professional
12 Step Plan to getting started with Social Media

Finally, there’s only one thing that can really help you understand and apply all the theory you may have learned – a real, live project. That is the best way to learn. Get a job that will help you learn and grow at the same time. Easier said than done? Maybe. But, nothing works better than applying yourself to a real-world situation to actually understand how near or far you are from becoming an e-learning professional.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Question: To-Learn Lists

My response to this month's Big Question:

I’m sure few people have a formal to-learn list. We all start with a to-do list. We don’t start thinking in terms of learning; we first start thinking in terms of doing. What is it that we want to do; do we know how to do it? Only if the answer is no, does learning come into the picture. We rarely want to learn something just for the “heck” of it. Isn’t that the premise of the all too important motivation factor, the “what’s in it for me?” factor that we incorporate in every course we create? It has to have a relevance to the learner’s life and needs.

Of course there are exceptions. I may come across something interesting that I want to learn about, even though it may not directly impact my life. But, I believe that doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately. And of course, though we may want to learn something irrelevant, we mostly end up not doing that because they’re not linked to a to do item

So, basically we first create to-do lists and then create to-learn lists as an auxiliary document (mostly in our minds). Consequently, it’s the to learns that are associated with the to dos at the top of the list that get preference in our personal learning catalog.

For example, I want to keep up with the new e-learning trends. I want to implement them in my courses. So, I’ve started learning and working with Web 2.0 tools. I want to create game-based learning. I have some experience with them but not enough. So, I want to learn to design and develop (at least the logic) such courses. I plan to take that up more intensively as soon as I feel I’m comfortable with e-learning 2.0. I love music and dancing. I want to learn to play the guitar, I want to learn to do the salsa. But, right now it doesn’t have an important bearing on my life (yeah, I know, it’s too focused on work). So, I will learn these skills, but I don’t have a time frame.

We should have formal to-learn lists. That would help us be more focused and have concrete learning goals for professional and personal development. You can have lists linked to to-do lists or categorized into professional and personal learning lists. Have a time-frame fixed to each item on the list along with a reason why you should do it. Spend some time every day tracking your progress and revising the list. The sense of personal achievement that would come out of crossing items off that list would be worth the little trouble we’ll take to set it up.

In fact, we could create shared to-learn lists online, similar to the wish lists shopping sites have. The lists can be used to form online learning communities, who share and learn through each other every day. Instead of having to rummage through hundreds of online resources to get what we need, we could learn through connectivism and collaborative learning. We do some of that now, but the lists might make it more structured and easier.

A to-learn list, whether personal or shared, will of course only be able to document the conscious learning decisions we make. The things we learn while simply surfing the Web, reading the newspaper, etc. cannot obviously be captured. But, if you realize you’ve just learned something new, you can add it to a have-learned list. You should also not restrict your learning to the list. Learning is an ongoing continuous process. Having a list doesn’t mean you stop at the end of the list, you have to keep adding to it, as often or more often than you cross out items from it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Spread the ID Word

One of the biggest challenges the e-learning industry in India faces is a lack of awareness about the industry and instructional design. As a part of the recruitment panel in my organization, I've experienced, first hand, the difficulty in finding and recruiting good IDs and writers.

Manish Mohan has written a post containing helpful resources and tips for aspiring instructional designers. The post is very useful for someone trying to break into instructional design from other careers or straight from college. On the topic of instructional design courses in India, Manish says:

“I am not sure how good the courses in India are. I recommend getting a job
instead. Symbiosis is quoted more often in conversations and so must be gaining
some popularity as an instructional design course. But honestly, as a manager
who has had to recruit for ID, I look for prior experience, and if there is no
prior experience, I look for their core writing skills and ability to learn.
Having a diploma is good but not essential.”

I couldn’t agree more. I strongly believe you can learn much more and better on the job than by taking a distance learning course that only gives you the theories and not the application. In fact I’ll go one step further and state that core writing skills and ability to learn will stand you in better stead than simply taking instructional design courses. I’ve frequently come across candidates with a certificate, diploma, or even master’s in ID, but close to zero writing skills. On the other hand, I’ve recruited several freshers with a strong command over the language, an enthusiasm to learn and above average analytical ability. I’m not saying that the courses being offered are not good. I haven’t seen the material for any of them too closely. What I’m saying is that just the course won’t help. You need to develop some basic skills above and beyond that. The theories and principles behind the strategies being used can be practiced and learnt on the job. According to me, to be a good instructional writer and designer, you need to have the following skills at the very least:

  • Strong writing skills
  • Effective communication
  • Logical and analytical ability
  • Enthusiasm for learning new things

It’s not that we don’t have enough talented people, the problem is that they are hardly aware that such an avenue exists. In most interviews with candidates who have no exposure to e-learning, I end up spending a chunk of the time explaining what the job of an instructional writer or designer actually entails. Most people I talk to tend to confuse it with content or technical writing. It may have some connections depending on the subject matter of your courseware. But, otherwise they are miles apart.

With e-learning becoming more and more accessible to people in India, people are sitting up and taking notice of this learning medium. Distance learning, which until recently meant couriering booklets of notes and assignments, is fast turning into synchronous and asynchronous e-learning modules. If people start engaging in e-learning as consumers, they may also want to become producers. And, now, with several big names entering into the e-learning domain in India or setting up their own e-learning training departments, things might change further. Maybe the day will come when people won’t give me the blank look of incomprehension when I tell them what I do for a living.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Guilty of Inactivity!

The day you get a break from work overload, the network decides to give you trouble! I’m not able to do any of the stuff I was supposed to do. I have a lot of catching up to do with CCK08. I have to respond to e-mails and reconnect with some friends. I want to update my blog. I want to tinker around with several of the new software I’ve been reading about. The list is endless.

Hmm…maybe what I actually need to do is to set up a scheduler for myself. In doing the things that seem to be on higher priority at work and home, I seem to be losing out on time to do things for myself. I just about manage to skim through my RSS reader everyday. On some days, I manage to clip the more interesting bits and post them. But, I feel I’m restricting as well as overwhelming myself at the same time. The most activity I do online is read. I spend all my “free” time reading and bookmarking stuff that primarily shows up on my RSS reader. So, I don’t get the time to actually put the knowledge or information I get into actual use. I don’t update my blogs as often as I’d like. I don’t comment on others’ blogs as often as I like. I don’t participate in communities as much as I’d like. (Most times, I find it’s too late to say what I want to say or that someone else has said it better.) I also don't use the strategies and tools as much as I'd like.

I know this gripe seems repetitive...I expressed similar sentiments some months ago as well. But, I have progressed a little from that state, its only that the progress could've been better and faster.

I’ve started suffering from homophily too. Instructional design and elearning are close to my heart and I absolutely love to devour write-ups about new developments in this field. But, most times I end up spending all my time online with things only related to these. In fact, even within elearning, I feel the only things we’re talking about is eLearning 2.0. Of course it is a great new development and there are many exciting things happening in it. But, I guess it’s about information overload.

In short, homophily and information overload are making me feel saturated and tired. Maybe I should take a break and consciously take out time to do stuff other than (just) reading about the same stuff again and again. We don’t use many elearning 2.0 tools at work or in the courses we develop. I’m, unfortunately, still working on projects that are modeled completely on elearning 1.0. And a change in strategy is not in my hands. But, yes I hope to be doing that soon. In fact, I’ve taken on myself the task of setting up wikis for my workplace colleagues to help in sharing knowledge and learnings from current and past projects. It’s been progressing in bits and pieces in between the regular workload, but I hope to be done with it soon. Let’s see how that goes.