Category Archives: Learning

L&D need to get on the curation bandwagon. Here’s why..

I’ve been meaning to follow-up on my first post on curation for a while now, but it wasn’t until I read Nigel Paine’s article on Training Zone that I felt compelled to get this post together. The bit I really liked was Nigel’s mantra “curate first, create second” which I could not agree with more.

Embracing curation as a part of your learning strategy makes sense for many reasons. For starters as I said in the previous article it’s a “gateway drug” to becoming what Bob Mosher and Con Gottfredson call “dynamic learners” and we all need more of those.

It can also save you money. If you have a third-party content library you may be better off curating instead. If you don’t have a library of general learning resources, curation means you can create one for free.

  • Curation lets you grab the best content from the best online authors. A lot of content libraries are staid, dull and out of date.
  • With Curation you control the meta data, this means you can give each article the tags that make sense to your employees.
  • You can link articles to your company’s goals and make them relevant for your audience.

Remember good curation is about understanding what your audience needs and cares about.

Most companies spend thousands of pounds each year on basic Microsoft IT skills training. Not only does this cost a lot in cash, it usually means going on a whole day course out of the office, when what you really need is performance support. The right resource for the right person at the right time – at the moment of application.

If you search You Tube for Excel tutorials you will find a plethora of resources. Some will be better than others of course, but that’s where your skills as a learning professional come in to evaluate how effective they are likely to be for your audience. You could quite conceivably use a tool like Pinterest, or Learnfizz to create a collection of tagged resources covering all the main functions of MS Office and it wouldn’t cost you a penny. Yes it will take you time to collect and review and yes you may not have access to YouTube at work, but perhaps this is the clear business case you need to change all that?

I thought twice about calling curation a bandwagon in the title of this post as it’s clearly a pejorative term. However, the rapidly expanding number of tools in this sector means it is a bubble that surely cannot be sustained. This doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear, but it does mean that you need to choose your platform carefully if you want to be sure of using the same one this time next year. And while most options are free to use, it’s worth considering a paid option, as it generally brings security and peace of mind. Developers who get paid tend to provide a better service.

You might not want to limit yourself to just one tool. They all have slightly different strengths, is a great all-rounder with fantastic search engines, Pinterest is visually appealing, Pearl Trees is great for exploring related topics and making serendipitous discoveries and Learnfizz focuses on learning.

If you are going to use a variety of tools you want to be able to pull them together into some sort of portal, perhaps on your intranet or blog, to make it easy for your audience to access. So part of your selection should involve asking ” how can I extract the content?”. has RSS feeds for each of your topics so people can get them straight to their inbox or feed reader. It even gives you the code to export an iframe with a dynamic slider showing your latest topics. Wouldn’t that look good on your intranet?

Once you’ve chosen a tool and topic, you need to figure out how you are going to cultivate the skills and habits of a good curator. It’s really important to figure out how you can integrate curating into your daily routine. If you don’t do this you won’t find the content you need. Curation requires passion and discipline. Here are some tips:

  • Identify the times in your average day that you could spend curating. Perhaps during your commute if you take the bus or train, or maybe during your lunch break.
  • Aim for about 30 minutes a day and put in your calendar.
  • Eat the elephant one bite at a time – you don’t need to create a comprehensive library in the first week.
  • Get your team involved – many hands make light work (just make sure they are as clued up as you)
  • If you get several people involved you can focus on quality – even three or four articles a week each will build into a quality resource quite quickly.

Don’t just focus on the quality of the content, focus on the quality of your own curation. Remember you add value when you add context. Two or three well positioned articles that clearly link to issues your organisation is facing, will resonate more strongly with your audience than hundreds of generic articles. You also add value when you make the user experience simpler so always take time to add metadata to organise the collection.

That’s the difference between aggregation and curation.


Review of Chatter Project


Chatter is a social business communication tool, provided free to customers. We began using Chatter in January 2011 as a potental tool to improve collaboration. So far Chatter has been piloted accross a broad range of small groups. In total there are 98 registered users and 14 groups. The only group so far to provide structured feedback were those who attended a recent reward and recognition conference. This post focuses on their feedback and what we can learn from it, but will also highlight relevant observations from some of the other groups and suggest future applications of the tool.

Recognition Conference Group Feedback

We set up a group on Chatter for all of the participants of our Recognition Conference (about 60 people in total). The group aimed to:

  • Make all the information available to the attendees without swamping their inboxes
  • Start the networking early and allow the winners to meet each other online before the event
  • To book and arrange activities
  • To post answers to common questions in a central location
  • Provide a unique space for the winners

There were 47 replies to the question below which was asked in the feedback survey for the Conference:

Chatter Satisfaction Survey Results

25 people left comments relating specifically to Chatter:

Chatter survey feedback comments

The most common criticisim was that users found it inconvenient to have to find the link to the site and login. Some suggested that it should link to the company active directory, but this feature is not available on However, if you use the desktop application it logs you in automatically. It can also be set to start automatically when you start your computer. We did not explore this option prior to the event because IT would have had to install the app individually for everyone.  If we had done this it could have simplified and improved the user experience.

The other negative comments could have been avoided with a more thorough system induction. Although we did schedule some online drop-in sessions, take-up was very low, even though some people were clearly struggling to get to grips with simple functionality. They didn’t tell us about their problems so we couldn’t help them. If we had put more effort into welcoming people onto the system we could have provided more personalised guidance on using it and built relationships with the users so that they would have felt more comfortable asking for help either on or off line.

Communities need active facilitators to welcome engage and support members. This is not optional, it’s essential. The best example of this I’ve seen is on Jane Hart’s Social Learning site; every new member received a personal welcome to the site, this engaged them and made them feel more comfortable about contributing and asking for help. It’s a lot of work and when you’re at work with a million and one other things to do you can easily make excuses for not going to these lengths, but quite simply you must.

Where Next with Chatter?

We need to decide the next steps for our use of Chatter. How else can we use this tool and how can we learn from our experiences?

One of the early worries came when we launched the Recognition Conference Group. We let things go viral and people started inviting their friends to Chatter and began communicating, not always in ways we thought were appropriate. Although this caused a few nervous moments it does not mean we should avoid these tools:

Social media doesn’t “cause” unprofessional or inappropriate behavior. It “catches” it” – Lisa Nielsen

“Social business gets the best out of companies’ values, both the good and the bad; it will expose your corporate culture big time” Luis Suarez via Twitter

It may be tempting to avoid using tools like Chatter because they are so open, because we perceive them to be risky. The main risk is that we will expose negative behaviours and negative aspects of our culture. Are we really afraid of the truth, or should we be bold and brace ourselves to deal with these issues as they come up and use them to improve our business?

There are many different ways in which we could use Chatter both to support learning and internal communications. At the moment it seems sensible to continue using Chatter to pilot new ideas and to start building a more collaborative culture, which is one of the objectives we set out to achieve in January.

Possible future Chatter projects:

Future Chatter Projects


To use Chatter, or any similar tool, successfully you need to..

  • make it as easy as possible for users to gain access
  • welcome them onto the system individually to build rapport
  • provide plenty of online support
  • position the tool as a way to solve problems
  • target small audiences to give provide personalisation and context

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e-Learning Co-op?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an image exchange for e-learning professionals to share quality photos and graphics they’ve created themselves?

Let’s face it most of what’s out there sucks..

the team that play together..

Our boss thought it would be funny to super glue all our hands together - he's such fun

I’m designing a compliance module on Risk identification at the moment.

Last night I took a break from my scenario writing hell and started looking for some images.

If you’ve ever had to source images for anything online, you’ll know this is almost always a frustrating and time-consuming process. Lately I’ve stopped trying to find free pictures and forked out for some istockphoto credits. I’m sure this pays for itself in time saved, compared with trawling the free sites. But as the example above shows it’s not exactly a guarantee of quality or originality.

I thought I’d try to find an even shorter short cut and so I took a look at the elearning art and elearning brothers sites. They offer high quality isolated images of people doing lots of different poses, which is great because even on sites like istockphoto it’s hard to find collections of the same model, in the same clothes etc. doing different facial expressions and poses.

However they are really expensive for what you get. A single collection of one model is $100 on elearning art. I have about 16 scenarios, all of which feature two or three characters, who all need to look different. And while their images are high quality, they all look a bit cheesy from a UK perspective. I want gritty realism, not super shiny teeth and spray-tans. Sorry guys – that just won’t cut it over here.

Of course there is another option – take your own photos. We’ve invested in some nice kit at work; a set of soft box lights and a compact DSLR camera. This is great in theory, but the module I’m working on is going to show people getting a lot of stuff very wrong and even committing fraud, so it’s unfair to ask colleagues at work to pose for the images on this occasion. The only alternative is to hire models, not something I’ve looked into, but I’m having a hard time picturing that purchase order getting approval.

Then I started to wonder if that was the only alternative. Couldn’t we as a community pool our resources somehow? We could use an eLearning network event to get the ball rolling;

  • A day in a photo studio or frankly just someone’s office somewhere with a few white sheets.
  • The attendees could be the models
  • Maybe get a photography pro in for tips etc
  • Then spend the afternoon learning how to edit them professionally on Photoshop
  • At the end of the day upload them to a suitable site for all members to share.

It could be similar to the recent eLearning event – How to Produce Rich Media Material which worked really well and it could create an ongoing resource. The collection can grow over time; no charges, just credits for sharing – you get what you give.

It could save a lot of us a lot of time and cut the number of people using stock images like these. Who’s in?

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What’s your Golden Rule?

I’m pulling together a plan for a new suite of compliance modules which have to be published a lot quicker than I’d like. So as part of this plan I need to educate a range of  SME’s and get them onboard with my philosophy quickly.

Here’s my draft..

“You agree to partner with us in a modern approach to compliance training. You agree with the following principles:

·        Learning is not an event it’s a process

·        Multiple choice tests only demonstrate short term memory recall

·        Compliance training should be more than a box ticking exercise

·        Compliance training can deliver improvements and savings to the business which can and should be measured

·        Compliance training does not have to be arduous for the participants

Golden Rules:

1.     To change people’s behaviour you must first convince them of the need to change.

2.     Training must be tailored to different groups even though this takes longer to develop. The needs of the Sales team are not the same as the needs of the Facilities team.

3.     There is no point in assessing people’s ability to recall facts they read three, or four slides ago.

4.     Job aids that people can find and use intuitively are more effective than expecting people to memorise policies and documents.

5.     Realistic scenarios can help people to practice the behaviours we want them to adopt in a safe environment and show them the consequences of their decisions and actions.

6.     We can move compliance beyond box ticking to improve capability and competence.”

What else would you include? Have you created anything similar in your organisation. It would be particularly interesting to hear how vendors address this issue, or do you just give them what they want?

Why is no one talking about Chatter?

Three things have surprised me in the past week (excluding my first unbroken night’s sleep in 7 months – thanks kids).

First I discovered we already have access to a pretty impressive collaboration/networking/sharing tool

Second I discovered that it was free

Third and most surprisingly of all – hardly anyone seems to be talking about it in the L&D community

You’ve probably heard of Chatter from the massive Cloud based CRM platform. It got a lot of press back in the spring of 2009 when it was introduced and more late last year when it announced that it was going to make it free to all employees of Salesforce customers (well up to 5000 employees).

Yet (almost) nobody in the learning community seems to be talking about it, which seems kind of odd to me. There’s plenty in the marketing, pr and sales blogs, but nada from our side of things.

Am I missing something?

Apparently there are 87,000 customers and 60,000 of them have started using Chatter. Yahoo have even purchased Chatter as a standalone app for it’s staff (without the CRM pat of, Dell have ditched all of there collaboration tools and moved to Chatter. Read full article

So what does Chatter do?

Take a look at their website for full details, but it’s basically a Facebook/Twitter wannabe (in a good way). It’s developing rapidly too, now including Twitter functionality like using @ for mentioning individuals and # for tagging topics. You can form groups, follow people, share files and links, and if you have a licence to use the CRM parts of Salesforce, it links to those too. There’s also a free desktop version built on Adobe Air that puts your Chatter feed in a separate Instant Messenger style window and mobile apps too. (except for Android, which is on the way)

This week Salesforce announced several Chatter related investments, including a very interesting tie up with Seesmic (read article). So it’s fair to say Salesforce are pretty serious about Chatter, and the fact they are making it free to everyone in the same way Yammer do by signing up with a corporate email domain, means it’s going to be very, very big.

It has a lot going for it, I’ve only had a fairly superficial play with it so far, but it functions well and does more than I expected.Here’s a shot from my profile page.

Chatter screen shot

Chatter Profile Page

Heard it all before?

Of course, it’s not doing anything new, or innovative, but they have achieved what no other social media platform has – they’ve removed the most obstinate obstacle between you and Social tools – the IT department.

You don’t have to make a case for Social Learning, you don’t have to convince your IT department to unblock it because it’s already there as part of a key enterprise tool.

So you can get on with helping people to use it effectively and start building a collaborative culture, without any pressure and frankly without IT even knowing (mwah ha ha ha).

How are we using it?

This week I spent some time with some of the more advanced users, who I was told had been using Chatter for a while. Turned out they hadn’t used it at all – the only awareness they had was of the rather annoying daily activity feed that it emails by default. Once I’d shown them how to turn that off, we talked about the possible applications of Chatter and they started to get it.

To be honest this has all caught me out a bit – I always imagined having to write a strategy of some sort, make a business case etc, but now I think we’re just going to jump in and get people going with minimal rules and supervision – I think this approach will help people to think for themselves and think of ways to use it that work for them – encouraging innovation and democratisation.

We have a couple of training programs coming up in the next few months that we can incorporate Chatter into, firstly to give people a heads up about what is coming, start conversations, share relevant links. Then I can see it forming part of an effective performance support tool for a content management system we are rolling out and thirdly as part of a leadership development program – that includes zero workshops (quite shockingly progressive for us). This will introduce the system and the advantages it offers to a diverse audience and should create some momentum as well as valuable experiences.

It’s early days and there are bound to be problems to overcome in the near future, but right now it’s all very exciting and I can’t wait to get stuck in…but why is nobody else talking about it as a learning tool?

Learning Technologies 2011

First a confession..

I didn’t actually go to Learning Techologies 2011, I didn’t even go to the free Exhibition, or any of the seminars. So why am I bothering to write about it?

Despite this rather major handicap I still got an awful lot out of the event and to be honest I feel slightly guilty about it, because it didn’t cost me, or my company, a penny.

So why didn’t I go? (Let’s get the excuses out of the way)

Well, mainly because I don’t work a regular 9-5, I work the equivalent of four days in three and the two I don’t work happen to be on Wednesday and Thursday. I could be wrong but I’m not sure my two youngest would have enjoyed it all that much and frankly it would have been tricky getting back to Bristol in time to do the school run.

What did I get out of it if I didn’t go and how?

Once I realised there was no chance of swapping days with my wife (she’s a solicitor and therefore far more important than I) I thought I could at least monitor the Twitter steam while the kids were sleeping. This led me to revisit the online community site for Learning Technology. I’d been a member for a while, but not contributed as regularly as I probably should have. I casually clicked onto the IPTV link, which hosts video footage of previous conferences, without much expectation and all of a sudden I was watching Cathy Moore ‘s session on action mapping live with the accompanying slides – amazing.  I also managed to catch snippets of Itiel Dror, Chris Atherton, Craig Taylor and Paul Simbeck-Hampson.

So what can you learn from this?

1.       Learning Technologies is much more that a conference/exhibition. Throughout the year I’ve attended several excellent webinars, with Neil Lasher, Julie Wedgwood, Charles Jennings and more all of which have had a positive impact on my work and as a result I’ve taken valuable messages and practices back into my company. The resources on the community site are incredibly generous; all the previous conference sessions are available as MP3s and /or videos, you can access the slide sets from many of the presenters and webinar recordings are also available. On top of all that there’s a responsive community of experts willing to share advice and knowledge through the forum.

2.       The power of Twitter, although I missed the obvious networking aspects of being at a conference, I was still able to participate through Twitter and I found some extremely interesting new people to follow, brought together by the #LT11uk.  I’m a relatively new convert to Twitter, but I totally understand why it’s the number one learning professional’s tool on the c4lpt site. I’ve been reading blogs quite widely for a couple of years now, but the potential for learning through Twitter is so much greater because it creates so many more connections between people, opinion and resources and frankly I’m hooked.

One of the key themes of debate coming out of the conference itself seems to be the disconnect between the exhibition and the conference and how this can be bridged by creating more interaction and links between the two (check out the lively debate on the comments section of Steve Wheeler’s blog ).

Perhaps there is some scope to add a space within the exhibition to broadcast certain parts of the conference live or recorded. This raises obvious questions about why you would pay to attend the conference if you could access the “content”. But I think that the organisers must (rightly) believe that there is much more to a conference than listening to the good and the great. The discussions that follows in the breaks and the social events are surely of equal if not greater value? I presume this is why they were willing to stream the conference live in the first place. It would only be a small step further to make this explicitly available at the exhibition wouldn’t it?

Don’t call Me Social

This year looks promising for moving our business to a more social, collaborative way of doing things. We have clear corporate objectives that almost cry out for social media tools.

However I am increasingly a realist. Every time we’ve managed to introduce a potentially exciting new tool, it ends up being a disappointment in the end, because of restrictions and compromises needed to get them running on our systems, or to meet our policies etc.

But I’m still hopeful because one of the best things about collaborative tools is they don’t need exceptional systems to run reliably, with the exception  of video and we’ll put that to one side for a moment.
Simplicity is the key, and realistically we are going to need to use tools that don’t provoke fear and loathing from key potential stakeholders (like IT, Risk etc). This means it (probably) has to be behind the firewall, so the choice is use something functional that is already available (like SharePoint) or jump through hoops of fire to get something a bit sexy and fun like Elgg, or maybe bloomfire approved.

Right now I’m looking into SharePoint, seriously. Yes it’s a compromise but it steamrollers over the initial barriers because:

  1. We already have it
  2. IT are comfortable with it
  3. It is massively customisable (with a little knowledge and practice – that’s the kind of challenge I love).

So for now I’m in the process of getting my own little sandbox to play in and I’m sketching out my plans for what we are going to use it for.

There is another option, call it the wildcard – have a social platform which appears to be free to existing customers, which we are. This has interesting possibilities because one of our other objectives this year will be to get more out of our sales teams. Getting more out of is one potential way of doing this.

I’m also considering a combination of all three because I’m not convinced (yet) that one single platform fits the needs of the many. I know there are obvious benefits of creating one place that everyone can connect and collaborate to break down silos etc, but perhaps the different needs of each group require different tools to maximise their participation and results. I can see us using Sharepoint as the core(porate) platform, whilst running amongst the customer facing teams and perhaps using the likes of for specific projects.

I think it would be a mistake at this early stage to rule anything out – the key this year is to experiment strategically; Subtle use of collaboration in projects that have clearly defined links to corporate objectives that also have measurable outcomes. The benefits of this approach are that we will create pockets of fluent collaborators around the business – paving the way for the masses, get a better feel for what the appetite is, whilst getting a better feel for the best tools for the job at the same time.

The alternative is spend all year (or more) planning  the implementation of some white elephant that nobody uses (see our LMS for expensive details).

The other key factor to success this year is language. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now and in the past couple of days I’ve stumbled across 3 excellent posts that have confirmed I’m on the right track:

Learning to Speak the language of Business

It’s time to re-frame the language

Call it collaboration not enterprise 2.0 or social business

So from now on – no more social its all about collaboration. And forget learning because the business are really not interested in learning, at least not explicitly – the business care about profit, shareholder value and meeting their corporate objectives.

Our job is to support the business to do all these things more effectively and Collaboration is a message they are willing to buy at the moment.