My Self-Directed Learning

One of the hot topics in Learning and Development is self-directed learning (SDL).  Malcolm Knowles in 1975 defined self-directed learning as:

In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. – (Knowles, 1975)

Or, as Mirjam Neelen and Paul A. Kirshner put it succinctly in a recent ATD Science of Learning Blog post, “SDL includes knowing what you need to learn, how to learn it, and being able to judge if you’ve learned it.” As the spring winds down, I thought I should review at my own efforts to learn thus far in 2017.  Of course, as I’m trying to be better at working out loud, I’ll do that evaluation right here.

As the spring winds down, I thought I should review my own efforts to learn thus far in 2017.  Of course, as I’m trying to be better at working out loud, I’ll do that evaluation right here.

What did I need/want to learn?

At the beginning of the year I had a number of learning goals:

  1. Deepen my knowledge of the xAPI standard for data interoperability for learning activities
  2. Begin the CPLP certification process
  3. Develop a thorough understanding of the components and drivers of learning analytics in the workplace
  4. Understand the Social Learning landscape – components, tools, benefits, barriers, etc.
  5. Maintain knowledge of learning technologies
  6. Strengthen and expand professional network

How Did I Learn It

My style of learning has two major characteristics – pitbull and sponge.  During a Twitter Chat last fall, I referred to myself as a pit bull learner.  By this I meant I am tenacious.  I will dig, chase, and not let go of information I need until I understand it.  I’m also a sponge.  I will gather and gather and gather information before I begin processing it.  Lots of input.  I think both of these are borne out by a recap of my efforts this spring.

Conferences – I attended two conferences – Center for Talent Reporting (thanks to Caveo Learning for sponsoring my attendance) and Elliot Masie’s Learning Systems and Tools 2017.  CTR was a deep dive into metrics, measures, and reporting. Learning Systems and Tools was the same for learning technologies and social learning.  Both were helpful from content and networking perspectives.  I also participated in eLearning Guild’s Future of Learning Online Summit.  The online summits are pretty much a string of webinars under one umbrella.  They are free as a part of my eLearning Guild membership.  Great content, but I’m not sure I’d pay for one straight up.

Workshops – I participated in CTR’s two-day Basics of TDPr workshop – which is the first stage of their certification process. The content was excellent.  But the conversations with Dave Vance, Peggy Parskey, and the other participants were the real gold here.  Definitely contributed to my learning analytics and networking goals.  I also attended workshops presented by the local ATD chapter – one on the CPLP process and another on the adult brain and learning.  Both were excellent.



Online Cohorts – This is a model of learning that I’m really liking.  this spring I participated in the xAPI Spring 2017 Cohort and am currently in the CPLP Virtual Study Group.  Cohorts are semi-guided, frameworks within which teams (or in the case of the xAPI cohort, multiple teams) work together to learn from and with each other.  I highly recommend both of these cohorts that run multiple times a year.  They enhanced my xAPI and CPLP goals respectively and both have advanced my networking efforts.

Webinars – In the past 5 months, I’ve participated in 28 webinars.  Of course, some are better than others, but overall, they are informative, costs effective (free), and convenient (I just need an internet connection).  Sponsored by professional associations (ATD, SHRM, HRE, etc), consulting firms (Caveo Learning, Bersin by Deloitte, Brandon Hall, etc), and vendors (

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – This spring I enrolled in Julian Stodd’s Foundations of the Social Age MOOC.  I’m a big fan of Julian’s work.  I was incredibly excited to participate in this MOOC.  I still haven’t completed it.  Same with the Learning xAPI MOOC that HT2Labs created last year (which I started after the initial offering of the course ended).  In both cases, I love the content and what I learned (thus far) from each.  They both advanced my learning in my learning goals in their respective area.  I’m puzzled by why MOOCs don’t seem to work for me.  In all honesty, the badges I can earn don’t seem to have much to offer (ie, would a highering manager be impressed?  Would a consulting client choose another consultant who had one and I don’t?)

I’m puzzled by why MOOCs don’t seem to work for me.  In all honesty, the badges I can earn don’t seem to have much to offer (ie, would a highering manager be impressed?  Would a consulting client choose another consultant who had one and I don’t?) incentive-wise.  Unlike the cohorts, there wasn’t much “group presence” in either of these MOOCs.  That made sense with Learning xAPI since I came to it in an archived state after the original offering. But I started Stodd’s MOOC with everyone else.  I do think that the lack of any assessment in Stodd did leave me wondering if I was “getting it.”  I’m still trying to noodle it out over why this particular delivery mode seems to not jive with me.  If you have any thoughts, please comment below.

Self-paced online courses – I completed several LinkedIn Learning (formerly courses.  I also have 3 that I have started and not completed.  One I abandoned after I realized it wasn’t teaching me anything that I didn’t already know.  The other two I plan to finish, but haven’t had the time or motivation to do so yet.

Blogs and other published content – I aggregate over 50 blogs in Feedly as my primary source of internet content.  I also find new content on Twitter and LinkedIn.  Since January 1 I have curated 384 posts, articles, images, and ebooks with annotations and highlighting (which you can see if you visit a site via my Diigo entry) in Diigo.  I regularly share what I’ve found here on neweelearning, LinkedIn, Twitter, and soon, Facebook and Google+.  My biggest sharing effort is my xAPI Resource Center designed for L&D practitioners (ie, low techie content).

Twitter Chats – As I shared in a previous post here on neweelearning, my new favorite learning is Tweet Chats (or Twitter Chats).  I regularly participated in #lrnchat and #pkmchat this spring.  I’ve also dabbled in #bersinchat and #guildchat a couple of times.  As I discussed in my post, their rapid fire, concise answer format leads to very interesting learning about you and your colleagues and the topics discussed.

Did I Learn What I Wanted to Learn?

Overall, I’m going to give myself a B+Grades

xAPI Standard = A+   The cohort was a tremendous experience.  I learned more than I anticipated from the experience.  Creating the xAPI Resource Center was a great enhancement to my knowledge as well.  I’m in the process of developing both public and proprietary (for consulting offerings) materials.

CPLP preparation = A  The virtual study group has been a motivator to keep up with my studies of the materials in the 1000+ pages of the CPLP learning system.  Two months out from my Knowledge Exam date, I’m feeling confident.

Learning Analytics = A-  This was objective was the focus of much of my spring.  I’m working on a couple of projects – including a Learning Analytics Resource Center.

Social Learning = B+  I’m averaging out two grades here.  An A for information gathering but a B- for application.  I have a number of ideas that I need to pull together that will improve my grade for application, so that’s a work in progress yet.

Learning Technologies = B  I feel like I did ok on this, but could have done more.  Not going to be too hard on myself.  There is soooo much changing.

Networking = C  This was the area I needed to focus on more.

I’ll be working on my professional learning objectives for the summer over the next week.  I’ll put them here on neweelearning when I have them.

As I’ve worked on this post, I’ve realized I need to be more systematic about my learning.  I’ve been looking for that personal learning tool that has been part of the aspirational outlook in the xAPI movement, but haven’t found it yet.

Your turn.  How do you track what you want to learn and whether you have?  What are your thoughts on self-directed learning in general?  I’d love to have you join in this conversation.  Please comment below.

L&D – No Longer Child’s Play

(NOTE: To be clear, I am using a metaphor in this post. I have a deep understanding and respect for the work we do in L&D.  But we need to grow.)

While reading a lively discussion on LinkedIn today regarding L&D’s role, reputation, and the ongoing disruption of organizational learning, I realized that L&D finds itself today much like a group of children sitting in the corner playing with their toys while the adults converse on topics that matter – the economy, their investments, strategies for saving for college educations, etc.

The children are completely engrossed in their “projects”.  The adults are happy the children are quietly busy and aren’t nagging them to “play with me.”  The children collaborate, argue, and critique each other’s creations.  This arrangement works for the adults so they are happy to regularly by new toys for the children.

Occasionally, one of the children will gather up the result of their efforts venture over to the adults and exclaims look what I made.  The adults, not quite sure what it’s supposed to be, smile, pat the child on the head, and say, “That’s nice dear, why don’t you go make another one. This time blue (and micro).”  Happy with the affirmation of their good work and knowledge that making a blue one will be relatively easy after having made the green one, the child returns to the play group to report their success.

Am I very far off?

Eventually, the children realize that they want to be a part of the adult conversation, but they don’t have the knowledge, language, skills, and relationships to fully participate.

Through adolescence and into young adulthood most of us “decide what we want to be when we grow up”, we get our formal education, we identify mentors, allies, partners, and heroines.  We form coalitions and groups of friends. We try things and fail.  We earn necessary credentials. We apprentice and mimic.

It’s the same for L&D, both individual practitioners and the industry as a whole.  As the discussion On LinkedIn discusses there is worked to be done on industry standards and credentialing. We need to change our focus from order taking to solving business problems. We need to use data in showing our value to the organization and in our decision-making.

But we also to forge new partnerships throughout the organization.  Just like we did in real life, we need to seek out mentors, coaches, and gurus to guide us, heroes we can aspire to become. Allies who will have our backs as we learn and sometimes stumble.  Friends who will be honest with us on how we are performing.  We need to expand out networks throughout the organization.

An example addressed in the LinkedIn discussion is around Learning Analytics. The traditional way of thinking is L&D needs to add a Learning Analyst to their team.  But the reality in mind to large sized organizations is they already have a data analysis function/department in place. L&D should be partnering with that group to build capacity around learning analytics.  L&D still needs to be literate in the inputs and outputs involved, but leave the bulk of the work to the data scientists who have the expertise. It will also remove some of the barriers to access non-learning data for our efforts to show business impact.

As is adolescence, this transition for L&D will often be difficult.  But by seeking out partners we can ease the journey.

What do you thinking of my metaphor?  Is it accurate or inappropriate?  What challenges do you feel the transformation of L&D will present to us? Are we prepared?  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

Learning by Obstacle: the xAPI Cohort

For the past three months, I participated in the Spring 2017 xAPI Cohort.  The Cohort is a hands-on project learning experience for people who are learning about xAPI and those who are looking to move the xAPI standard forward.  Participants form teams around projects they wish to work on together to get a deeper understanding of how xAPI works, the possibilities it creates, and, by my experience this spring, the obstacles it has yet to overcome.

My team’s learning in the cohort came from confronting obstacle after obstacle and looking for the lesson to be drawn from each roadblock.  Our final product was a set of lessons learned and a list of recommendations for L&D practitioners about working with Big Data and a few for the xAPI powers that be.

I signed on as a member of Team Analytics.  The initial idea behind the team was to explore the possibilities that data visualizations have for reporting results of L&D learning experiences.  But that requires one big assumption – having access to a large, quality dataset composed of xAPI statements.

After 2 weeks of administrative stuff and team formation, Team Analytics spent the next 6 weeks of the cohort trying to find a dataset we could use.  Issues of governance, ownership, privacy, irrelevance, and control of data kept us at bay.

We finally decided to use the xAPI statements being generated by the Cohort’s activities in Slack.   8 weeks into a 12-week course, we were ready to rock-and-roll.

Or so we thought.

Turns out the xAPI statements, while valid, were not well formed, the outgoing webhook Slack provides generate minimal data, and converting that data to xAPI statements is manual programming work.

Thanks to Will Hoyt from Yet Analytics and Matt Kliewer from Torrance Learning, we were able to figure this out and reconfigure the xAPI statements and actually do a bit of the work we initially thought we were going to be doing. But more importantly, because of the project-based, unscripted approach of the Cohort, we discovered issues we needed to learn about to overcome each obstacle.

The Spring 2017 xAPI Cohort was a tremendous learning experience.  If it sounds interesting, learning more about the Cohort and register for the Fall 2017 cohort at
Here are the “Lessons Learned” from our experiences in the xAPI Cohort:

  • Ownership and Control of Data
    • who owns the data and/or who controls the business data you wish to
    • Protocols and approval processes are in place to protect the quality of existing data and control its use.
    • Clearing these hurdles requires stakeholder partnership, upper leadership buy-in, and clear planning of how data will be used.
    • All of which takes time.
  • Privacy and Accessibility
    • EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) or employment agreement dictate usage of data.
    • Does your company have a data usage policy?
    • Access to data may be limited, controlled, or data may be off limits.
  • Accessibility of Data
    • If a tool is not natively programmed with code to trigger the creation of xAPI statements or in the cases where xAPI statements are a limited subset of all activities, you’ll be limited to the data the tool provides via a Webhook and/or APIs.
  • Accuracy & Usability
    • Manual scripting process is not standardized, errors can be introduced
    • Poor data planning can lead to useless data
  • Resources Required
    • Programmer competent in writing API scripts and xAPI statements.
    • Time availability of said programmer
  • Data Mining vs Learning Analytics –
    • Data for data’s sake only creates noise that can overwhelm your efforts to clarify the impact of learning upon business results.  Collecting data without knowing why you are collecting it is a waste of time and resources – especially with the work required to implement xAPI.
  • Visualizations –
    • Visual components like size, color, positioning can render the best visualization useless by making the object illegible.

Social Capital in the Social Age

I’m just finishing the Social Capital unit of Julian Stodd’s Foundations of the Social Age MOOC on Curatr.  (I know, I’ve fallen woefully behind in my MOOC studies.  Perhaps a topic I should pursue in another blog post.)  The final activity for this unit is to reflect on what Social Capital means to me.

The first thing that popped into my head is the quote from Jeff Bezos of Amazon regarding brand:

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Stodd’s conceptualization shares this simple belief that we don’t control our worth in the social world.  Certainly, we can work at crafting our personal brands and doing things that build our social capital, but in the end, it is the impression we leave with others, the aftermath of our presence that really determines how we are respected, valued, and trusted by others.

There is no place where this is more visceral and day-to-day than in outside sales.  Having spent much of my career in one sort of sales or sales support/management role, I learned the hard way, and the easy way, that people are always assessing us for our authenticity, confidence, competence, dependability and a host of other characteristics.

People buy from people whenever they can.  You might have a second rate product to sell, but if you customers know how to reach you and are certain that you will assist them, no matter the situation, they will buy from you and be loyal.  There is an old sales adage that you build greater customer loyalty than resolving a difficult or mission critical problem than you do by having everything go smoothly from start to finish.  (The corollary is that you don’t go out and create problems just so you can fix them!)

Social capital is really what runs the world.  Just because the head of sales has “Vice President” in his title, that’s not a guarantee that his team will be out there an extra hour or two a day calling on those extra potential customers.  But a sales manager who has shown humanness, compassion, patience, authenticity?  Well, 9 times out of 10, she’ll end up with impressive sales and maybe a Manager of the Year or two awards because her team will move heaven and earth to make it so.  Senior Executives see pet projects go down in flames because of a lack of social capital when others have employees banging down their doors to volunteer for “whatever they’re working on.”

Social capital is critical now and will only grow as the workplace becomes more fluid the ability to lead will be highly dependent upon one’s ability to gather resources, often very quickly, to make projects work.

What do you think?  What is the role in today’s workplace for Social Capital?  Does it replace traditional hierarchical power?  Or supplement it?  Please add your thoughts to the discussion by using the comment section below.


Featured Image provided by under a Creative Commons Zero license.


Start with Assessment

Beyond the employment interview, how often do we assess employees as they move through their time with the organization?

Stephen Kelner of Spencer Stuart discusses the need for assessment early in the development process for leaders in his blog post, Why Effective Executive Development Begins with Assessment.  I think his insights into the role of assessment in executive develop are just applicable to the rest of the workforce and should be part of any L&D analytics and assessment plan.

In a nutshell, Kelner’s argument can be broken down into a basic statement of ‘how can you arrive if you don’t know where you’re starting from.’  He says that executives crave feedback on their performance “Rich, specific feedback tied to the demands of current and future roles enables leaders to improve and develop important new capbilities.”

Current, event-based leadership training and coaching have similar effectiveness ratings as the rest of training.  Kelner says that the widely accepted research on executive training shows only 25% of participants make any behavioral changes at all.  “Some categories of executive training have been found to have zero impact.”

A major factor in this poor performance is that what guidance/training is provided is done with little understanding of the individual contexts the leader is in, what he/she needs to meet the challenges of a specific role, and how change is impacting all of that.

Without a through assessment/analysis of these factors, there is little chance of impacting the behavior of executives and thus their ability to perform better.

Kelner provides three guidelines when assessing executives prior to initiating a development plan:

  • Measure the capabilities that are central to effective executive leadership – for the future as well as present leadership demands
  • Consider the relevant leadership context – including environmental changes, and remembering that current performance is not the same as future potential
  • Evaluate potential with a development lens =- but be sure to ask “potential for what?” and “is the leader motivated to develop in that direction?”
  • Embrace multiple methods and perspectives for precision

Hey goes into each of these points in good detail, but I won’t repeat it here.

I agree with Kelner’s closing statement that, “Assessment provides the starting benchmark and identifies the best opportunities fo a leader to grow and change, and thus enables the growth of a company’s leadership overall.”

But throughout organizational learning efforts, the is very little effort made to understand where individuals are starting from.  Sure, in our instructional design models there is some attention given to understanding context and doing gap analysis regarding current and desired future states.  But in practice, little information is gathered – pre-design or built into the current project.  We talk about the Kirkpatrick and other post-instruction assessment, but how often do we assess “what’s next?” or “what else does this employee need?”

Ideally, we’d be developing a portfolio or helping the employ to develop one, which would provide an understanding of what she/he needs to advance her/his career.

Assessment should be ongoing as a part of the organization’s performance management effort and a robust learning culture.  Unfortunately, often, neither of these is the case.

Your turn.  What do you think?  Do we assess learners pre-training?  What types of assessments do you use or do you think are useful in benchmarking where learnings are starting from?

Feature photo by SportSuburban via Flicker.  Creative Commons Attibution License 2.0.

Tweet Chats – My Favorite New Informal Learning Technology

Ironic that until about a year ago i was the first person to say, “I don’t get Twitter.  Why do people use it?”  I would dismissively spout.

Well not only have I been converted over to the Twittersphere, but I now consider several Tweet Chats (or Twitter Chats) to be major components in my Personal Learning System (PLN).

What’s a Tweet Chat?

A Tweet Chat happens when like minded people log into Twitter and conduct a discussion about a shared interest by logging onto Twitter at a designated time and make comments using a specific hashtag (ie, #lrnchat or #365social) to mark each of their Tweets related to the Tweet Chat.

Typically, Tweet Chats have a leader or leaders who decide on a topic for each chat.  Some will do this collaboratively with their Tweet Chat community.  Others will pick the topic on their own.  The leader posts a series of questions (Q1, Q2, Q3…) to spur the discussion amongst the participants who usually will mark their answers A1, A2, A3…).  At that point, participants can reply, retweet, and like the posts

Some Tweet chats try to follow thematic threads over multiple chats.  Many have a home web page where there will publish pre-reading on the next chat’s topic, post transcripts of their chats and archive other related ideas.

It is possible to use the standard to participate in a Tweet Chat, but most people opt for tools like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, or TweetChat because of how they can organize a hashtag into a channel.  This eliminates all of the other tweets happening in your main Twitter feed.

So, that’s the technical explanation of Tweet Chats, but why do like them so much?

I currently try to follow four chats (recently my calendar has gotten in the way too many times:

  • #lrnchat – focused on social media and learning (THU 7:30pm CST)
  • #pkmchat – focused on personal learning management (PKM) (WED 1pm CST)
  • #bersinchat – focused on various topics in learning and development run by the staff of Bersin by Deloitte (3rd TUE of each month 3:00pm CST)
  • #guildchat – focused on various topics in Learning and Development.  Run by the staff of eLearning Guild. (FRI 1:00pm CST)

Real and Raw – In a Tweet Chat, you don’t have time to formulate your perfect answers to each question. You have 140 words to say what your opinion is.  The result tends to be raw, I think more honest reflection on what you tink of the topic.  You can’t use convoluted devices to hedge what you are saying.  Heck, half the time I’m not using punctuation to give a few more characters for my message!

What do I Really Think? – Over a series of thought-provoking questions, responding and then reading and responding to what others have to say, I have often realized that what I actually think about a topic is not what my first reaction is when I have more time.  An decision making tweetexample on #lrnchat recently we were discussing Decision Making.  As we worked through the questions I realized that there are a number of practices that are so ingrained in how I operate that I’m often on autopilot and don’t realize I’m doing them.  (could be good, could be bad)

Serendipitous Learning – The ultimate in informal learning, note to self tweet chainTweet Chats are rife with Serendipitous Learning.  A great example (shown on the right) comes from #pkmchat when Bruno Winck, Michelle Ockers and I (with a bit of kibitzing from Simon Fogg) concocted using the hashtag #NoteToSelf (or a variation of it) to note tweets that we want to remember.  Then we thought of using a tool like IFTTT (If This Then That) to watch for the hashtag in our individual tweet streams, grab the tweet and file it in a Google Sheets spreadsheet.  I LOVE this solution.  I believe both Michelle and Bruno are using it as well.

Great Networking – Globally – Tweet Chats no no bounds.  This same chat shows how International Tweet chats can be. Michelle in Australia, Bruno is most often in France, Simon is in the UK, and I’m in the US.  Conversations carry on after Tweet Chats.  I’ve bumped into Simon on other Tweet Chats and in a recent MOOC – making those experiences feel a bit more comfortable because I knew someone else.

Bigger isn’t Necessarily Better – Both on #pkmchat and #bersinchat, I’ve participated when there were only 3-4 of us in the chat and they were amazing.  For me at least, Tweet Chats can be very intimate as you share ideas and react to each other.   Sometimes that’s easier with fewer people.  On the other hand, large chats (say 20+ people can be dizzying as you try to keep up over the hour.

Finally,  Dive in, The Water is Fine! – Tweet Chats aren’t complex.  They take a bit to get used to them, but they really do become fun. I haven’t run into a chat yet were newbies aren’t welcomed with open arms. I’m going to explore a few new chats as well.  Considering #ldnights, #ldinsights, #socialnow, and #wol.