Friday, 30 August 2013


My summer series, aiming to help people new to technology, social media  and internet supported learning understand, get involved and get some experience with the exciting new learning world…….. This post looks at some basics about online communities and discussion groups.

In a world of ever increasing choice, most of us do not enjoy the prospect of sitting down to a meal which has a fixed menu.  Even in many homes where a generation ago a fixed meal would have been served to all members of a family, different food is prepared to meet the tastes of individuals round the table. The same is true in every aspect of our lives. Increasing choice makes our lives more complex as we have to make decisions all the time where once we might have selected from a few options and lived with that choice for a long time. Energy, ISP and mobile devices, TV contracts, banking, insurance and many others are all examples of areas in our lives where switching has become almost a way of life as we seek for the best service at the lowest cost.

What is true in our personal lives  is also a feature of our professional lives, perhaps even accented by the ever increasing volume of information that is in the public domain and which our careers require us to assimilate, analyse and work from.

So how do we do it in a way that gives us efficiency and effectiveness and the assurance that we are accessing the best available information and good advice from trustworthy sources? As I am writing this post my friend and PLN member, Tom Spiglanin, is preparing a paper on exactly the same subject for the upcoming DevLearn Conference in Las Vegas in October. It is a hot topic!

In my last post I looked at the use of chat communities as a means of creating a PLN and of finding like-minded groups of professionals with whom to interact. The various chat communities provide the opportunity for direct interaction around specific topics on a periodic basis. 

Another means of interaction, again with like-minded professionals is through the use of the more passive media of platforms such as LinkedIn. For example, there are over 800 LinkedIn discussion groups relating to the energy industry.  All that is needed is to subscribe to the platform (free) and then to search it for groups of interest to you.  Most then require you to apply for group membership which is subject to approval by a group moderator (often the person who initiated the group in the first place). Within groups, members initiate and contribute to discussion topics to seek information, test ideas, form networks etc. Some groups have huge memberships and there is a need to be discriminating about both discussions and the people taking part in them.  Some are very active, others almost dormant.

For those of you reading this with a specific focus on learning, two really helpful places for online discussions are
·         The UK based learning and Skills Group which has over 50 000 global members and which hosts discussions on their behalf – you can join at Membership is free.

·         eLearning Guild (USA based) which is another membership organisation. There is a tiered membership cost structure, with basic membership being free. The Guild hosts a range of discussion groups built around specific topics.

The benefit of this kind of community is that it is available on a 24/7 basis – but of course the information flow is much slower than using the social media such as Twitter. Rather than functioning around a set “gathering” at a particular time, this kind of group relies on notifications of discussions and contributions to them being posted on subscribers emails and then on recipients taking the time to read and  respond.

Many professional organisations and other enterprises have smaller. More focussed communities which work on a similar basis. Marketers are increasingly using this mechanism as a means of creating customer loyalty, allying participation with a gamification element of incentive prizes. Suppliers of services frequently have discussion fora created for users of their services to ask questions, share experience and receive help, either from an internal “help” resource or from peers in the community.

If you can’t find communities that meet your need you can set up your own using Skype which has a group chat function, or platforms such as Yammer. Provided all the participants are subscribers to the platforms, these communities are free of charge. Yammer contains options to regulate who joins groups, providing control to the originator of the community. Skype groups are set up simply by adding selected contacts to the group – a task for the originator. Skype groups can function in text, audio or video mode (but there are restrictions for video discussions).

Something else to think about……

It is easy when first grappling with the technicalities of online communities to be so caught up in managing the mechanics of the platforms and learning the way people communicate in the various places that it is easy to forget that every member of every community is a human being – just like you! We all require respect and care from people with whom we interact. I have written a whole series of posts about the human aspects of communities at .

In my next post we will look at some of the many ways in which documents can be created and shared online.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Continuing my summer series to help people new to technology, social media  and internet supported learning understand, get involved and get some experience with the exciting new learning world……..

In my last post I started to lead you through some of the media, tools, and other information sources that make up the sometimes bewildering field of modern learning. I encouraged you to get involved on Twitter as an individual – but there is more to Twitter than just being there with a network of followers and people you follow. 

Twitter has provided the vehicle for a large number of vibrant, informative and thoughtful communities in the learning field called Twitter chats. They have been created by and for people involved in the learning field at all levels and from all sectors of life – often providing a meeting place for education and workplace based people, strategists and instructional designers, vendors and consultants, enterprises and institutions etc. The point is to have places where people with a common interest can share, discuss, seek help, ask questions for debate, provide resources, make contacts. Some that I have personally found useful and which are frequently referred to by members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) are:

#chat2lrn – alternate Thursdays at 1600UK time
#lrnchat – every Thursday 20.30 Eastern time
#edchat – every Tuesday 12.00 and 19.00 Eastern time
#swchat – every Thursday 16.00 Eastern time

You can find directories of Twitter chats through your browser and search engine. Some of them are easily searchable, others less so and new #chats are coming into being regularly.  It is by building your own network that you will discover new ones that people in the field find useful.


Many #chats have an associated URL – either a full website or a blog which outlines their purpose, who is behind them and gives detail of how they work.

Basically one “joins” a chat by logging onto it and then responding to what happens next!  Mostly those running the chat will announce a topic to be discussed and will follow this with a series of questions for the chat to respond to at intervals throughout it. Some #chats offer pre-reading so that people come to the chat focussed on the topic. To contribute to the chat, simply write a tweet and conclude it with the # tag and the name of the chat (eg #lrnchat, #chat2lrn). It will be posted in the chat stream and everyone present has the benefit of seeing and being able to respond to it.

Until you have a real feel for how #chats work, my suggestion is to log in and then “lurk” – watch what is going on without contributing. Some #chats have over 100 participants from all over the world and the action has huge pace to it - sometimes almost overwhelming, but what is being generated is a huge, rich collection of ideas, contacts, sources etc which are normally transcribed and made available after the event for a more relaxed study.

A moment will come when you decide you are confident enough and “just have to” contribute – so post your tweet and wait for responses……

To take part in #chats on Twitter many people use a client to enable them to follow the stream of the chat.  What is a twitter client? It is another piece of free downloadable software that allows you to follow the stream of the conversation while a chat is taking place.  Two clients that I and my PLN find useful are Twubs ( and I also use Tweetdeck which allows me to view my chosen streams of Twitter activity all from the same screen.

My personal experience is that I have massively increased my own network of professional contacts through the use of Twitter.  It is one of my most important tools for finding new information and for seeking assistance with my work.

The next post in this series will look at some other types of public online communities that are useful for learning.

Monday, 19 August 2013


If you have read my previous post and are still with me in this summer series looking at some of the basics of modern, technology and internet enabled learning then now is the time to “taste the banana”!

In this and my next posts I am going to list some of the posts and books to read, clips to view, platforms to join, people to follow, conferences to track, chat sessions with which to get involved.  Because it is only by experiencing some of the dazzling array of “goodies” that are out there that any of us can make the necessary choices, experience the buzz that is learning today, and make decisions about where to take one’s own and our organisation’s journey in learning. So have fun…..

When I was a little boy I was scared of water so I took a long time to learn to swim and especially to dive. My mother saw my fear and allowed me for several days to sit on the edge of the pool and work out for myself what to do, gently coaching me from time to time. My father repeatedly demonstrated what had to be done but it was not until I was ready that I finally left the board for the first time. Why do I tell you this? Because however convincing the arguments have been, and how firmly the end point of “tasting the banana” is in your mind, it is not until you have the emotional energy to take the plunge that anything will happen – and we all need confidence to go into new places. We have to want to try – and have enough drive to do it.

So for those who need a little more assistance before taking the plunge have a look at Jane Hart’s Social Learning Handbook , available on the internet or from . Jane explains very simply and clearly what is happening in learning and the book contains chapters on “getting started with……” for several social media platforms.

We know that 90% of learning happens in informal environments.  Whether it is around the coffee machine or water cooler, through asking advice from a colleague in the corridor or via an e-mail, seeking help with a practical demonstration, the chances are in our modern world it will also be through using the media.  Everyone uses Google from young children onwards, but Google has no process of peer review.  What better way is there then to find information you need from a reliable source than to tap in to a peer network? In professional circles it is unlikely that poor or unsafe information will go unnoticed, critiqued and modified or removed, so joining professional circles – or even creating your own – is a fast and reliable way of finding what you need. Joining online communities will also provide you with an ever expanding and 24/7 available network of potential assistance. For organisations, the use of the social media to create learning communities and communities of practice is a really practical way of ensuring that tacit organisational knowledge is spread and retained in the business.

What better way to get started then than to get a Twitter account from (Twitter has its own guide to getting started on the platform and start following some people in the field to see what they are saying both on Twitter and on the blogs that many of them write? Twitter is one of the platforms most widely used by learning professionals to develop their personal Learning networks. Maybe when you are comfortable you will ask a question, write a reply or simply re-tweet a comment you find particularly valuable. Why not start by “following” me on Twitter @alc47 and then following some of the people I follow because they give me insight, share news and provide help. With no offence to the many whose advice I value so much, but where space here forbids, I suggest the following short list to get you started:

Jane Hart @c4lpt 
Jane Bozarth @janebozarth
Dave Kelly @lnddave 
Nigel Paine @ebase 
Charles Jennings @charlesjennings 
Marcia Conner @marciamarcia 
Clive Shepherd @cliveshepherd 
Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth
Rob Hubbard @robhubbard
Patti Shank @pattishank
Harold Jarche @hjarche
Sumeet Moghe @sumeet_moghe
Donald Taylor @donaldhtaylor
Lesley Price @lesleywprice
Tom Spiglanin @tomspiglanin
Ben Betts @bbetts
Laura Overton @lauraoverton

Go to and search these names – you will see their professional profiles there and you can decide for yourself! A more extensive (but in some places the profiles are out of date) list is at

You can even practice tweeting by asking me for more names!

Looking forward to seeing your Tweets…….

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


Post number 4 in my summer series to help people first understand, and then start to experience, and enjoy the fantastic world that is modern learning.  To taste is to enrich.....

The first step is to get a practical understanding of the world we are now living in – and what better way than to do that with a few stats! We are living with the outcomes of a revolution that has happened to every human being over the last 15 years. It is called the internet and with it has come the social media and a huge change in the way we communicate, share information, and indeed view our lives.  But first the statistics….

There is now more than a mobile device for every person on the planet – of course not everyone has one and some have more than three, but what it means is that we can, and do, connect with orders of magnitude more people than we did just a few years ago. And it is instant – we no longer even write emails to people. Yes, we do of course but email was eclipsed long ago by the volume of texts, IM’s etc that fill the cyber space. WhatsApp, one of the newer messaging services and with a footprint that is by no means global, now handles over 31 billion items a day – more than Twitter which itself eclipses email! There are nearly three times as many Facebook users as are subscribers to Outlook. I could go on – for those of you interested in trawling the stats have a look at .

But the lesson is clear. We all have devices and platforms that enable us to communicate in new ways – and we are doing it! (Still not convinced – then look at Erik Qualman’s stunning video that highlights our new world). It has happened at the expense of traditional methods! Why? Because the new methods are more effective for individuals. We have found them to work first in our social lives and so, naturally we take them into the work environment.  That is exactly the reverse of the way organisations and employee development evolved over the last century – during which the organisation decided what was right for its compliant workforce (we called it the way, but forgot that the “L” stands for Listening at the beginning and the “P” is for People at the end – everything else is in between making it happen).

So it is now imperative that talent hungry organisations respond to the social environment and create scenarios for talented people that enable them to thrive and innovate, otherwise they will not align or perform, and will not stay or even join in the first place. Paternalism, autocracy and even structure and rules are becoming outdated. The name of the game is to become specifically and intensely aware of how people communicate, how they want to learn and how they can be helped along paths they have determined for themselves. Of course there is lots the organisation can do to help its people create the environment that makes them successful – but that is for a later post in this series

This clip from a talk by Jason Fried takes a look at the implications for how effective work gets done

How then do we “Get to grips” with Learning today?  The great American evangelist Dr Billy Graham used an illustration when challenging people to meet God – “What does a banana taste like?” he asked them. “No-one can describe that taste – the only way to know is to try it”. You cannot stand on the side and observe learning – by definition you are involved in it. Therefore to understand it we have to explore it, use its techniques, experience the support of online communities, feel the power of the technology to open up new learning horizons. So in my next post I will be listing resources that I have personally found helpful and “tasty”.

To end this post I quote Lisa Goldstein, someone who I came to respect first through our mutual involvement in an online community, and who I subsequently  met and who has become a true part of my own learning network. 

I think an important element an organization must have is the ability to care.  I could be wrong, but it appears that when an organization / superior cares about the best outcomes for their subordinates, it is obvious and makes the difference.  I've heard small and large organizations say they do not care and do not invest in their staff because they think it unimportant.  Employees who are happy about learning opportunities and are supported are in such a situation either because their superiors truly care and want the best for their employees, or because the employee has been empowered enough through independent power, resources, and money to take care of their own needs. “

As with parenting – there is a time to let go, watch people fly, and be ready to help when they need it – but it takes courage!