Social “runaround”

Last year I facilitated a session for our IT field teams on communication and sharing. As my session was after lunch and I risked the wrath of what an ex colleague of mine called “pudding hour” I knew I would need something energetic to prevent the group from dozing off in front of me! I used the concept of a children’s TV game “Runaround” to identify who in the group had a social networking account of some sort and how many were active users.

I can’t remember the exact details of the game but the basis is that the host asks a question and there are a number of answers. The contestants run to the answer of their choice and those that choose the winning answer collect a ball. The contestant with the most balls passes through to the next stage.

Well there were no balls on the day and no prizes. The question was simply “do you network online?” The answers located in each corner of the room were:
1) I don’t have an online account
2) I have an online account but I don’t use it
3) I have one or more online accounts and I look at or contribute to them at least monthly
4) I have one or more online accounts and I look at or contribute to at least one of these weekly

The aim was to split the group into two and identify the ‘challenges’ and the ‘benefits’ of being social online. I wanted to find out what people gained from participating in online communities and what prevented others from having an online presence.

Whilst the pace at which my colleagues ‘ran’ around the room made me consider renaming my version to “stroll around” I ended up with at least one person in every corner which meant I could split the group into two. I asked the group that were using social networking tools at least weekly to share the benefits they had experienced through networking online. I asked the other group who were much less or not at all active to share the reasons why they didn’t engage with this type of online activity; what were their issues or challenges.

The discussions focussed predominately around using social networking at a personal level and surprisingly they got a little heated at some points as both groups put forward their reasons for being or not being active in an online community of some sort.

I collated their points and reviewed the challenges and benefits in line with business communications and networking. I informed the group that my team and I were using a tool called Chatter to stay in touch and share knowledge and content with each other in the absence of access to business systems. I encouraged the groups to start thinking about the potential gains if we were all active in this one community. How could business communication, networking and knowledge sharing be improved without overloading the ole inbox!

Chatter is similar to other tools. You can access it online at chatter.com; users can install a desktop version (if their IT setup allows this); you can install an iPad version plus there is an app for the iPhone, android and Blackberry.

At the end of the session I sent everyone in the workshop (approx 30) a link to sign up to Chatter and told them to look out for the #chatterhowto tag which I set up to offer getting started guidance plus tips.

That session was in August 2011. Shortly afterwards the whole department was invited to join in and fairly quickly we had approx 80 staff in the community with regular content being posted and shared. This online community opened up a new communication channel for staff based at head office and out in the field to stay in touch. I started communicating with people that I hadn’t had a conversation with before the workshop session. I see the teams creating groups and sharing with each other. Feedback from the community is positive and the ability to access the content from a mobile device and the desktop makes it far more accessible.

It is almost a year since I ran this session and through word of mouth and other interactions the community continues to grow. We now have the CEO and leaders across the organisation signed up to the site. Some are actively engaged and contributing. Many are lurking. The lurkers may not have found the confidence to post their own content or comments yet but they are talking about the community and the content being posted by others which is start!

Some of the benefits I’ve seen to date include:

Collaboration and knowledge sharing:
People openly sharing content and posting comments.

Engagement:
Directors posting from conferences allowing others to comment and raise questions in real time.
Questions being posted to generate discussion.

Overcoming challenges and turning them into benefits:
People that were very against it in the workshop session a year ago giving it a go. One called me a few weeks after the workshop and said “you know, you were right. I’ve found some really useful content on LinkedIn that I am now sharing with the team”.

Communication across boundaries:
Being able to communicate and interact with others regardless of position and across geographic boundaries.

What benefits are you seeing from the use of online communities in your organisation/business?

“Hello, who inspires you?”

Picture of people raising hands to ask a question.Have you got that ‘wow’ question up your sleeve? How many times have you attended a conference or group session where the underlying purpose is to network; share experiences and listen to others to learn more about them and the amazing work they may be delivering in their organization?

How many times do you walk into that room full of strangers only to find that you are struck with fear as you try to catch someone’s eye and wonder if anyone will talk to you? How much does your brain twist and turn as you think about initiating that first encounter? How often do you hope that once you do open your mouth you will be able to produce something of interest to other people in the room?

Does any of this run true with you?

Well it does with me! I consider myself to be a fairly confident person. I class myself as being knowledgeable in my field and I think I lead a pretty normal life where socially I have things I can talk about and share. As an L&D professional for almost 20 years I’m never short of being able to strike up a conversation in the “training” environment as I have a captive audience and a good understanding of why they are there BUT put me in a room full of strangers or even colleagues for whom I have had no previous or little interaction and my brain starts to buzz with “how am I going to start a conversation, how do I start to build this relationship and how do I do this without making myself sound like a rambling fool?” The biggest relief for me comes when someone else takes that first step and breaks the ice BUT why should they have to take that responsibility?

Yesterday (3 November 2011), I attended a workshop excellently facilitated by Deena Gornick. The session was hosted by ITLeaders, a leadership development firm that develops future IT leaders and CIOs. Could that be me? That might be a whole new other blog! I attended the session expecting to find some techniques I could use to overcome my fears and work towards achieving a lot more from networking opportunities. I wasn’t disappointed.

Deena helped the group to recognize that we all have fears, that there will be other people in the room that share my concerns. She showed us how to use ‘appropriate’ eye contact in getting that initial non verbal connection. She demonstrated the value in time bound small talk to break the ice; mirroring others body language and voice; she asked us to think about “wow” questions, those that you can have up your sleeve to open up any conversation. She also made us more aware of the importance of listening and how to recognize when you might be drifting off and need to bring yourself ‘back in the room’.

The day absolutely flew by as a result of Deena making it inspiring and fun. I met several people at this event (including a colleague that I wasn’t expecting!) and I’m already putting the skills into practice and increasing my network of contacts. 

So, the next time I see you at a networking event or in a meeting and I catch your eye before spilling out “Hello, who inspires you?” just go with the flow! I’m trying to make a connection and build a rapport because I am genuinely interested in learning more about you and the things that you do!

If any of this resonates with you and you get an opportunity to participate in a workshop with Deena then I would highly recommend it. If you want to try this out for yourself, be brave, don’t look away if someone tries to catch your eye, seize the moment and use open questions “who, where, why, what, when, how” to initiate the conversation, don’t be afraid of small talk, and think of a couple of “wow” questions that you can use to strike up that initial conversation. It doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be fun!! (So she says, I’ll try it next week at the e-learning awards 2011!!)

Five months in Twitterspace….is it worth it?

Captains log….

It is now five months since I decided to take the plunge and give Twitter a go for professional social networking so in this months blog I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts and progress to date.

I was already networking socially with friends using facebook and I had previously signed up for a twitter account but just didn’t get it! The reason: I wasn’t following many people, no-one was following me and I hadn’t worked out what I was going to use the 140 twitter characters for.

In my first blog “Getting started with Twitter”, I mentioned attending a session by @craigtaylor74 who helped me on my way by suggesting I follow the people he followed. I did and started to “lurk”, quickly realising the benefits – I was building a network of writers, thinkers, learning professionals, experts and novices with whom I had a shared interest – a passion for learning and technology.

As my “following” network grows, I have access to a vast amount of information that I can sift through using favourites to mark the ones I want to view/keep. Having signed up and lurked for a while I started to contribute mainly through retweets and social tweets until I started blogging in March 2011 at which point I finally had my own content to share. I have to admit that it did take a while to press send on my first few tweets and once I did I immediately suffered a sweaty palm moment wondering if I would get a response and if I did would it be positive or negative!

Once you have tweeted and retweeted a few times you do get braver and recently I looked at my tweets and thought “350+, how did that happen? My initial anxed has obviously waned!”

I am making some great relationships online and was fortunate to meet several of these at a recent face to face event. The support I have received from the twitter community has helped build my online confidence to the extent that last week I participated in my first live twitter chat as part of  the e-learning network #elnil.

The people involved in the #elnil chat were very encouraging and welcoming. Even though I couldn’t stay for the whole session I contributed to the first question and saw the power of this tool for connecting en mass with others in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.  Participating in this live event helped me see in practice how Twitter can be used to support group learning/discussion.

Even five months into this, I still class myself more as a “lurker” and apparently there is nothing wrong with this.  However, having recently read a blog by @denniscallahan called “Joining is important to social learning” I am motivated to contribute and participate more even if it is just in a small way so that I can give something back to the community.

If you are just starting out or have been lurking for a while try to take the next step. You might not think you have anything to share (I was the same) but I am sure you have! If you are hesitating about starting this journey on your own find friends/colleagues that can join with you or connect with people that you know are already online. They will provide invaluable support if you need it.

I have been fortunate in finding a group of friends online that were taking the plunge around the same time as me. We support each other and use the hashtag #bloggingimprovers. The group members are @kategraham23 @niallgavinuk @MandyRG and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all personally for their support. I’d also like to thank @craigtaylor74 @dames20 @mikecollins007 and @Burrough for their ongoing online communication, everyone I follow for their contributions and all my followers for sticking with me. You are all part of my personal learning journey and it is worth it!!! (….and no there wasn’t an Oscar or a BAFTA in sight prompting that little thank you speech!!).

My learning technologies journey: it started earlier than I realised!

Picture of student on laptop.In my last blog I mentioned learning technology and how I was “getting it” but actually I think I was getting something else “social networking and the value this can add to learning”.  The reason I see a difference is that I recently delivered a session to a group of L&D professionals at a symposium event and in preparing this I realised that my journey with learning technologies had started many years earlier pre Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

I have been in IT Training for 20 years. The first ten years were spent in a fully resourced team following a predominately face to face classroom approach whilst the past ten years have been about delivering more with less.  In my role as a IT learning & communications manager I have seen my team grow, shrink and shrink some more as the organisation I work for has had to save money.  At the same time as the team reduced in size, parts of the business continued to grow resulting in more IT customers needing IT training and support.

To make the required savings and continue delivering more, with less resource, our journey started by replacing hard copy manuals with electronic how to guides grouped by application and task.  This transition was made possible when the organisation deployed a central document management system similar in function to Sharepoint. All guides are branded and then converted to PDF before being published in a central public area accessible via a couple of clicks.  This reduced our printing costs and gave the learner quick access to relevant, searchable content when they needed it.

Having made the transition to electronic guides we began to develop the central public area so that learners could also access related e-learning content. This included both generic and custom content, the latter being developed by my team.  We learnt how to deep link into the e-learning platform so that following login learners were signposted direct to the content they needed.

It took several years before e-learning was accepted by the majority as a valid way to learn. During it’s implementation we marketed, marketed and marketed, delivering taster sessions to get people started, attending team meetings to encourage a team based approach to learning online, publishing posters, tips and tricks and desk reminders. We also published usage statistics and case studies across the organisation to promote how the content was being used and adding value.

Whilst the electronic guides and e-learning were being used well, we still heard rumbles across the organisation from learners who “missed being in a classroom” “missed having a trainer at hand to ask questions” and “felt isolated learning alone”.

To overcome some of this we looked for other ways to engage learners and trialled the use of virtual classrooms (VCs). We experimented with course sizes, duration and the product functionality before running our first series of VCs which were based around the top five how to calls received by our helpdesk. 

Virtual classrooms provided our learners with something in-between the classroom and e-learning: they can still learn at their PC but are able to communicate with other delegates and ask a trainer.  The most common feedback we get about VCs from learners is that they were anxious before their first experience but once they take the plunge they’re hooked!  This delivery method has been accepted far quicker than e- learning and in our first year of use we moved a third of our classroom based delivery to VCs. In the most recent financial year this figure has increased to over 60%.

So, as you can see, my learning technologies journey has been ongoing for longer than I had even realised and still continues.  The latest technologies we are working with/exploring are Moodle, Wiki’s, video content, interactive electronic user guides and the range of SoMe tools available.

If any readers are on a similar journey I’d love to share and would welcome any tips from those of you that have already taken the plunge into some of the newer areas we are now exploring.

This learning technologies thing….I am getting it now!

villagers joining in the fun

Dalton Parva Village Street Party, 30 Apr 2011

A Right Royal Doo!

So you would have to be pretty remote and cut off not to have not seen at least some mention of the right royal wedding yesterday!

Following my twitter feeds I could see a mixed bag of those who would be following and those that had no interest whatsoever.  I however, looked forward to the day and the chance to join a couple of friends in a small Rotherham village, Dalton Parva to celebrate the festivities at their street party. 

The majority of villagers came out despite the windy and cold conditions and joined in the fun, bouncy castle, hog roast and bunting galore.  This was my first visit to the village but it wasn’t long before I felt like a local as a result of the villagers being so warm, welcoming and social.

My right royal reflections….

Returning home that evening I began to reflect and considered not only how great the face to face socialising had been but also how great it had been to use technology throughout the day to link in with friends across the world. 

Through Twitter I enjoyed following and participating in the banter between my followers and the people I follow. 

Through YouTube I could access a multitude of video clips posted by people from everywhere capturing the day.

With Facebook I connected with friends across the world whose comments and pictures showed me how they were celebrating the day. I also used it to share a story board of my own pictures and to connect with the new friends I had made.

Later reflections (at the point I was planning to go to sleep!) found me thinking through how I had used technology on this day to capture the event,  how this experience had enriched my own personal learning technologies journey and how I really could start using the technologies more to support my workplace learning.  I recognised how very little I am actively encouraged during learning events to capture the day, reflect on this and share my learning with others.

I thought about the times at the beginning of a face to face event where I had been asked to switch off my phone.  What if I hadn’t been asked to do this and instead encouraged to leave my phone on?  I could capture the day in pictures and video and use twitter/facebook/youtube and/or my blog to share my learning story.  I could connect with the other learners on the course to build up my online network and through this further continue my learning to develop beyond the event. I could build on this to share my ongoing experiences of how I was applying this learning into the workplace and the value this added.

It was a restless night reflecting on this right royal event but before I finally dropped off I thought, “…..you know what….I am getting  it now….the potential of this learning technologies thing!!”  I don’t need to be encouraged by anybody else to capture and share my story – I can take responsibility and do this myself!  I can however, actively encourage the learners in my community and beyond to give these technologies a go; to capture and share their own stories and join in with like-minded friends and colleagues across the world committed to doing the same.

It is still a relatively short time since I started making the effort to use technologies such as facebook, twitter, youtube and wordpress as learning tools but now that I have made them part of my daily life I am learning something new and valuable every single day.

If you haven’t taken the plunge yet….DO…it is worth it!

Getting started with Twitter

Image of Shakespeare deciding at the computer to blog or not to blogTo blog or not to blog… 

After much deliberation I have decided to use this blog to document my learning technologies journey and share both my learning and the challenges I face.

After attending the Learning Technologies Conference in January this year I decided that 2011 was the time for me to stop thinking about SoMe technologies and to start using them!  Following an inspiring session with  Craig Taylor I took advantage of the free desk calendar he gave out and committed myself to trying out at least one SoMe technology per month. 

January 2011 – Craig’s tip – get started with Twitter
Whilst I already had a Twitter account, TuppyMagic I hadn’t really used it other than to learn how to tweet and send a direct message with a couple of colleagues Sue Fredson (@azzadays) and Jan Cowell (@geordiecow).  I am not sure any of us would have selected the code names had we realised at the time how much potenial Twitter would offer us to network with other professionals in our field and be part of a community committed to sharing good advice and resources.

In the same month I received an email from Alison.com recommending a free online Twitter course. Within minutes I realised where I was going wrong – I needed to build up my followers to make Twitter work!  Craig gave some really good advice – follow the people I follow and some will follow you back.  I am now following over 200 people and have just over 80 followers. 

My main learning points: View user profiles to choose people that you want to follow.  Spend time building up your followers; in many cases (unless they are a celeb!) they will follow you back.  If anyone mentions you in a tweet this is listed in the @mentions tab.  If you want to send a private (direct message) to a someone you follow they need to be following you. 

My main challenges: I don’t work in an office everyday so am not always sat at a PC when working.  I am living in rented accomodation temporarily so don’t have a broadband line or wifi access at home and at the time of taking the Twitter plunge didn’t have a smart phone.  My access was restricted to a 3G connection via a shared laptop that my partner needed for study.  This resulted in irregular and inflexible access to Twitter which was more than frustrating. 

Overcoming my barriers: In February 2011 I placed an order for an iphone.  Since then I haven’t looked back! With my iphone in hand access to Twitter and being able to Tweet/Retweet is at my fingertips!! 

The next challenge…getting to grips with the iphone!!!!!!  This is where February 2011, Craig’s recommendation, You Tube comes in handy – I’ll share that journey in my next blog now that I have finally taken the plunge!