About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On a break

I'll be on a break from blogging for the next two weeks to concentrate on:

  1. My family
  2. My dissertation
See you in a couple of weeks.

Updating new skils

My daughter was telling me about one of her most memorable classes this year when the class received the classic assignment that began: read everything carefully before starting. This is used to ensure students will learn to follow instructions ending in the last instruction being just do item 1 and 2 (there are 50 lines).

I started to wonder how we would update this based on work literacy skills we are trying to develop. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Have clues in a number of links that when put together will give the same instructions (do only item 1 & 2).
  • Give students a time limit to complete the exercise that forces them to skim (tell them the assignment is to develop their skimming skills)
  • Change the font and format so key words stick out (including the last sentence)
  • Have students work in groups to do the activity (someone should catch the last line)
Does anyone have other suggestions?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Future Workers

There was an interesting article in the Financial Times Digital Business special section. The British Government has outlined the learning goals for children in the Practice Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage. These include showing an interest in ICT at 22-36 months (2-3 years old) and operating ICT equipment at 40-60 months (4-5 year olds). As pointed out in the article, we are finding an increasing need for imagination and developing a creativity for the use of IT and development of social skills that technology helps to augment. If we are taking away "play" in these critical years, will we now need to include creativity, imagination, and social interaction as key skills needed to be developed for work literacy?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who's our target audience?

As I blogged earlier, I think there are three main groups we should be targeting: organizations, individuals, and business/vocational schools (higher ed and even high school vocational/business programs). In the first case, organizations must begin to see the changes in workplace literacy and support programs that help to develop these competencies. For many organizations, this means a change in how they are training, when they are training, how they compensate for training (i.e. perhaps paying for a training program every two to three years might change to giving "study time" 2 hours a week), and how workers are being evaluated. It also means they will need a new paradigm in which they are evaluating the value of training (and with it new evaluation tools).

In terms of the individual, individual workers need to understand the skills they will need as they go through their profession and change jobs (I think I read somewhere that the average Gen X'er will change his or her job at least 10 times throughout his or her career). This means we need to identify the skills that will make an employee employable and able to grow within a dynamic environment.

Conflict of interest

Walking the line between the organization and individual is tricky as each has conflicting motivation which could be detrimental to the other. An organization might want to have its employees be flexible and able to learn so they can demand more work (hours) and be able to cut its workforce whenever needed. An employee might want to possess these skills so they can jump ship when things get tough (thus taking the organization's economic currency with them). I think this is why of these literacies will be a hard sell initially.

Therefore, I feel the third group, business and vocational schools and programs are the best initial audience for work literacies. Accrediting bodies, such as AACSB, have traditionally had a strong influence on business education, which then permeates into the organization. This can be seen with the advent of the PC and with globalization. As new graduates come into an organization with new skills, they will influence current workers. This allows for a new idea to be adopted by an organization, modified to meet the organization's needs. The result is then a pull strategy for training, in which individual workers are demanding training based on the needs these new ideas are generating.

My own experience is that most business schools are very conservative, so these changes are going to be a hard sell. However, if they accept these new ideas (and I think that many have begun to discuss these work literacies), the ideas will begin to permeate to the organizational and individual levels. I also agree with Harold that professional organizations are another good audience to target, as older workers look to these organizations as less "white tower" and more pragmatic. The American Marketing Association, National Communication Association, American Management Association, American Institute of CPA's, and ASTD all have a great influence on organizations. So do the industry professional organizations (e.g. IEEE, National Association of Insurance and Financial advisers, the national air transportation association).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What are we doing as teachers to make ourselves literate in the workplace?

In a recent comment I posted to Ken Allen, I mentioned that we as teachers have the advantage over our students in that we have the opportunity to create deeper understanding for ourselves by trying to explain concepts and negotiate meaning with our students. To do this however, we need to have interaction with our students.

However, how many instructional designers and trainers are given the opportunity to really discuss a topic indepth with their target audience? How many even have an understanding of the environment in which their students work?

At the conference I attended on Distance Learning last week, one of the presenters spoke of being "blown away" at some of the feedback she had asked for. One of the students felt that her formating requirement for the subject line was in fact making things more difficult for him to follow rather than easier. He was doing the entire course using his blackberry so the e-mail options made him difficult to follow which threads went with which discussions. What surprised her was that he was using a common technology in a different way. Had she not asked for feedback, she would not have been able to make accommodations for his situation.

As a result of these questions, I think we need to be careful as develop work literacies that:
  1. We recognize that these are not stagnant, nor will specific work literacy skills fit all contexts
  2. Workers might have or not have these skills without being aware of it
  3. There is a cultural underpinning with all literacies that might be difficult, yet necessary to identify
  4. Instructional designers and teachers may or may not be aware of the contexts in which their target audience is using, but must ask the right questions to determine student needs and skills
I feel that we should be looking more systematically at the organizations and understand the cultures and epistemologies first. From there, we can begin to identify the various work literacies needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These then can be put into a framework (as Tony has sketched out, but perhaps with broader categories). The framework can then be used to develop different assessment tools, technology, and instructional designs based on the culture and organizational/individual epistemologies. That should only take another 20 years to accomplish!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Literacy Gap

While I have previously written about the trends I see happening in education and the workplace as a result of new technologies, I think there are many other issues that will contribute to the work literacy gap.

First, let me begin by saying that I don't think the technology and its adoption is necessarily the debate here. Studies indicate that, contrary to popular belief, older workers do adopt new technologies. However, their reasons are different than younger workers (Morris and Venkatesh, 2000). Younger workers embrace new technology because it is new and the intrinsic value of anything new, whereas older workers adopt it either because it is required (through policy or, informally, required to stay within the organizational power structure) or because it is demonstrated to achieve results (later adoption).

However, I think this is true of any generation and technology. My generation embraced the PC because it was new and we were learning how to use it in school, whereas my father embraced it after other workers started to use it and demonstrated how it could impact the organization. I am sure the same happened when the xerox machine and telephone was introduced. That said, I feel that work literacy as we are discussing today is really based on two main changes: the change in organizational structures (from vertical to flat, corporate to module, long-term stability to just-in-time) and the change in the basis of our economy from agricultural to service. The result is that we expect more flexibility of our workers, while at the same time expect them to work in a much more dynamic environment, constantly changing. The paradox to this is that "content" is now a product (transitioning to the service economy) which means we want our knowledge workers to "know more".

As I see it, the real problem is that our educational system is still set in traditional structures (due in part to businesses wanting more "content" which will be a product for them to sell in the future). The true gap, therefore, is between those educated in a traditional way and the new "skills" needed to work in a module setting (able to move people, companies, offices, departments around without losing knowledge or the knowledge product) communicating through a network (rather than the old vertical structures) with critical thinking and problem solving skills that allow workers to react to the environment as it changes and create new knowledge (or knowledge products) in a short period of time.

Looking at work literacy from this viewpoint, technology is only a tool with which these knowledge workers will be able to draw on. If students coming out of high schools and college are ill prepared for these new structures, then the workplace will need to start training new workers in terms of critical thinking and problem solving skills, new communication skills (including how to interact without "authority" figures and initiate communication), team and group work skills (as module structures require participation in groups), and metacognitive skills (in order to be aware of what is going on in the work environment and retooling as appropriate).

Friday, June 13, 2008

University vs. Workplace

Today I participated in a conference for the Capital District Educational Technology Group (CDETG). We are a group educational technologists in Northeastern, NY mostly at the university level. The conference, about distance learning, started with the following list of trends in online education followed by a discussion by a panel of policy level educational technologist:

The June 9th edition of ELearning Magazine published what it thought were the trends in online education.

TREND #1 Traditional Learning Management Systems Are Toast

l There will be more learning than ever, but there will not be a centralized LMS. Learning will move to being department, even course-driven, with content being user-created: From LMS to VLE to PLE...

TREND #2 Content Becomes Democratized

l Learning content will be created by users. The content will not be controllable as it is today because there will be significantly more places where learning content will be published.

TREND #3 Thin Slices of Content Will Be Consumed

l Instead of “complete courses”, content will get sliced into smaller, bite sized chunks that will be created rapidly.

TREND #4 Content Authoring Tools Will Change

l Tools will be available that will help users to create thin-sliced content that will become peer and value rated.

TREND #5 Gaming and Simulation Emerges

l Gaming and simulation are somewhat new in learning, but they are very powerful and will continue to gain momentum.

TREND #6 Self-Service Learning Becomes the Norm

l Students will increasing define not only their own courses but programs.

TREND #7 Finding Courses Will Be More Important Than Creating Courses

l Since there will be an explosion of community- developed courseware, campuses will focus on organizing a taxonomy to help users find learning content. Librarians may become more important than the instructional designers. A new job title will emerge: Social Network Manager, the coach of how to create courseware.

What I found interesting was the trends that many thought were not true for the University level. This was trend #6 and #2. This points out the difference between workplace and higher education. Trend #6 would be difficult to institute in a higher education environment because of accreditation requirements. I doubt that trend #2 would be acceptable in either the university or workplace due to the amount of control this would require administrators to give up.

What I thought was interesting was that many felt that there would always be a place for a LMS. However, I feel that the role of the LMS will change over time from a go- to-place for all to an administration system that is the starting point for learning. In other words, I foresee learning management systems as becoming learning tool aggregates that will help keep track of where students and student groups keep their things. This is especially important for the university level, where panelist pointed out that they needed a central place to help student support.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some thoughts on Work Literacy

It seems that there is a lot of information that just needs to be analyzed and sorted. However, in reading the related blogs, links, and additional information over the last two weeks I have some thoughts of areas I would like to investigate further.

  • The tie between multiple intelligences and types of tools we use. I see a potential parallel between the parts of the brains we use for a given situation (often based on our preferred intelligences) and the choice of tools. One potential benefit to looking at this might be that the new technology tools currently available give learners the opportunity to choose the tool that will use their skills (intelligences) to the greatest effect while other tools might help to develop those skills (intelligences) that are not as strong.
  • I wonder where the organization fits into these work literacies. Just like family background can have a positive or negative affect on literacy, the support, training, and even understanding of workers at the organizational level can have an effect on work literacy. Also, the type of organization and its structure might not be appropriate to current learning models (as happens with children whose parents do not fit into a mainstream cultural model have difficulty learning to read using standard models). I think it is important that we understand the different models of organizations, knowledge work within those organizations, and organizational culture.
  • Related to this is a framework for knowledge work. I think there is a real difference between knowledge work that is a corporate product (i.e. accountants, instructional designers, education, consultants), knowledge that is both part of the physical product and the product itself (software engineers, hospitals, retail), and knowledge needed to produce and service a physical product (process engineers, customer service, repairmen). Each will have different needs, level of regulation, levels of tangibility, and access to technology.
  • In a discussion with a educational training provider yesterday, the issue came up about balancing the need for individual growth and learner control, with funding bodies (corporation or outside) organizational requirements and goals and the need for measurable changes to justify the investment into training. As a result, anything that is developed in terms of Work Literacy definition must also look at this balance. We should be looking at individual workers' work literacy, but also collective work literacy within an organization. This might mean eventually benchmarking on an organizational level in order to identify training needs.

Knowledge and Meaning Making

Ken Allen had an interesting comment on a previous posting of mine.

It’s now well recognised that language is required for thinking. Students who are not well familiar with the language of a new subject find difficulty thinking in the terms of that subject. This persists until they are able to use fluently the language associated with it.

Often the language refers not just to things, but to concepts and ideas, such as the language associated with thermodynamics (which has both abstract and tangible components). So often, higher thinking skills are also required to well understand some subjects especially if they are of an abstract nature or have a significant abstract component.

What I’m positing here is that the act of putting ideas into words, whether written or spoken, in the collaborative environment forces the individual to use the language of the subject. Being pressed in this way to write puts one in a similar position to the poet who is about to create from “the world of Thou” (abstract thought) a tangible, explicit piece of written knowledge.

This actually brought back a debate I had with my dissertation committee while writing my prospectus. I included research from Katherine Nelson (1996). They took exception to this, saying that her work was based on toddlers and the development of language, period and could not really be applied to adults that already have language.

However, the results of her study indicated that language helps to mediate meaning making within an environment. As new experiences happen, toddlers are able to create symbols (language) that they can then use in making meaning. Language meaning will change with new experiences, sometimes giving new meaning to the same word or language structures, other times resulting in new language and structures as a child's current language is insufficient to explain these new experiences.

I feel the same is true with adults. This explains the role of language in communities of practice and the role of writing in learning. When communicating in written forms (i.e. wikis, project software, reports, e-mail, chat), we are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge. We are trying to find new structures and language to explain tacit knowledge, which then mediates our understanding of emerging ideas. This would be critical thinking, abstracting, and knowledge construction (as I am doing here as I blog). While I may "know" something (apprehensive knowledge), the process of communicating it also is a learning process (meta-cognitive). Perhaps this "process" or internal dialog should be called mediated knowledge.

I think we need to look more into what happens during this stage for adults in order to create more affective training programs. This includes looking at what happens to the brain when writing, how different types of writing affect this mediation, and how we make meaning in multiple contexts, especially when those we are interacting with are in different environments.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lessons learned from New Communication Technologies in Organziational Life

Last fall, I was asked to teach a special topics course for Communication Majors. I would develop a course on a topic that I had some knowledge of. As I had been doing a lot of research on social networking, the department head and myself came up with a course named New Communication Technologies in Organizational Life. Needless to say, I didn't know as much as I thought I did as I began to create the course. However, I was able to aggregate many of the pieces I had coming into the course as my students worked on the class project: an online conference on nanotechnology. I learned a lot through my student reflections on the assigned readings, my own class preparation, and the use of technology within the classroom (observing how my students used new communication technologies and the problems they had applying it to a work context).

I don't know why I did not think of it before, however, Michele Martin suggested that I blog about it. So taking the notes from my final powerpoint for the course, here goes!

Four Types of New Interactive Technologies

I began the course design by breaking up New Interactive Technologies (New Communication Technologies for this course) into four categories dependent upon the intended use: communication (mobile communication technologies such as cell phones, pda's, video conferencing), information sharing (pod and vodcasting, visual information software, blogs, pageflakes), collaboration (wikis, groupware), and networking (facebook, LinkedIn, Ning).

Each of these categories were broken up into units that included related readings and activities that used each of the technologies listed above. At the end of each unit, the class would discuss the impact that these technologies had on accomplishing their tasks and best practices for the use of these technologies to accomplish work tasks.

In each of the units, there were some commonalities: a different way to access to information and share information, new organization, different means of communication and (with that) new communication skills, and a greater level of work and personal life intersection.

Work/Personal Life Intersection While these new technologies allow people more flexibility to pursue activities outside of work, it also is a double edged sword as the line between work and personal life is blurred. The result is less formal communication (i.e. e-mails, im, even written documentation such as blogs and discussion forums). Also there is more mobility between school, the workplace, and the community (or communities). However, there is also more access by the organizations to areas that are non-workplace related.

The anytime/anyplace access that these technologies allow means that workers become more aware of their behavior outside of work (or aware that what they do outside of work may be used to evaluate their job performance), yet more informal within work. Many of my students (as backed up by research) were uncomfortable with the idea that management could access what they considered "private" space (Facebook, myspace) thus impacting their career.

The one aspect that these new technologies might have on the organization is to change the "water-cooler" effect. This is the idea that in the past, people would socialize in the workplace, exchanging war stories, etc...The format for this for the younger generation are blogs and social networking sites. However, this takes the small talk out of the organization and into a written record. Some of the spontaneity and "crazy idea" generation may be lost, along with a deeper level of relationship building due to reduced "face time". On the other hand, workers can connect to those that they feel they have more in common with throughout the organization. In addition, there is a written record of thoughts and ideas which they can access later.

Communication Consideration: When choosing a new technology, there are a number of factors to consider. First, the mode of communication and the way in which messages are crafted (rhetoric) need to be analyzed. By mode of communication, I mean written vs. visual vs. oral, one-way vs. two way communication, one-on-one vs. one to group, group to group, or group to one. Depending on the situation, context, and purpose of the communication, the appropriate technology should be chosen depending on the message and access by both the senders and receivers (initiators and audience).

The audience will have a huge impact on the choice of technology and how it is used. Language, tone, and register may be distorted or lost depending on the affordances of the technology. For example, IM and texting requires short sentences and abbreviated speech in order for there to be timely feedback between the writer and reader. On the other hand, blogs often include links which require a more formal and planned writing process.

Finally, who controls, monitors, and supports the technologies will influence the choice of technology. IM is much more difficult to control ( in terms of information flow and when it is used, not to mention possible viruses). Wikis, on the other hand have controls built into them that allow for different levels of contribution.

Access to information and information sharing: Perhaps the greatest impact on the organization that these new interactive technologies have has to do with the new forms of information and new ways to share information.

Information can now be presented in multiple formats to fit different user needs. This includes creating visual representations, networking and connection information so it no longer has to be presented linearly, and allowing greater access and control over who and when information can be accessed. The result is that information becomes much more situated and user driven.

The impact, however, means that there needs to be more decisions on the management's side as to who will have access to the information and how workers will be trained to use the information. Take, for example, the old multi page books of data reports on personnel, sales, or accounts receivable/payable reports. These used to be limited to the managers for access. An employee would need to go to the manager to get these records (especially if there were privacy issues as with the personnel issues). Now, employees can put in specific search functions, find the information they need and have access to the information as long as they have clearance. This requires that employees understand how to find the information, use the information, and the impact in case the information is leaked or accessed by those without clearance. In addition, the information can be linked to other departments which means that changes in one part of the organization will result in impacting the other part of the organization. As a result, workers need to have an understanding of how the information is linked and their role in the organization.

My students found this to be especially important as they worked on their project. As each group worked on their piece, they soon discovered that assumptions they made about the other groups were not necessarily true. They needed a common platform from which to work (which we did by diagramming the work processes as a class as a whole). This face to face coordination seemed as important to them as the access (anytime anyplace) to the information online. They concluded that training, coordination, and planning the use of the technologies were vital to its effective use.

New Organization: Finally, it is important to understand the impact that these new technologies will have on the organization. In fact, the impact may be so powerful, that many organizations may opt not to incorporate these technologies into their organization. Depending on the type of organization, the resulting flat communication structure may not fit their organizational structure and mandate. We identified three different types of organizational structures that might need different levels of control due to the nature of their industry and product. The first is one that needs to be very structured with strong controls from the top down. These would include industries such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, defense contractors, and banks. Most of these industries are highly regulated and lack of control could have negative consequences on security and the public good. The second would be those that are able to allow some freedom for decision making at the local levels or line workers, with a preference for strong central strategic plans. Large multinational corporations tend to fit this group as local input is important, as is coordination of resources. Finally, most small or medium sized organizations, especially in the services industry, allow for more individual control. However, with this greater level of control comes higher expectations for worker knowledge and understanding of where they are in the organization.

As a result, these new technologies must be integrated into the system. To do so, workers needs to:

  1. be part of groups with strong group leadership skills
  2. understand and recognize key communication nodes within the organizations, including within and between departments
  3. Coordinate between groups
  4. Train using new technologies and new uses of older technologies
  5. Be part of the development process of which technologies will be used and how; understand the bundling of technologies, identifying which combination of technologies will be most useful for each situation
  6. Develop new processes the new technologies allow for and/or require
New Communication Skills

We identified the following communication skills that workers will need to use these new technologies:

  • Information filtering when reading and writing
  • Ability to speak using "lag" time (turn taking)
  • Ability to network
  • Technology skills such as typing, IM language, and social networking
  • Initiate, motive, lead communication interactions
  • Group work skills
  • Identifying key works or tags
  • Able to analyze trends
  • Ability to learn new technologies as they evolve
  • Ability to change register and communication dependent upon the situation and technology

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hanzel and Gretel through the internet

Today I logged on to check my e-mail and ended up looking at an article on Faxes. How did I get there? I found an e-mail about a document Tony Karrer was preparing for the WorkLiteracy group on google docs. From there I went to the Work Literacy group site and read a posting about "change". As I read that I remembered a post I had written about instructional design which I thought related to the comment on change management. When I tried to find the blog about instructional change, I found two comments from Ken Allen one of which was a link to an article about faxing.

At that point, I realized that I had really gone off into an area I had not really anticipated (I was waiting for an e-mail about a doctor's appointment). This got me to thinking about how the internet allows us to explore areas we had no intention of going, but then may get us lost in the process.

As I go from idea to idea, I make connections. However, if I don't pull myself back and focus, I lose some of the great ideas I have as I go through the journey. So, here are some preliminary thoughts on how I can capture these ideas:

  • Use the good old fashioned pen and pencil and scrape paper to jot down ideas as I go from site to site
  • Blog about it after (this forces me to go back and bookmark sites that I thought were important)
  • Decide before I start work which type of sessions this is going to be: focused or freeflow. If it is freeflow, give myself a time limit. If it is focused, jot down where I want to go when the session is free flow
I'm not sure if others have a better way in which they work or if they have tips to help them stay focused or at least find their way back.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Transition to new Technologies

I recently watched as my children showed each other the ins and outs of what they had figured out about their iPod. What is interesting to me is that iPods don't come with instructions per se. As a result, many of the features are learned (just like using google) with tips that others have figured out. This is one aspect of the new generation that is different than the old. It was almost as if the older generation had to have the directions to know how to use a new technology, whereas the new generation makes the rules and thus uses technology more innovatively.

This has me wondering if there is a transitional time for any new technology in which the "directions" are developed and thus an understanding of how the tool can be used is expanded. I tried to think of this in terms of the new tool that was introduced when I was growing up: the calculator (yes, I know I am dating myself). When it was first introduced, many looked at it as a substitute for a slide rule. How it was integrated into society, its uses, and how instructors/teachers integrated it into the classroom changed. I look now at how complex mathematical concepts are introduced into the curriculum for my son and daughter BECAUSE of the calculator. They are learning these concepts differently than I did with much more depth as students do not have to be slowed down by looking up numbers on a chart or slide rule (I never used a slide rule since "we had calculators"). I was still learning the computation, with the calculator used as a checking mechanism. How did the use of the calculator change so drastically? It was not overnight.

Many of us do not see the change in use of a technology as it becomes "mature". Using marketing (technology adoption) concepts, the majority adopters don't tend to use a new product until it is in the mature stage. So from here I have three questions:

  1. Do late adopters need to have "directions" or at least a protocol for use (e.g. through standardized training, later versions that have support in learning how to use the mechanism built in, tips or instructions available in various formats)?
  2. Are new technologies hitting the mature stage earlier (changing the product maturity curve) or having a greater number of early and late adopters earlier (changing the adaptation curve) or do we just expect that because of the pace of our society?
  3. What was the process in the past that helped to change curriculum, training, and user awareness as a result of the introduction of new technology? In other words, if we were to look at the integration of film into education, radio into education, or even mimiographs, what lead up to the point where it was acceptable to use these technologies in education? What ground work needed to be laid?
I am not sure if anyone has ever looked at this, but I would be interested to see this type of analysis. I think it would then make it easier for us to know how to integrate these new technologies into education and the workplace.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Define Communication

I found it interesting that in the draft report on skills for the 21st century that "communication" skills came up. What is interesting is that:

1) there are many types of communication
2) most "communication" departments are subsections of other disciplines or at least share faculty
3) while often a requirement for most schooling, very little is few programs include a separate communication course as a requirement for education degrees. In addition, communication education usually is within the interdisciplinary communication departments (if at all) and very little training and research is focused on teaching communication.

I think there needs to be greater focus on how communication is being taught, especially in the lower grades.

Writing forces learning

In reading Tony Karrer's presentation handout I came across the phrase "writing forces learning". While I think the context of this was about blogging, the presentation was about group learning. I currently am trying to figure out how collaborative writing affects the individual and how that then affects the organization as the individual takes back what they have learned from the writing process.

Tacit Knowledge

So how does writing (especially collaborative writing) help create learning (especially in non-academic environments)? According to Kolb, much of what we experience leads to a type of knowledge he identified as "apprehensive". Atherton further defines it as knowledge by doing. I, however, interpret Kolb's apprehensive knowledge as an unconscious, intangible process that many consider "instinct" or "gut feeling". Most gut feelings are based on experience, an understanding of the environment, and our own analysis of what is going on: tacit knowledge.

Explicit Knowledge

Most of the knowledge that is valued in our culture is explicit knowledge (what Kolb calls comprehensive knowledge). This is knowledge that has been codified and can be
recorded, taught, and tested. There are various ways that this knowledge can be codified: as models, written documentation, curricula, plans, processes, formulas, podcasts and other audio presentations and visual representations (e.g. photos, videos, graphs, maps, etc...). The question that most organizations have is how to capture the tacit knowledge and convert it to explicit knowledge.

A Third type of Knowledge?

In looking at collaborative writing, I wonder if there is a third type of knowledge, or even many different levels of knowledge as tacit knowledge is codified to become explicit knowledge. My own observations in watching my students doing collaborative writing is that there seems to be stages in the collaborative writing process that correlate to what both writing researchers and group communication researchers have identified as the "collaborative writing process". I wonder if the collaborative writing process allows individuals to become more conscious of their tacit knowledge, forcing them to look at the knowledge, craft it, creating individual hypotheses, and creating new understanding and meaning as the knowledge becomes explicit.

This process was the basis for Kolb's experiential learning model (which seems to have been lost over the years as researchers have dissected only selected parts of the book as a whole to critique). While he did not look at collaboration per se, much of what he wrote about experiential learning can apply to the collaborative writing process and what impact it has on individual, group, and organizational learning.

However, I believe more is going on as individuals and groups go through the experiential learning process. Collaborative writing includes concepts on cognitive dissonance, social identity theory, the choices the individual makes for the group but takes away as an individual (dual levels of "knowledge"--what the group "knows" and what the individual really believes is "true"), epistemologies and comparative rhetoric, cognitive awareness, metacognition, and perspective taking. Clearly there is more going on than a written record of activity and explicit knowledge.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The choice of instructional design impacts skill development

Tony Karrer commented in the previous post that the skills I identified would be difficult to "teach". However, the real question is will those skills be difficult to learn?

I think these skills will 1) need to be developed over time, and 2) need to be learned by doing (not just "taught") with support from instructors. There are many models that would be appropriate for learning these skills such as experiential learning, activity theory, cognitive apprenticeship, communities of practice, inquiry-based learning. All of these models include certain attributes.

  1. Students have an active role in their learning so they are responsible for the outcomes.
  2. The instructor is responsible for creating a realistic environment from which students learn. In a work situation, the instructor does not create the environment, but rather makes the student aware of the environment in which they are learning.
  3. The instructor helps to focus student attention on the situation (environment), identifying problems or gaps between what is known and the ultimate learning goal, supports student learning by providing resources (print, electronic, expert, learning structure) to scaffold student learning, and a combination of "doing", reflecting, analyzing, and application.
  4. Interaction between the content, the environment, peers, and experts that help the learner to see different perspectives, try out different and new skills, and provide the learner motivation to learn.
Many of the skills I outlined in the previous post require time to develop using each of these aspects of instructional design. Each of the models I mentioned are different in structure and measurement, but they each have these 4 factors that will be needed to develop skills in the future.

Monday, June 2, 2008

New skills for the workplace

Tony Karrer and Michele Martin are pleased to announce the founding of Work Literacy

This is an area that I have been working around for the past few years. In answering the questions they posed to begin this group, I began to think of the skills that new workers will need for the next decade. This is a partial list:

  1. The ability to dig for information. Many of my students comment that they have trouble finding information, yet I can go to the computer and find it in a few minutes. Why? I can scan results quickly, make connections with the information, and make new connections. Now, on top of that, I am able to save it so I can return and dig deeper when I have time.
  2. Have a flexible ability to write and speak in different registers ( informal, formal, international, local, business, social, etc...).
  3. Be able to look at the forest AND the trees and know where he or she is located. Details are important as is the big picture knowing where you fit. Organizations need to move away from the specialist and instead focus on the trainable (who can become a specialist with minimal training).
  4. The ability to think critically and ask questions. For many organizations and managers, this can be threatening. However, we need to begin to recognize that everyone is fallible. How failures or mistakes are handled are important. Therefore, we need as many eyes and ears and minds open that can help an organization stop before it gets in too deep. The culture of blame needs to be changed.
  5. Speaking of culture, knowledge workers need to understand the different ways in which knowledge can be constructed and used. One shortcoming to American business today is the assumption that we understand another culture and its intentions without trying to understand the underlying idea of "knowledge" in that culture. Relationship building is one form of knowledge, as is an understanding of the artifacts within a culture.
  6. Learning how to learn is important. However, recognizing that there will be learning throughout our lifetime is even more important. The need to learn needs to be emphasized throughout schooling and the transition into the workplace.
  7. How to make choices. Unfortunately, our educational system has not developed this skill as students are given checklists to follow. However, knowledge workers will need to be able to measure options, think through problems, analyze the situation, and make decisions as new tools allow them (and even force them) to take more responsibility for their decisions in the workplace. For example, the internet requires that they know what they are looking for and allows them to tailor their tools to optimize their work (i.e. blogs, wikis, etc...). As these tools (and managers) require more individual responsibility and choice, workers will need to understand the impact that their choices have on the individual, groups in which they work, and the organization as a whole.
  8. Finally, the ability to identify the affordances of any new technology is important. As more and more tools are introduced, workers need to know how to choose which tools and which of those tools they need to master (and spend time mastering).
This is just the beginning of the list. I am sure many have other ideas.