This is a presentation from LDC 2014. To learn more about the LDC, please visit LDC.io.
A revolution in learning is upon us where relationally driven learning replaces simple content delivery as the best use of technology. Adults learn best in a collaborative context that empowers them to pursue their deepest learning needs without barriers. This is what drove the very creation of the internet. We will explore how current trends are moving technology beyond creating social networks for fun or self-promotion, to facilitating intentional, collaborative learning cultures.
Malcolm took a big risk inviting me. Let’s hope it works out for him. Frankly, I don’t care – I’m going to have some fun, but I haven’t done this in a while. I did a stint where I was doing conference speaking and consulting for about five or six years but I’ve been involved with what was Triple Creek until this week.
Triple Creek was the name of our company but we’re now River and our product is River Software. What we’re seeing with globalization, digitalization, urbanization, democratization of the Internet is nothing short of a revolution in the way relationships, cultures and societies function.
It is definitely shaping the learning and development arena. I can go back to 1991– I remember it well. I went out and bought a 300-baud modem. Anybody here use a 300 baud modem? Yeah, you’re ancient too, aren’t you, and I did that specifically so I could get on this new web service called CompuServe.
How many of you had a CompuServe number? That changed my life. I was a pastor, I was about seven, eight years into a 10-year pastorate but I could go on-line and actually search for sermon illustrations from AP and just see what’s out there that’s funny in the news that might relate to what I’m talking about.
And so that was 1991. Fast-forward after my stint as a pastor, and then I was national director of a Christian non-profit organization for about five or six years doing independent consulting with churches and Christian non-profits. Beginning in 2001, the money dried up for consulting, especially in the Christian world and I was trying to figure out what to do with the next phase of my life.
I was having a beverage in the back yard where I was hosting a wedding reception for a good friend. One of his good friends was there from Cincinnati and had an interesting consulting company called Triple Creek Associates.
What was interesting to me was not the consulting end but they had developed a product that they were marketing to Fortune 500 companies like the companies they worked with called Open Mentoring. I asked him to tell me more about it and we got talking and talking, and talking, and it went on for a couple of hours.
We became friends that night in my back yard with little tiki lamps glowing and the bride and groom kissing, and we just kind of went off by ourselves. To make a long story very short, a few months later I offered to help him put together a new leadership team for the company and to look at the possibility of moving it to Denver where I would be involved in leadership of a new version of their company where we would look at promoting this Open Mentoring product full-time.
I raised some venture capital. That was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my entire life and I had been in the ministry for 15 years. So that’s saying something, but we got the money, got it recapitalized, got it off the ground and I got involved with it because, to be honest, I couldn’t let the thing die without in a sense giving it a chance to see if it might work for the body of Christ.
The guy I was talking to was a believer. A lot of leaders in the organization were believers. A former pastor is our president and CEO and that was kind of my dream at the beginning – that maybe I would work with the non-profit organizations and he would work with the for-profit organizations and we would take this out and make a run.
But what attracted me was a revolutionary approach. Now this is 1999 on up into 2001, early 2002. What attracted me was that the world was enamored with this new thing called e-learning, which is answering this question: how can we take what we’re doing in classroom training and put it on the web? Because it would be a lot cheaper that way.
That’s the question they were answering in corporate America: how can we save money in our training budget by putting that stuff on-line? The web wasn’t even an option in those days for storing content and people hadn’t even really started using it much that way, but they were interested in starting on-line learning systems.
As we sat around that table we agreed that that was the wrong question. The real question is what kind of leaders do you want to develop? Information alone is not going to develop a leader. It’s about relationships and the answer and the best use of technology and the web is not delivering information alone. It’s getting people involved in productive relationships.
Now this is long before there was a Facebook. The only analogous technology out there which I heard about every time I did a product demo in the early days was, oh, this is kind of like on-line dating for a mentor.
That’s the only thing they could relate to as you’re looking at a profile and seeing if this is someone that you would like to have a relationship with. There’s the mentoring relationship, but they had pictures in there. So you could use it as a dating site, I guess, and a lot of the companies we worked with were worried about that.
Is that all it’s going to become? But the question that we wanted to answer is what kind of person do you want to develop and what do you need to do in order to develop that person?
The answer for developing leaders and people, and complex things like management is you need other people. You need other leaders. Content alone won’t do it and, frankly, since that time we’ve become a successful company.
Now thankfully there’s another analogy called social networking that has morphed into this thing called social learning. People are starting to ask the question what kind of leaders do I want?
There’s a futurist named David Houle who writes a journal called The Shift Age and in 2010 he asked our organization to write an article on what we think the future of learning is going to be. We started that article with this – what kind of leader do you want? Do you want Person A or Person B?
Do you want someone who conforms well or do you want someone who is creative and imaginative? Do you want somebody who knows all the facts or somebody who can make wise judgments? Do you want somebody who is committed to the job or someone who is relationally connected?
Do you want somebody who is competitive and ambitious or do you want somebody who is generous to others? Do you want somebody who can follow directions to the tee or someone who questions the status quo? Which would you hire, A or B?
People want both. If you’re hiring a subordinate, you want A. If you’re hiring somebody to do leadership in some other organization that you don’t have to manage, you’ll probably hire B because you know that organizations need more Bs.
The problem is our whole educational system is designed from the time you’re in kindergarten all the way through an Ivy League School to produce who? A! A book called Excellent Sheep is a critique of Ivy League education and how it’s producing excellent sheep – people who know how to follow well.
But it’s really not producing leaders. We need a whole different approach to leadership and those forces that Carol talked about are driving us this direction whether we like it or not. At the same time, I ghost-wrote that article with Randy Emalow. I was reading a book by Seth Goden and his book Linchpin coined this idea of the artisan worker, that we need more people who are creative and imaginative, who are not just smart but wise.
And how do we develop that kind of person? We’re going to develop them in a multi-directional learning environment. We’re going to develop them in an environment where leaders are connected to large global knowledge networks so that there are no boundaries to the areas that they can explore.
We’re going to develop them in an environment where collaboration is kind, not competition. So in 2010 after we wrote this, there started to be a lot more writing in the area of social learning. What is it? How do we move beyond simply social networking to actually producing intentional learning in these large organizations?
What researchers began to look at was something they called the Jennings Read Dadich Inverted C-Curve for learning and development. Basically what e-learning did is take formal learning and make it worse by removing all the people. It was you watching a talking head on a computer and answering some really pretty lame questions.
What social networking software was doing was actually moving them down the curve, away from formal learning to unstructured learning. Actually a lot of the social networks that these organizations have launched have really been used very little and had seen very little productive outcome from them. Why?
Because they don’t need another Facebook in their life! That’s not why they’re at work, to share pictures of their grandkids or to talk about what’s going on in their department at the next picnic. What they want to do is learn in a productive way that’s focused. What this curve says is that you need both autonomy, which is the horizontal access, and strategic alignment, which is the vertical axis.
In other words, you need to construct a social learning environment that gives people autonomy and choice over what it is that they want to learn but also assures their alignment with the goal, that they’re on-mission, that what they’re studying and learning and spending time for at work aligns with where the organization is headed and going.
I’ll talk later about how we do that in River but here’s the important concept. Just throwing up a social networking site is not going to bring learning. You already know that. How many of you use Facebook for learning? How many of you use Facebook to keep up with your friends and your family? Okay, that’s what that’s for. How many of you use Linked In for learning? Yeah, about two people, three people. How many of you used Linked In to kind of just keep a good eye on what’s going on with your collaborators and business and that sort of thing, and as a parachute in case you need to look for a job?
Because that’s how they make their money – selling access to you, the headhunters – and so it’s a good idea to have a Linked In page but there are four things that describe a true social learning environment. The first is that it’s collaborative, second, contextual, third connected; fourth, creational.
And I’m going to talk very briefly about those four items. Collaborative learning blurs the boundaries between teachers and students. Who is the teacher at this table right here? Would you raise your hand if you’re the teacher? Okay, we have one teacher. How many of you are students?
Okay, how many of you are both teachers and students? You know, it just depends. It’s situational. Twenty-somethings know a lot more about this technology than I do. They would be my teacher.
I know a lot more about organizational management and leadership and strategic planning than they do. I might bring that to a relationship but collaborative learning blurs those boundaries between mentors and, God forbid we use the word any more, protégés, which describes this peon over here that wants to become just like me.
Mentors, mentees, formal, informal. What is a true collaborative learning relationship is both formal and informal. It’s learning and it’s a relationship; friendships can actually form in those, and it’s organizationally directed, or is it individually directed? Well, why not both?
Isn’t there a way to make sure that what’s going on out there lines up? Technology creates that opportunity for both learning and leading if it’s done right and I’ll show you how. Second, it’s contextual. Content is delivered in the context of needs and the context of relationships. It’s not isolated to information.
Now you probably can’t read the little bars here, so just guess. You have five options. This is some research I did with some of our client organizations. I got over 1,000 respondents to it from I think eight different companies across six or seven different industries.
So this is a really a good research model, probably the best one I ever did. So, you have five options. Which is most effective at improving your performance as a worker? You have the option of on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching, classroom, traditional training, conferences or e-learning.
What’s the least effective? E-learning. What’s the most effective? On-the-job. Why? It’s contextual. You’re learning the stuff you need to know and want to know right now. Why is e-learning the least effective? It’s disembodied content. What’s a Google search?
Let’s say knowledge and information is like water. What’s a Google search? Okay, just a splattering of information. Now to make that information useful, I have to find something. I have to find something and – oh, there’s a couple of drops.
What’s classroom training? Well, that’s somebody telling me what I need to drink. You can have water but what if I want Mountain Dew? I need something with a little caffeine to wake me up. No, you’ve got to have water. Yeah, that’s better.
What’s a conference? That’s third up the line there. Conference, you just get a bigger bucket, okay, and those of you who are thirsty, open your mouths. Oh, that’s not enough. That’s a whole table there. All right, and as a conference speaker – open your mouths. Okay, I’m really good at this, I promise.
Okay, ready? Whoa, there you go! The conference speaker is there to throw a bucket of water out there and hope some of you catch it in your mouth? How effective is that? It would be much better if we just handed you each a little bottle or even better than that, let you choose your own bottle of whatever beverage it is you want and hand that to you personally and sit down and talk with you over that, have coffee and bring relationship to you.
Now information is being shared in a context, being absorbed over time. The reason I spent a little extra time here is you want to think in your leadership development processes, what’s the best way to develop leaders? It is what? On-the-job training.
It’s giving them information as they need it, when they need it, in real-life situations, not even simulations, although that’s better than just doing what I’m doing here. Connected – all I want to say there is that we have proven that distance relationships can be just as effective for learning and organizational effectiveness as face-to-face conversations.
People are used to having digitally-mediated relationships now and you can mentor somebody – this is another research study. We’ve proven in our research that face-to-face relationships and distance relationships, or relationships that are a combination of both are just as effective as each other.
The last one is creational. What do we mean by creational? It means dynamic leadership environments need to constantly adjust to the needs of individuals and the organizations.
We need to stay in that mode of staying current with the best technologies, with the best that leadership development has to offer, not sacrificing relationships to use technology but building them through technology.
We need to create democratized environments where people feel free and safe to share new ideas. We need to celebrate those change agents and the organizations who disrupt things. But often times it’s through those disruptors and disruptive technology and disruptive people that change occurs. Technology can actually make that happen easier and simpler.
In a traditional social network or social learning environment like a community of practice, there is a rule of thumb. It’s called Jacob Nielson’s Rule, and it’s that one percent of the people create 90 percent of the content. 90 percent of the people are just lurkers. They’re just there and then 10 percent will participate and add to the content that’s there, that the one percent kind of kick off.
What we need to do in these communities is try to draw that 90 percent towards the participatory side by creating permission to upload stuff and not waiting for the experts; part of it is social. That is the reason that rule exists.
However, here comes the rub. Creation comes out of what? Chaos. This is probably the main reason this hasn’t set foot in Christian ministries and organizations yet is that – well, how could we trust our missionaries to mentor each other? How could we do that? They’re not experts. We need to have experts out there mentoring them.
Only the senior leaders, there’s only one person who’s qualified to be a mentor on each field and what if somebody from one field mentored somebody from another field? Maybe that person would want to move over to that guy’s field and we can’t have that happening.
It happened in companies, in corporations. The Fortune 50 company – I was talking to the person leading the program – and she said to me, “Well, I know this is a good idea but I don’t think we have anybody in our 40,000 person company who is really – that I would want to be mentored by.”
And I thought, Boy, they have a bigger problem than this, but that was the culture. It’s like those are all fuddy-duddies up there. Nobody wants to be like them and they didn’t trust people to mentor each other. The product was called Open Mentoring.
So anyway, creation is about change. People avoid change. Creation is about looking forward. People would rather keep things the same or look backward. Creation is about the big stuff, the important stuff, and people just want to make sure that there is a little course somewhere for everything that might be requested in the organization.
Creation celebrates human potential. This is really why I’m in the field that I’m in. I believe that the Internet has the potential to unlock relationships globally so that I can learn from anybody anywhere, anytime I need to.
And that’s going to help me grow, that’s going to help others grow. That’s why somewhere, somehow, we need to figure this out as the body of Christ. This is where education is headed, and brick and mortar classrooms are going to decrease, and more education is going to happen virtually but at the same time, more relationally, not less relationally.
And we, as leaders in the body of Christ have to get our head around this, have to start thinking deeply about how do we make this happen in such a way that we can break down the barriers between organizations?
One of the first interviews I had after I got involved with the organization back in 2002 was with a senior leader in a large missions organization that is an umbrella organization for dozens of missionary organizations and I’ve pitched the idea of open mentoring, naively thinking why wouldn’t you want to do this and have all your mission agencies work with each other?
I know lots of missionaries. They talk to each other on the field – this would be exciting. He looked at me with a straight face and said I could never promote that in our ministry because the president of each organization would be scared to death that somebody might find a mentor from another organization and leave their organization for that one.
And he said there’s just no way that this would ever work. Why? They’re not creational in their thinking. They’re zero sum. If I lose that person, I’ve lost my investment instead of saying, yeah, but you might keep three missionaries who are going to quit.
Mentoring has been proven to increase retention by 10 to 20 percent in most organizational systems. People stay because they’re connected.
I want to show you some specifics in the time that I’ve got left. Write down the word leadership, if you want to. The word leadership; and in front of the word leadership put four letters – S, I, M, P. Leadership, and then in front of that write S-I-M-P, and you have Simpleadership.
Everything that I’ve said so far and will say from here on out, you can find on Simpleadership.com. It’s a website I created for this conference, a place I created as a social learning website, not using River technology but using technology you have right now through WordPress.
How many of you use a WordPress blog or WordPress site? Okay, just add BuddyPress to WordPress. I’ll talk about that in a minute. So you don’t have to take a bunch of notes. It’s all there because I’m going to move really fast but I wanted to go take a look.
Technology is changing so fast, I had no idea what was out there that’s new that I hadn’t seen, so I decided to go look. Okay, when you talk about social learning, here are the big boys. This is social networking stuff.
Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Google Plus, Tumblr, Instagram. There are ways to use all of this in your ministry. Some of you are figuring it out. If you’re figuring it out well and it’s working for you, share it.
Go onto that Simpleadership site and share what’s working or text it to the Healthy Leaders site, whatever, but share it. Probably the best possibilities for collaboration and team development are in Google Plus. How many of you use Google Plus in your development teams?
You know, it works pretty well. I mean it’s not perfect but it’s free. You get everybody in there. They have what they call break-outs and hang-outs and you can do a little video conferencing, share docs. That’s where I would go if I were just looking for a quick place where I could start some on-line collaboration.
Video conferencing, what’s out there that I could use that’s free instead of GoToMeeting or WebEx? There’s a site that I found called AnyMeeting.com and they have a Freemium model and you can use this for up to 200 users.
Okay, so you can have a massive conference free. Now I haven’t tried it with that many, so there’s the caveat. I did make sure it worked and I tried it out with somebody but they say up to 200 users, it’s free and there you go. If you’re not using webinars or that sort of thing to distribute content, the video does help relationship.
It’s better than just a talking head, believe me. We use it extensively in our organization, both for gaining clients and to service our current clients. There’s another video conferencing tool I’ve found called ooVoo. Anybody heard of ooVoo or use it?
Yeah, it’s pretty good and it’s free for up to 12 users. You can share your screen and share documents and it’s pretty good, a notch above Skype and some of the stuff you’re already familiar with. There are a couple of other collaboration sites that I thought were pretty interesting.
Trello, which is kind of a card-based site where you can create categories and cards, and lists and to-do lists and stuff but, again, it’s designed so that multiple users can come in and use the same site. It’s sort of a poor man’s project planning software.
I get tired of seeing all the Gantt charts and all this stuff that I don’t need. I just want to look at a list of stuff that’s out there that I need to look at.
This one was real interesting to me, called Real Time Board. It’s a shared white board space but you can actually stick PDF documents or the second document on there is actually a PowerPoint that’s workable. You can actually scroll through that PowerPoint on the white board, and this might be a great collaboration space.
So anyway, it’s an idea. I wanted to give you a few ideas that maybe you hadn’t found yet, low-cost social platforms . I want to go beyond Facebook and Linked In but I don’t want to buy a $40,000 Triple Creek River System. Is there something in-between? So I started just kind of looking, saying okay, what are free sites you could set up?
There’s a site called SocialCast. Anybody heard of SocialCast or use it? Again, their free site is for up to 50 users. The catch is everybody has to have had the same company e-mail. So those of you who have less than 50 in your company or organization, you could try the full version, not a knockdown version but a full version for less than fifty – fifty members for free.
The catch really is you’re on their sales list and they’re going to start calling whoever signed up for this or their manager. They make you give your manager’s name so that they can work their way back up the chain. That’s what we would do if we did this. So I understand that, but it might work.
How many of you have tried modifying a Moodle system to manage learning? It’s not as easy as it looks, is it? Okay, you know, it’s out there. I know one Christian organization that’s done it and done it successfully, and they run all their training programs through Moodle, and God bless them. I couldn’t do it.
There’s another site called Bitrix24 that sets up a free intranet, and it’s very business-looking. I’m not sure it applies but here’s my honest conclusion after several – many hours of looking – just to scour what was up there this last month. There’s not much out there. Most of it’s junk or just a teaser and so that led me to do this.
I got on WordPress which I’m familiar with, downloaded a theme. Some of you have no idea what I’m talking about now. I barely know what I’m talking about but somebody at your table probably does know what I’m talking about. It’s probably the easiest way to host and run your own site.
BuddyPress is a plug-in and I put a video on my site that explains what that is; and what I did find is that with BuddyPress you can customize profiles. That is a critical piece of the puzzle because I put a profile on there, just level of leadership experience. Now that becomes searchable and your little organization could create its own social networking site that people could search by competency, by level of experience, find who has what expertise in the organization and do it for a minimal cost.
So anyway, what I did is set up this site called Simpleadership.com and I posted some of the material from my talk. I actually set up a couple of groups and any of you that joins, if you’re doing a workshop here, if you want a place where the people in your workshop can go and download the material you’re sharing or you want to add to that content, you could create a group. Name it the name of your workshop.
People here could go and look at that content. You could follow up on discussions there. I did create a file-sharing page and it’s free for 30 days. Then I have to pay but it’s not that expensive and if you guys start using it, I’ll just pay for it. But anyway, for 30 days, we can do this for free, and maybe nobody will use it and I’ll just take this thing down after 30 days. I built it in a weekend.
Somebody who knew what they were doing could build it in a day, really. It took me a weekend because I have no clue what I’m doing. I’ve never done this many plug-ins and that kind of stuff before but I got it done and I’m saying that not to say how smart I am.
I’m saying that to say if I could do it in a weekend, every one of you knows somebody who could do it in a day. Okay, this is not that hard. It’s not rocket science. Most of it’s built in. Uploading pics and videos; I created a little chat thing. Again, I’m using a Freemium thing, so only 10 people can chat at a time.
For a reasonable monthly fee you could include a video conferencing, video chat feature right there on the site so that people could connect that way. It’s not that expensive. If you don’t already have a media server, it would cost you probably less than $200 a month to set up something that 20 or so users at a time could use; run teams in groups through that.
So that’s what I’ve done with BuddyPress and WordPress. That’s a way to do it. With the little bit of time I have left, I want to show you River. I didn’t want to show you that to begin with. This is not a product demo but I want to show you what the state of the art kind of social learning platform looks like and what it does that these other approaches don’t do.
It’s not as expensive; $30-40,000 to start. Most of our contracts, even with large companies are under $100,000 a year. I know that sounds like a lot of money but it’s a couple of head count to most organizations.
It’s doable, would be really doable if several organizations worked on it together, could find a set of competencies that people could agree on. What used to be Triple Creek – what River Software, River is now – I liked it better.
I don’t like change unless I initiate it. But anyway what our software does is answer this question. Where can I find the knowledge I need in context? Is it a group of people? Is it from an individual? Is it some of the content that we’ve already purchased as an organization or that we’ve uploaded, or is it a combination of all that?
What sets River apart is that it does all three things seamlessly. It actively recommends people and sets up relationships between the right individuals, groups and content. We call these engagements. Whether it’s a one-to-one, what we might think of as a mentoring relationship or a group, a learning experience, it’s an engagement.
We tried to get very, very specific with that. The second thing that sets us apart is that all that is mediated through the lens of corporate competencies. So we work with the organizations to identify what are those competencies that the organization believes in and are critical to their mission, and how does that translate into what people actually need to learn and learn how to do in order to accomplish those competencies?
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a community or a mentoring relationship. They all align to one or more of these competencies. The competencies are graded at a self-identified level; for example here we’re looking at sales.
The specific competency underneath that bucket of sales is contracts, which I used to have to do for our company and I have no experience, and I would have loved to have somebody to talk to about that besides our lawyer at $300 an hour.
Choose your experience, intermediate, and then the system automatically recommends that you should advise and learn at that level. You can change that but you see the idea here, and this would have to be deeply re-thought for any Christian organization, even more deeply re-thought as an organization that was shared among, or as a solution that was shared among Christian organizations.
Is there a set of competencies that are the big picture things that we could agree on? I don’t know but I think somebody needs to give it a shot at some point. Based on that, the system recommends learning groups and engagements that are going on already out there that you might be interested in; people who have expertise in the areas you’re looking for and resources.
You can upload any course content that’s SCORM compliant. We’re getting more and more partners like Skillsoft and Abstract and others that are working with us to supply content but you end up with a home page that looks pretty familiar, looks on the surface like a Facebook page, aggregates what’s going on in your learning world, but it’s all focused on learning and around those competencies, and around things that you are actually involved in.
So that’s our tool. The important thing that I want to show you is that this exists now. This isn’t future. Future, it’s going to be even better. We have 10 developers who are working on this full-time, making it, but the technology exists right now and it’s scalable.
It’s affordable, relatively speaking. You know that blackboard program I showed you, $10.00 per month per user. Well, that’s not too bad. You know, at scale, this is like $2.50 per user at a thousand people. So I mean it’s affordable on the relative scale.
It could be used to connect leaders of all levels to both authoritative content from dot-edu and dot-org institutions. How many of you create content that you would be willing to share with other people on the web for free? Okay, maybe you have some that you want to keep proprietary but most of us have stuff we would share for free.
People could create learning engagements. They could take on-line courses, study videos. What could happen? Okay, here’s why I got involved. It hasn’t happened yet but I have a group of leaders from all over the world. You never know what might happen.
What if – and this is what I think is going to have to happen… I’ve tried going to individual Christian organizations from small ones to the largest in the world and nobody’s bet – they’re either going to just develop their own or just a Facebook clone, but what would happen if a group of 12 individuals, that’s a nice, round number, we’re going to band together and get this done?
Could the world see a place where any Christian leader anywhere in the world could go and find not just content but people? It’s in 11 languages already. It could find people who would be willing to meet with them on-line, in cyberspace, or in their own geographical region. You can search either way.
Could that start a movement where we could see a global Christian leadership development network begin to form? I don’t know. That’s up to God. I gave up a while ago trying to make this happen. I’ve retired and maybe it’ll happen in my lifetime, maybe it won’t.
Maybe it’ll never happen but I still think it could be a tremendous thing for the body of Christ if we would put down our barriers and we would share our resources, and we would be the body of Christ to each other as leaders across the globe. The technology is there.
The money is not that big. It’s harder to get than you think but I don’t know. Pray about it. How many of you would wish there were something like that? If you didn’t have to pay for it, how many of you wish there were something like that? Okay, only a few, so maybe it’s not a big deal. So we’ll see. There’s an idea, so that’s it.