Why I Love a Great Book Review

storyI recently asked friends and family to recommend a good book. I had been in a desert of non-fiction, and I needed a break. I also looked for really great book reviews. The kind that are great reads on their own.

I confess to some quirks in my reading habits, like occasionally jumping to the end to make sure the journey to get there is worth my commitment, but I’m not sure the authors intend for the non-linear reader to approach their story that way. That strategy is not my standard operating procedure, though. Most of the time, I don’t want to know the ending at all. It’s just that I’m one of those travelers who likes to see the full color brochure before I buy a plane ticket. A great book review will provide a glimpse into the world of the book. The reader won’t be walking in their shoes, just following their path. A great book review will guide you through the rough spots, allowing you to find the gems without giving up too soon.

Some readers love a great ending. I love a great beginning, like the opening lines of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic One-Hundred Years of Solitude, hints at the future that tease you and place you deep within the story before you turn the first page. A great beginning allows the reader to step into the story and start constructing the world where the characters will live, work, and play. It does not just depend on a raw description of that world, but creates a sense of place and time.

You can see in your mind the old cotton dress that is trying to hang on through the depression, the sunshine on the endless prairie, or the gritty sidewalk leading to no place in particular. If I see something curious in the beginning, I will keep going down the rabbit hole. A great book review can encourage the reader to wade patiently through a slow start to a great story and says, “Trust me, it is worth it.” Of course a great book review never spoils the ending. A great book review, however, will leave a red flag on the path.

As a writer, I think the quirks in my reading habits are born of the appreciation of the craft of storytelling and an understanding of the mastery it takes to place the reader into another world and make it come alive, summoning thoughts and feelings. A good story feels almost like a memory, so very real, yet you can’t touch it.

A good story is like a dance with the author in the lead, creating new steps to a dance performed between the imagination of the reader and the imagination of the writer. That dance is why, for all my quirks of wanting the beginning to promise that the end is worth the trip through the middle, many, many books have rewarded my patience with a good ending. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one that makes me appreciate that the writer is a storyteller who can braid together this part and that and tie it up with a little bow. A really great book reviewer is a storyteller who lets you peek inside their own journey through a book, an intrepid explorer who carves out a little path to a great ending.

Informal Learning is Not Unintentional Learning

woodland-656969_1280One refrain that I like to sing over and over is that technology is a tool. It should be in service to the user, whether that “service” is delivering learning and development, connecting higher ed students to their campus, or letting the gamer game on. It may sound like common sense, but letting technology become a dead end road, rather that the connecting route, cuts off opportunities for ongoing, just-in-time, or collaborative learning. Technology really should be about making connections to knowledge, information, people, or other tools for learning.

Barriers to using technology in organization strategically are easy to understand. Huge investments are made in learning technologies and organizations need to maximize their use. Learning and development professionals can advocate for the idea of learning solutions as a means of improving performance, rather than automatically responding to learning needs with formal training.

One area that organizations often overlook is informal learning, which is often cited as making up 70% of learning in the workplace. Think in terms of creating a place for informal learning to flourish by using technology to open up learning spaces where informal learning can happen. In other words, you can intentionally facilitate the ability for stakeholders to learn informally within the workplace, even if you are not programming it.

One simple way to get started is to create a space  to share tips, lessons learned, and best practices. Discussion among workers can turn these shared spaces into learning communities. Informal learning is not a lower level of learning. In fact, when workers are able to move from listing and cataloging to evaluating and synthesizing knowledge, they are creating knowledge on a higher level than before.

Quick Check: 3 Key Indicators of Effective Organizational Learning

essentials-25 You understand the learner.

A well-considered profile of the target learner conducted in the needs assessment or planning stage will help avoid spending resources to retool the learning solution during the implementation stage. There are a great number of factors that can be considered, depending on the context: proficiency level, educational background, position in the organization, tasks, skills, availability, etc. Understanding the learner can be boiled down to an essential task: Get the right knowledge to the right person at the right time.

essentials-25You understand organizational objectives.

An important step in developing learning objectives is to develop them in alignment with organizational objectives, business goals, and organizational values. For example, if there is a major product development effort within the organization, mapping the learning goals to marketing, product development, and production needs will help the organization to have a cohesive strategy to get information and knowledge to the right stakeholders.

essentials-25You understand the learning goals.

Clear learning goals are key to avoiding the investment of time and capital in a learning solution that is ineffective, overly broad, or deficient in content that meets the needs of the organization. For instance, time spent in training may be less efficient as a solution a need for just-in-time information, or, conversely, a set of instructions may leave the learner unprepared for situations that require more extensive training.

Essential Questions for Early Planning Stages:

  • What gap or need exists?
  • What are the organization’s business objectives?
  • How will the learning support organizational objectives?
  • What other objectives need to be considered? Regional? Departmental?
  • Who is the learner?
  • What is their role in the organization?
  • What are their current skills?

Building Learning

wrench-503131_1280I read a great article this week by Cathy Davidson, Lecture, Online, F2F, P2P, MOOCs? Great Learning/Teaching Isn’t Binary, that spoke brilliantly to the idea that modes of learning (lectures, books, texts, workbooks, apps, elearning modules….), and for that matter,  I would say edtech and instructional, are means, not ends, to educate, to train, and to facilitate learning.

I tried to come up with an alternative to the word toolbox to describe the number of options we have when designing learning, but it really is a solid analogy. These are things we use, one at a time, or in tandem, to achieve learning. Choosing a format or a mode of learning is not an all-or-nothing surrender of your favorite teaching/learning method. It means building learning for the right context, and if you’ve ever constructed anything from a model car to a desk from Ikea, you know that you have to have the right tools.

An excellent example of adopting more than one approach and trying something new, which transformed an already interactive lecture-based course into an even more engaging and effective Team-Based Learning course is found in the article TBL in my course: An interview with Nicholas Carnes, Sanford School of Public Policy. I particularly like the use of the mention of the concept of mastery of the learning content as a goal for students. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Leaving a Breadcrumb Trail in Academic Writing

bird-652575_1280No, not the breadcrumbs all over the keyboard because you tried to write through lunch. And dinner. I wanted to comment on the great advice in Thirteen Reasons Researchers Get Asked to Write their Methods Chapter Again. All the points are valuable, but #13 is particularly important when dealing with methods and methodology, as well as the whole process of assembling research into an article or paper. I have worked on developing good habits with my lists of sources when I am writing and use a variety of tools to document and organize them. Keeping track of what I’ve done procedurally is separate challenge.

Being able to backtrack and replicate what you’ve done so far on a paper or article is crucial to editing and rewriting. Another facet of academic writing that I am getting used to is the lag between when you write something and when someone asks you a question about it. It is also easier to go in and make changes if you know what you did three months ago. I use Evernote quite a bit, and it is helpful for organizing and taking notes, but I am finding that just jotting notes is insufficient. I have begun documenting the research and writing process in narrative form as I go along and keeping sources listed in a spreadsheet, so that I can make notes on each source in a format that is easy to pull up, add to, and find what I am looking for. That way, I don’t start shouting, “quagmire!, quagmire!” when I get 3/4 through the process. 

NY Times: Looking to Industry for the Next Digital Disruption

network-782707_1280Yes! A timely disruption headline:  NY Times: Looking to Industry for the Next Digital Disruption . Growth of the “Internet of Things.” G.E. is connecting to data sensors on things like wind turbines and hospital beds for more efficient monitoring and performance.

The Venn Diagram Perspective on Learning & Development and Marketing

venn-diagram-41219_1280There is an overlap between training and development and marketing, and not just when you are training marketers. Both include assessing needs, knowing your target audience, motivating behavior, engaging the audience’s attention, and did I say motivation? For organizations, the most important way to address the task overlap in L&D and marketing is to make sure that your organizational message is clear and consistent. Four ways to start are:

  • Develop clear mission, vision, and values statements. The exercise of outlining and stating your mission, vision, and values allows you to focus on what your organization is about. Your statement(s) could focus on ethics, where you want to go with the company, what you want employees and consumers to know about your organization.
  • Be consistent. If a new marketing campaign is being developed, look for ways to cross-pollinate your marketing and training materials with the same message.
  • Train with marketing in mind. Employees market your organization. They present an image and create awareness of your company. Provide them with the information they need to consistently represent the organization according to your current mission, vision, values, and goals with just-in-time training, job aids, and knowledge management plans.
  • Motivate people that are important to your organization. Reward employees for hard work, and innovation. Develop your brand to create loyalty in consumers-treat them with respect, meet their needs, and give them a customer service experience they feel good about sharing with others.