Great Organizations are Constantly Learning and Improving

Time to re-inventI would like to challenge you this new year to learn something new to improve your craft and organization. Two often, we become comfortable with what has worked for us in the past, and we are hesitant to try something new. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid what others think of us when we try and fail.

Great organizations become great organizations because the learn and adapt to an ever changing environment. There are many organizations and programs that failed to adapt and as a result are now extinct. Here is a list of good stores that never adapted quickly enough. These stores failed because they were content to doing it the same way.

I am interested in education. I am interested in my personal education, informal education, corporate education, extension education, higher education, non-profit education, adult education, technology in education, etc. What is fascinating is the more I read about education and learning, and the more I am involved in education and learning, the more disconnection I am finding. Dewey, Lindeman, Knowles, and others have been admonishing educators for over 80 years that the lecture method is not the best method for instruction, yet, it is the most common method in our schools today. We need to listen to their advice and make changes.

There are three areas I would like you to look at when you look for something new to try: subject matter improvement, instruction methods improvement, technology implementation improvement. As an educator, these are the three areas I consider most important. Presently, I am looking at it from the vantage point of extension.  Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

  • Stay abreast of changes in your field of study by subscribing to or creating a newsletter. More.
  • Reflect on what you learn using a blog or podcast.
  • Improve support to your courses with performance support and job aids. More.
  • Make your course more engaging by flipping your instruction. More.
  • Use QR Codes to enrich your physical documents. More.
  • Use tools like Evernote, Diigo, Zotero, and Dropbox to become more organized in your research. More.
  • Read a book on improving your instruction.
  • Read a book on implementing new technology.
  • Teach a class in a way that you never have before.
  • Let others know what you are reading and why. More.
  • Keep an eye out for what others are doing well and benchmark the ideas. More.
  • Add fun and engagement to your class through gamification. More.
  • Improve your operations by creating a checklist. More.
  • Make time for learning, attend a Webinar, read a book, explore a program, just do it.

One of the most frustrating things I face is when people dismiss something on hearsay instead of investigating it for themselves. I challenge you to honestly explore new methods, techniques, and technologies for yourself before dismissing them, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Make a commitment to yourself this new year to go out and learn something new. Try something new in your classes, your students will appreciate it, especially if you are not lecturing.

Book Review: The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning

What if you were successful only 15% of the time? Would you continue  working in that line of work? Here is an example from the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results* by Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andrew Jefferson, what if FedEx only got 15% of their packages to their destinations on time… would you consider FedEx successful? Probably not, yet, typical corporate training departments only have a 15% success rate for participants applying what they learned to the job. Read more

My many methods of note taking.

Note taking
Note taking

I just finished reading an interesting article Social media & learning – note taking on steroids by Donald Clark. He discusses the benefits of note taking and using social media tools. After reading his post, I realized I was using similar strategies.

Clark comments on note taking at conferences, and questioned why many professionals did not. I personally am an avid note taker at conferences. Lately, I have been using Evernote as my primary tool. You can read more about this strategy here. Evernote has been a great tool for collecting and later finding notes and ideas.  My friend, Deb Beck recently wrote about taking notes with pen and paper. While I appreciate her need to do this, I personally can not make the connection. My connection is with technology – having a digital record that I can quickly retrieve.

I also use Twitter to get the word out about items I find interesting. If I happen to be retweeting a link, I often capture the link into my Diigo account. Diigo is my actual note taking tool for keeping track of great finds in the wilds of the Internet. Most importantly, I use the Diigo’s tagging system to organize and make sense of all the links. Diigo’s search feature is also extremely useful.

For my academic and professional research, I use Zotero. I have gotten into the habit of reading books with a note taking focus. Once I have read a book, and scribbled notes in the margins, I then spend the time to add it to my Zotero library. When I started my library, I would only add notes regarding my academic research. I now add notes about all the books and journal articles I read. This has helped me on a number of occasions when putting together articles, reports, and grants. It has increased the breadth of my research. Here is a little more on Zotero.

Finally, I use this blog to pull my ideas and notes together. This blog helps me make sense of things I have read or discussed. Again, as Clark points out, it allows me to search through my writings, which I have had to do on a number of occasions.

I would be interested to hear how you use social media for your note taking, or even, why you don’t.

Want to earn more, then read more – 230% more

Man readingLast night, I was reading a book by David Cottrell called Tuesday Morning Coaching, and I ran across a statement that surprised me. I thought it was important enough to share with you.  “According to the U.S. Labor Department, business people who read at least seven business books per year earn over 230 percent more than people who read just one book per year.

This makes a lot of sense to me. People who want to be and stay successful are constantly learning. Reading is a great way to tap into new ideas regardless of your discipline.

While I was poking around the Internet, I was surprised to find that 25% of Americans have not read a book in the past year. A number of other sources are highlighting that CEOs are reading 4-6 books… per month.  While have not confirmed these numbers, I did read some time back that Bill Gates would collect books, and twice a year would take a two week vacation simply to read and make notes.  This speaks volumes to the power and necessity of reading for professional development.

In a recent survey with some of my colleagues, they reported that they read regularly in order to stay abreast of changes in their specialty and to be better educators (Skrabut, 2011). However, more can be done at the organization level to encourage reading. Organizations can support informal learning by encouraging professional reading as well as include current reading  as part of staff discussions (Bell, 1977). Organizational leaders should share the books and articles they are reading (Tobin, 2000).  I think the Air Force does a great job promoting reading. Each year the Air Force Chief of Staff puts out a professional reading list. Here is the current list:

Does you organization have a professional reading list? If so, please comment below.


Bell, C. R. (1977). Informal learning in organizations. Personnel J, (6), 280. Retrieved from

Skrabut, S. A. (2011). An examination of informal learning strategies for University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service educators. Manuscript submitted.

Tobin, D. (2000). All learning is self-directed: How organizations can support and encourage independent learning. Alexandria  VA: ASTD.

United States Department of Labor, Survey by Yahoo! Chief Solutions Officer Tim Sanders and Business Majors, Survey by Bersin & Associates, How Executives Stay Informed.

Nice when standards are clarified

Over the weekend, I attended the University of Wyoming College of Education EdD Spring Residency 2011. This workshop focused on the graduate students in the Adult Learning and Technology Department. While the agenda was pretty straight forward, learning about the graduate program and its requirements, I walked away with so much more. Most importantly, I came away with a better sense of what needed to complete my degree program. The faculty took time to clarify misconceptions, and stressed not only what the standards were but how to achieve them.

The faculty spent a considerable amount of time going through the doctoral handbook. They went into detail on how to select a committee, get a program of study, the difference between the general exams and the portfolio tracks, and the assessments necessary towards degree completion.

One thing they foot-stomped repeatedly throughout the weekend was that extensive writing and rewriting would be required. Rewriting was essential to degree completion. Rewriting would be necessary in writing the prospectus, possible the preliminary exam, and through the dissertation process. They wanted everyone to be clear that this was strictly business and not personal. I walked away confident that the faculty wanted everyone to succeed.

I was given an opportunity to demonstrate Zotero, a citation management tool. I had fun doing the session, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Overall, it was a great weekend for both learning and networking. I recommend this workshop to all my graduate classmates.

How to use Twitter hashtags and the backchannel for professional development

If you have been following my posts, you have probably figured out that I am interested in professional development and how to use technology to leverage learning. I personally feel Twitter is one of the most powerful tools available to support learning. I also believe conferences are a great venue for picking up new ideas. Unfortunately, it can be tough to attend more than one conference per year… at least, in person. This is where hashtags and the backchannel come in handy.

Previously, I discussed how you could use Twitter lists to tap into groups of individuals who focus on a topic you are interested in. In this post, I will show you how to do something similar with hashtags. I will further explain how you can use them to benefit from or support a conference. First of all, what is a hashtag?

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a publicly agreed upon convention for filtering a conversation. What?!? Perhaps I can better explain with an example. When I deliver a Webinar, I ask participants to include the hashtag #uwces in their Twitter posts so that I can later benefit from their conversation. Why would I do this? I am interested in what is being said about my presentations so that I may benefit from the feedback.

Hashtags for conferences

Many conferences are using hashtags to help guide conversations before, during, and after the conference. Conferences will create a hashtag and announce it to participants with the hope they will use it. It is a great way to generate buzz about a conference. In May, I will be attending the ASTD conference in Florida. The ASTD conference has a hashtag associated with it, and it is still two months out. You can check out the posts so far by doing a Twitter search on #ASTD2011.

With hashtags you can keep an eye on long or short term events. Some events are cyclic such as #earthquake.  Some events, such as the ASTD conference will be finite and relatively short lived.

From the comfort of my desk, I was able to follow a three-day Air Force Public Affairs conference. It was fascinating because I was able to follow the discussion as if I was there. Key points were posted by a number of participants. Eventually, questions were being asked from people outside the proceedings into the actual conference.  This side conversation focusing on the conference occuring both in and outside of the conference is called the backchannel.  Derek Bruff posts great advice for getting the most of the backchannel in an education environment. His advice can be extended to following or supporting a conference.

Ongoing events using hashtags

Finally, a Twitter Chat Schedule has been created that relies entirely on the hashtag. These chats are on a myriad of different topics from aviation to women in business. You do not actually have to follow a chat as it is occurring, you can also check on it after the fact. However, Twitter feeds typically expire within a couple of days depending on the volume of training.