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Learning a Little at a Time February 28, 2010

Posted by cjescribano in information management, Learning.


This month’s Learning Circuits Big Question asks us to consider how to design instruction in an “information snacking” culture.

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
The sheer volume of information available to us has changed the way we consume and digest information. In the past, people had only a few books and newspapers to attend to, so they read them cover to cover—several times even. But today, we are bombarded with information from the mail, books, magazines, the Internet, our mobile phones, the TV…. We know that we can’t possibly consume all that information, so we snack, dipping into a little information here and there. This snacking can be dangerous because it makes us think we know something when we know just a piece of it. 

Snacking with a Purpose
But, if we set up our information snacking to lead us to a specific goal, to deepen our knowledge in a certain area, it might actually be more instructionally effective than a single intensive learning event. In Quiet Leadership, David Rock explains that the brain creates new pathways with repeated stimulation of those paths. Think about the language you learned in high school. If you never practiced it again, you probably can’t speak it any longer. But what if you had spent a half hour every day practicing it. Even though it wouldn’t seem like you were really studying in earnest, you would probably retain more of your ability to speak the language than you did from all that time you spent cramming for tests in high school.

Daily Progress toward a Learning Goal
Daily devotionals have the right idea. Daily reminders can help keep us on the right path toward our goals. Some things just can’t be learned in a single class or even a degree. Skills like leadership need daily reinforcement. Using technologies like blogs, Twitter, wikis, and social networks, it’s possible to set up a course of daily information snacking that can guide us to achieving goals.

For Example: My Twitter Experiment
Last summer, I conducted a Twitter experiment to apply this approach. Here’s what I did:

1. Set a goal. In my case, I wanted to communicate more effectively. I thought that if I focused on that everyday and used Twitter to record and share what I was learning and even get feedback and ideas from others, I could achieve that goal.

2. Set up a daily plan. I had planned to read a chapter of a book on communication skills everyday and then tweet about what I learned or how I was applying those skills.

3. Set milestones to assess progress and determine next steps.

I have to confess that my Twitter experiment was a failure because I didn’t have the discipline to stick with it. When work got busy or my personal life interfered, I got swept away, and I still haven’t returned to pursuing that goal. But I still think the idea and the approach have merit for learning new skills, especially skills that require a long-term change in the way I think and the way I am in the world.

By applying this type of approach, perhaps we can harness our information snacking habits to build a pathway to better performance.


Keeping Up January 18, 2008

Posted by cjescribano in change management, information management.
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How Do We Keep Up?
Today in a meeting, we were talking about all the new technologies and all the great possibilities. We were talking about how different training is now from how it was 10 years ago, and how different it will be in another 5 years. One colleague lamented, “How do we keep up with it all?” And he pointed out that for some things, like texting, he doesn’t see the value for learning.

Tools for Keeping Up
About a year ago, when I first started this blog, I was trying to figure out how to handle all the information that came pouring into my world everyday–through the computer, the phone, the front door, the mailbox. And what I identified then as possible tools were wikis, blogs, and an application called stikkit.

Strategies for Keeping Up
A year later, here’s what I’ve found that works:

  • Identifying a handful of good blogs to check regularly. They keep the most current thinking in the forefront of my mind.
  • Capturing useful information in wikis.
  • Or using a program like PersonalBrain that makes it easy to collect bits of information and map them to each other.
  • Starting a blog to force myself to try to make sense of it all.
  • Finally, jumping in and using it–doing experiments that force me out of my comfort zone.

You can’t understand the game if you’re just watching from the sidelines. Like my colleague, I used to think texting was dumb. But once I tried it, I loved it.  In the past month, my lady’s running group has pretty much given up e-mail for a wiki and texting.

And Even Further Into the Future
Another colleague told me that people are already walking around with communication chips embedded in their skin. I don’t even know how to begin to design for that kind of technology.

Too Many Tools? July 30, 2007

Posted by cjescribano in e-learning, information management, tools.
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Big Question 2

This month’s ASTD Learning Circuit’s Big Question is about choosing tools for e-learning. This year, I’ve been experimenting a lot with blogs, wikis, and personal knowledge management tools. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.

 My quest for tools began with a promise to myself that this year I would master the glut of information that pours into my office and computer every day. It was clear to me that all those unread books and magazines, emails, blogs, newsletters, etc. weren’t doing me any good. What could I do to better harness and use all the information available to me?

That question led me to tools–lots and lots of tools, including blogs, wikis, a post-it note tool called stikkit, PersonlBrain, as well as Google and all its gadgets. So, now my problem was compounded. With all the choices, how could I find the tools that would help me solve my original problem?

That led me to my professional network of colleagues. It was clear that I couldn’t know everything about every tool, but there are plenty of people I can ask and learn from.

So, here’s my 3-step process for staying current on tools:

1. Clearly define a purpose. With all the choices available today, it’s more important than ever to know where you’re going. Otherwise, you’re bound to get lost and overwhelmed. Having a clear purpose, and criteria for what the tool must do, is a quick way to eliminate a bunch of choices.

2. Draw on your networks. Once you know what you’re looking for, use your networks to get as much targeted information as possible. Read what other people are saying on blogs and wikis. See what tools are mentioned most frequently. Ask questions: “Hey, do you know of a good tool I can use to…”

3. Get to know a tool. Reading about a tool is no substitute for using it. I read a lot about blogs before starting my own, but I didn’t really know how to use them and couldn’t see their potential as a learning tool until I’d played around with them for a while. I’m still learning. You have to use a tool and make it your own before you can get the most out of it. Recently, I worked with a graphic artist, Rob, who uses Adobe Presenter a lot. When I was certain that something couldn’t be done, he would find some way to make the tool do exactly what we wanted.

I think that the number of tools is just going to continue to grow. All we can hope is that at least one of those tools will help us find, learn about, integrate, and better manage tools.

Back from Vacation and on Information Overload April 15, 2007

Posted by cjescribano in information management.

Well, really, I’ve been back for a week now. But it’s taken me a week to get back on track.

What’s great about vacation, at least for me, is unplugging–reducing everything down to an eat/ play/sleep simplicity. We went to the right place for that–The Keys. For one week, it was just about the sun and water and the animals that live there. No computers, no e-mail, no IMs, no blogs, no news, limited TV (mostly movies), and limited use of cell phones. There’s a clarity in that simplicity. I know what’s important because they’re sitting there with me looking at the dolphins. Instead of trying to catch the news, read a newspaper or two, and keep up with all my magzines, I focus on one book that I’ve been wanting to read.

Re-entry into the information ocean is a shock. It starts with the news on the TV in the airport. They’re following up on all the stories I missed. I have no idea what they’re talking about. I get that “I gotta catch up” feeling. Then I get home to the pile of newspapers, mail, and magazines. Then I log into e-mail where hundreds of nagging voices demand my attention. And I haven’t even thought about looking at any blogs yet.

I guess information overload is the flip side of all that easy access to information. But after a week of clarity, I can’t help but wondering if all that information just muddies the waters.

Getting My Own PersonalBrain March 24, 2007

Posted by cjescribano in information management.
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Following up on my Wikipedia search into personal knowledge management, I decided to find out what this PersonalBrain was all about. Googling the phrase PersonalBrain got me to www.thebrain.com where I learned that this tool was going to let me organize all my files, favorite Web sites, e-mails, and contacts in a way that is just how I think them. This I had to see! 

So, I downloaded the 30-day free trial and started playing with it. An hour later, I bought it. PersonalBrain is about the coolest tool I’ve ever used, and it more than lives up to its promises to “Free Your Mind,” “Think More Clearly,” “Work More Effectively,” and “Navigate More Easily.”  It really does organize things the way I think because I’m the one associating each “thought” with another. And I can create links to just about anything just by clicking and dragging to it.

The first thing I did was to start organizing all the research I’m doing in my areas of interest: mLearning, neuroscience, information management, Second Life, and social networking. Suddenly, all the various items I’d been collecting in my file folders, wikis, blogs, and favorites were neatly organized in one easy-to-navigate mind map. I could even link to relevant e-mails. And because the “stikkits” (virtual post-it notes for snagging information) I’ve been creating on www.stikkit.com are each individual Web pages, I can link directly to them as well.

This tool gives me an overall organizing construct that is as flexible as my thinking. And I build the structure as I go, both adding and weeding as needed.

Then, I realized that PersonalBrain could also help me keep up with all those personal goals that I diligently wrote down on January 1. Instead of trying to remember where I wrote them down, I now have them listed in a My Goals brain, and as I complete associated tasks or find resources, I can build out that brain and watch my goals being achieved.

I feel like I’ve taken a big step forward in better managing my information. Now I just have to make it a habit.

How do other people manage information? March 15, 2007

Posted by cjescribano in information management.
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Having had a good hard look at myself and my personal information habits, I decided to look outside myself to see what other people were doing.  First, I tried Googling “personal knowledge management” and “personal information management.”  Lo and behold the top-most rated site for both terms was Wikipedia. So, I went to see what I could learn there.

 Here are a couple of key points that made sense to me:

Personal information management (PIM) refers to both the practice and the study of the activities people perform in order to acquire, organize, maintain, retrieve and use information items such as documents (paper-based and digital), web pages and email messages for everyday use to complete tasks (work-related and not) and fulfill a person’s various roles (as parent, employee, friend, member of community, etc.). One ideal of PIM is that we always have the right information in the right place, in the right form, and of sufficient completeness and quality to meet our current need.

For many people, this ideal seems far away. There are a bewildering number of tools available for managing personal information. But these tools can become a part of the problem leading to “information fragmentation”. Different devices and applications often come with their separate ways of storing and organizing information.

 Wikipedia had precisely nailed my problem. I had too many choices, and they were not integrated.  It also cited some possible solutions, naming wikis and blogs as important elements of some organizational “bottom-up” personal knowledge management systems.  And there was a link to something called PersonalBrain. Now, what the heck is that?

Keeping My “Information Net” Ready March 12, 2007

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Yesterday, as we drove through DC, I saw a sign that interested me–a place where you can rent bikes and get maps for bike tours of the city. Some good information to remember for the future. I watched as my mind ran through its usual response to this type of situation:

  • Oh, good information!
  • I’ll have to remember that!
  • I’ll definitely remember that. There’s the URL, and it’s SO easy to remember.

Now, I know that there’s no way I’ll remember that URL a week or two from now. In fact, this morning, it took me two tries to remember it. And what about this summer when a friend suggests a bike trip? I’ll have a fuzzy recollection of something in DC about biking but I won’t be able to remember where I saw it or what it was. Information squandered.

So, one habit I’m trying to get into is keeping my “information net” ready so I can capture information as it comes along. It takes two seconds to whip out the notepad that I always have in my purse and write down, “bike tours–www.bikethesites.com.”  There, it’s done. Hopefully, this summer when I need that URL, I’ll remember that I blogged it. Better yet, maybe I’ll go ahead and bookmark it right now. Hmm, even better, maybe I’ll e-mail it to my biking buddy. It seems I have lots of “information nets” at my disposal.

This morning, I spent a half hour browsing through my favorite blogs, and of course, I found good information, which has now been captured in a wiki. It didn’t take long, and now I don’t have to try to remember. With my “information nets” ready, I could grab those bits as they flew by.

What do I do with all this information? March 11, 2007

Posted by cjescribano in information management, Learning, stikkit.
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Stacks of magazines in my house. Long lists of “favorite” Web sites. E-newsletters. Friends telling me to check things out. Not to mention the yard-tall stack of books next to my bed, waiting to be read. So many interests. So little time. So much information running off unused like rain water into sewers. There must be some way to tame the flood of information, some rain barrel to capture the precious resources so I’ll have them when I need them. So, I can be smarter, better at my job, more up on things. This year I will get better at managing my flood of personal information. Instead of wading through those piles of unread publications, I will master them, harness them to carry me a little further up river.

What kind of information do I have?
So, where to start?  Well, first I had to look around. What exactly is the stuff that pours into my life through the mail, the computer, and the front door?  Much of it is related to my job as an instructional designer/performance consultant. There’s always something new to learn about learning. Some of it is cultural or current–just general interest stuff about what’s going on in the world today. And some pertains to specific topics that I’m actively cataloging so that I can write about them–like personal information management.

Some of it I actively seek out. And some just bubbles up in newsletters, e-mails, or conversations. 

Soaking in information
I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t need to try to capture all of the information. Some of it is just good to soak in. I don’t consciously know about it; I’m not going to start spouting facts. Instead, I feel it. It informs my consciousness at that deeper level where my gut reacts. It sets a mental and emotional state in which I think and work. The key for that kind of information is to select the right sources to attain the state I want. I’m always looking for sources that excite my curiosity, making me want to explore more and reach out to others in a positive way where we can learn from each other.

Wikis and blogs
For the topics that I’m actively pursuing, I’m experimenting with blogs and wikis. This blog is part of that experiment. And I’ve got a wiki on personal information management, since that’s a current interest. I’m also thinking of starting one on neuroscience.

The “sticky” approach
Recently I’ve discovered a wonderful program called stikkit (www.stikkit.com) for those ideas and thoughts that bubble up unexpectedly. As its name implies, stikkit uses the “yellow sticky” approach to capturing information. This was perfect for me because I was already doing that in the real world. Now, stikkit allows me to do that online. So, at the start of each day, I open up stikkit, and when someone tells me something or when I read something interesting, I open up a new stikkit, jot down the idea and the source, and tag it so I can find it later. 

The tagging part is what makes stikkit especially useful. When I read about some new technology or approach that people are using to create online communities, I just grab the information into a stikkit and tag it as “online community.” Then one day when someone asks me what I know about online communities, I just look for those old tags. I’ll probably have forgotten all about that piece of information by then. But stikkit hasn’t.

Top-down or bottom-up?
I suppose I could create a blog or a wiki for those “bubble-up” types of information. But somehow it feels like I’d need to have a structure to the site so that I could find the information again. That may not be true, but that’s how it seems to me. For some reason, the wikis and blogs feel “top-down” so that I have to have some structure in mind. But stikkit is bottom up: I just collect pieces of information and then I can look at them in different ways to see what they mean.