I walked with three colleagues in Milan. We had one day in Milan before the Hofstede Insights conference in which I had to discuss a number of myths about blended learning. If you only have one day in Milan, you obviously want to see the cathedral. I ...

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"The new social learning blog" - 5 new articles

  1. My session about blended learning in Milan
  2. How to stimulate creativity in online teams: A 100% online process to design a blended learning trajectory
  3. You can stimulate curiosity for self directed learning
  4. (Microlearning) tool of the month: Guidiance
  5. The skillset of a blended trainer or facilitator: technology is overrated
  6. More Recent Articles

My session about blended learning in Milan

I walked with three colleagues in Milan. We had one day in Milan before the Hofstede Insights conference in which I had to discuss a number of myths about blended learning. If you only have one day in Milan, you obviously want to see the cathedral. I was afraid that we had the wrong exit from the metro, not the exit where "duomo" was written. However, we came out of the metro and Bam! there was the cathedral of Milan. Really super impressive. The cathedral is so big that every exit from the metro leads to it, you can't avoid it ... It's not every day that I get an invitation to do a session about blended learning abroad. Hence, when I received this invitation for Milan I therefore wanted to add a day of tourism. And it worked! I can definitely recommend Milan. The cathedral, but also castello Sforzesco is really special. 
Getting started with debunking
The next day the real work with the Hofstede Insights consultants group started at 10.00. The group does not have much blended learning experience yet. They advise on intercultural communication a very international group, working in many different countries so there is a lot of potential to work blended.

My rationale for the session was as follows: I had heard that many of them were still hesitant about working online and blended. That is why I wanted to unearth myths and misconceptions. Furthermore, I had sent out a message asking for real client questions so that they could work on their own cases. I started the session with the blended learning Bingo to find out the expertise in the group (always more than the group thinks!), then the presentation and discussion about the myths. Then they group worked in subgroups to create a blended design for their own chosen customer request, which they had to pitch to the client. This allowed them to practice immediately with presenting a blended design. Finally there was room to discuss tools and technology.

Here's my presentation. NB. it seems like the insertion of slideshare presentations does not work as well. Here is ook de my presentation about online and blended learning   

Did I succeed in debunking myths about blended learning?

Maybe it is not so much myths, as hindering convictions and ideas. I started to shake some ideas and convinced at least a few people (I hope!). The session certainly made people enthusiastic about experimenting with blended learning. A myth that has definitely been shaken is "you need face-to-face for emotional connection". We talked about online dating online and falling in love online. If this is possible: why should you not be able to involve people at an emotional level online as a trainer?

The idea that online learning is individual and boring was also turned upside down. Many saw online as optimal for transferring information before this session (myth 1). Learning in your own time is definitely an advantage, but this can also be social and interactive. A personal approach online helps with this. Another new (useful) insight to design blended interventions was that it gives you the tools to better support and space the learning process. Do not overload them with an intercultural dose for three days, but start work together over a period of two months. It supports spaced repetition help the process of applying what you have learned. I am glad that I have opted for this focus on conceptions and ideas about blended learning, combined with the practical exercise. The tools and the experimentation phase will come after this.

How to stimulate creativity in online teams: A 100% online process to design a blended learning trajectory

Joehoe! I am very proud of the result of three creative online sessions, resulting in a blended design. Sibrenne and I have just completed a design process for a blended trajectory with WWF. The special thing about this project is that the whole design process took place online. The members of our design team live in Namibia, Switzerland, Suriname, Nairobi and the Netherlands. It has produced a design that has been very well received, we have received many compliments about the process. It was for me the first time for me to do kind of creative process completely online - it was a challenge, but I thought it would be possible with clever design and tough facilitation. My own goal with this project was therefore to try and release online creativity. I used the book Creativity in Virtual Teams Key components for Success van Nemiro,  though the book is writing for semi-permanent teams and we were just a temporary team my experiences were quite similar.

What did we do?

The design team knew each other pretty well. We have planned three online sessions, each of two hours. In two hours you can easily dive into a topic. Three hours would be really demanding for concentration and the work schedules. In between there were a number of assignments, eg searching for cases or information. The sessions took place in a period of one month, if we had longer we could have planned more time in between the sessions, but we had a deadline.
Our tools set consisted of Adobe Connect in combination with Google docs and a Facebook Workplace group. The design team was used to Zoom instead of Adobe, but we chose Adobe Connect because of the whiteboard, and the ability to work in groups. Google docs worked well to prepare an assignment or to work on documents together. In addition, we used a Facebook Workplace for communication between the sessions, the choice for Workplace was made because it was already in use within the organization.

In terms of content we have worked with personas, images about the future, formulate learning objectives, inspiring examples of blended trajectories and building blocks. Although the idea was to shape the goals and building blocks together online, this has proven difficult. It needs thinking time. The co-creation process hence consisted of brainstorming together online in the design sessions after which we, as facilitators, worked out the elements for the next session. The result was discussed within the group.  This worked quite well as a process. Although we had a framework for the three sessions, we dealt with it flexibly. We discovered that the design team needed more time to discuss things than we had thought. In the second and third sessions, we therefore made a planning with the least important issue at the end. This gave the flexibility to drop it.

 What worked to stimulate creativity?

 There are a number of things that are crucial in my experience:
  • Plan synchronous sessions where you can work together. We chose three work sessions in Adobe Connect as central co-creation places, but you could even 4-6 if you don't have a tight deadline as we had. By spreading the design sessions over time, there is time to work together intensively, but also to reflect in between or divide work. For me the fact that the synchronous sessions are key is very logical but in the book they warn that with email stimulates little creativity. Seems too obvious to me. 
  • Make extensive use of "creativity techniques". We did several brainstorms on the whiteboard. This worked well because everyone could share their ideas at the same time. We also provided variety in working methods. Working in subgroups was very well appreciated. This was the modality in which we worked on the personas. One person even asked "can I be with her in a group" showing how enjoyable it can be to work in smaller groups. 
  • Invest continuously in teambuilding. It was a bit of a trade off: investing in getting to know each other and a tight schedule. Hence we decided to start introductions in the Workplace group. We also choose not to invest in the team know each other's private lives, but learning to appreciate each other's professional view. For instance by asking for positive online experiences. The personal approach makes it attractive to participate. If you know each other, it is easier to build on each other's ideas. In the book about creativity they call this "creating the right climate". In the evaluation someone formulated it like this: "it was nice to meet each other"
  • Online you need to structure and guide more tightly than face-to-face. "I appreciated the guided approach" we got as feedback. A tight role for one, preferably two facilitators is important. I wouldn't have liked to do this alone. This was a group that could easily exchange for an hour about content issues. We made sure that we move on and changed the talking modus. It may seems unfortunate to stop a conversation which is important and interesting, but it does benefit the energy. The chapter "leadership" from the book is dealing with this part.
  • Show progress. Each session started with sharing the products from the previous session. This gave the team the positive feeling that the sessions were productive and that together we were in the process of designing of something solid and beautiful. "Keep team members and their efforts visible" is stated in Nemiro's book. In our evaluation participants said: "concrete outputs, great products"
So I'm quite proud with what we achieved in such a short period of time. If I'd had another online design process I would like to have a longer period, with more time in between the sessions. I would also like to try out working with image association, and other creativity techniques from Nemiro. And a very practical tip: make sure you can go offline for a short while after the sessions. Online sessions remain intense and demand a lot of energy. I used to jump on the bike to get a breath of fresh air and exercise.

You can stimulate curiosity for self directed learning

This morning I cycled in the sun to a school for higher eduction to a look back at a fun and successful project. A team of teachers and staff have organized a SPOC (Small Private Online Course), supported by me and Sibrenne from Ennuonline. Within the SPOC, on the Curatr platform, sources like short video clips or cartoons were shared as conversation starters on topics such as classroom atmosphere, structure, variety in lessons and attention to individual students. The innovative thing is that the focus is on exchange and learning from each other and not on learning new knowledge, more "how do you do that in your class and what can I do better?" Some 30 eager teachers were very active. It was noticeable that this is a well-known group, a group of knowmads who are curious and want to invest in their own professionalization and are able to self direct their learning activities. One of the teachers told me that she would get bored during the holidays after a few weeks and then engage in some distance education. At the same time, there is a group of lecturers who seem to invest less in their own professional development. 

For this type of online learning you need a certain level of capacity for self direction. 

How to stimulate the second group who will not spontaneously engage in a SPOC? How to stimulate self directed learning? 

Is everybody (unconsciously) a knowmad?

Accoding to Forbes there is a strong relationship between learning and happiness on the job.
"There's a strong positive relationship between how much people learn on the job and how much they love their job"
This shows that with a high level of learning in the workplace, the knife cuts both ways: innovation is evident and the professional is also happy. It raises (again) the question whether every professional has an intrinsic motivation to develop and learn. Or are some just happy to run the same lessons for years? In other words: is self directed learning for everyone? This is a question which keeps coming back to me. Can you encourage professionals to learn formally or informally? The crux may well be in curiosity.

Curiosity: the book 

In his book Why? What makes us curious by Mario Livio curiosity is analyzed in depth. A simple definition of curiosity is: the desire to know why, what and how. It is a craving for information. Everyone is curious, although the degree of curiosity varies from person to person. In Why, the lives of Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman are described as examples of extremely inquisitive persons. Feynman even seems to have been lying in a coma on his deathbed and said: "This dying is boring, I would not want to do it again!" Curiosity is a feeling: it can be a feeling of excitement (for discovering something new) but it can also be a feeling of discomfort or even fear. To a certain extent, uncertainty about a subject leads to curiosity, but if the uncertainty becomes too great, it can become so overwhelming that it feels uncomfortable. If something is totally overpowered, the uncertainty can become so great that people would rather avoid the subject than dive into it. This reminds me of a question Ger Driesen asked a few years ago: do we need to feel pain in order to learn?

What makes us curious? - excitement versus anxiety

Litman states that curiosity can emerge from two different emotions, an action to reduce a sense of insecurity, or an intrinsically motivated state of excitement to get to know something new. An example of the first one is reading the sign of an animal in the zoo when you feel stupid that you do not know this animal. The second may be my feeling of excitement when I discover a new tool. Furthermore, we become more curious when we know something about a subject and discover that there is more knowledge than when we do not know anything about a subject. Whether something arouses curiosity has also been studied by Berlyne: it depends on novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict.

  • New may be a new phenomenon such as a new species
  • Complex is when something follows an unexpected pattern
  • Uncertainty is when you can not predict the outcome
  • Conflict is the fact that new information is contradictory to old information, this makes you feel 'ignorant' and to remove that feeling you will look for additional information

    Two different types of curiosity 

    To be curious you do not have to be good at mathematics or the arts, but a condition seems to be the capacity to process information. There is a difference between perceptual curiosity and epistemic curiosity. Perceptual curiosity is curiosity triggered by things that happen around you that are different than expected, eg the curiosity of a class of children who get a new pupil in the classroom. It can also be a situation that you do not fully understand. Epistemic curiosity is a desire for knowledge and knowing, the driving force behind science. Furthermore, you can distinguish diversive (broad interest) and specific (looking for specific information) curiosity. An example of diversive curiosity is, for example, checking your phone for new messages. You are not looking for specific information but are curious about something. Berlyne hence put this diagram with four quadrants together.

     Source: Siobhancribbin.wordpress.com

    Interesting: brain research has revealed that these two types of curiosity reside in different parts of the brain.

    Strategies to satisfy curiosity: overview and from easy to difficult

    Jacqueline Gottlieb has researched the strategies of the brain to satisfy curiosity through open exploration. 52 people were asked to choose a short computer game to play. There were two different series of games and the level of difficulty varied. The strategies of the 52 people were strikingly similar: they started with the easiest games and proceeded to the more difficult ones. In addition, they looked for an overview of all games. The games from medium to high degree of difficulty were played several times. Interesting for epistemic curiosity: people like to see the whole landscape. This phenomenon is called 'knowledge-based intrinsic motivation'.

    You can learn to be curious or stimulate people to be curious

    What is my conclusion? That every professional is curious, but the extent to someone is curious may vary. What I learned from reading Why is the focus on emotion. Ask people what they are curious for in their work, what new information makes them feel excited? What makes you feel uncertain in your work? This is a different set of questions than: what would you like to learn?

    You can actually trigger curiosity in professionals and I believe with curiosity comes self directed learning, provided people have the information processing capacities. If you look at Berlyne, the perceptual curiosity is easier to stimulate than epistemic. Examples:

    • Introduce something completely new, for example a new theory or a new technology that will be of influence
    • Present data that shows an unexpected pattern. An example of this approach is benchlearning
    • Let professionals put their teeth into a wicked problem, a challenge for which the outcome is unpredictable  
    • Look for information that is contradictory to what people believe in the organization
    • Encourage curiosity. 
    A side idea: after reading this book I got a huge question mark doubting the usefulness of adaptive learning systems: within these systems, the learner will automatically receive new information or assignments. From the need to get an overview of the whole field (from easy to difficult) this can be rather frustrating. It coincides with a remark that I heard from users, that they would like to know what the subjects are that they have not received (because of the fact that the content was adapted or personalized for them).

    Overall, it reassured me that everybody has a native type of curiosity and that with the right stimuli this can lead to self directed learning.


    (Microlearning) tool of the month: Guidiance

    Microlearning is a trend in online learning, so the tool of the month is a microlearning tool: Guidiance. Microlearning originated from the idea of learning on the fly, via your mobile. Just as you do a game on your mobile in the train or waiting for the bus, you could also quickly learn something via your smartphone. Some people do that with the Duolingo app, for example, quickly learn some words in a foreign language. Microlearning often consists of several bite-sized chunks of content of limited size, which can be a video, a short text or an infographic

    When to use the microlearning concept?

    Microlearning can be linked to a training programme as a follow-up activity. It can also be separate, standalone for example microlearning replaces protocols on paper. What I see around me is that microlearning is used as an approach in three different ways:

    1. Performance support (so can be accessed at any time)
    2. Mini-course (then the subject must be well-defined)
    3. Part of blended learning design before or after a meetup

    Of course, you can not achieve the same depth with microlearning as with a course, e-learning module or training. So you have to think carefully about what you use it for. It lends itself to short delineated subjects such as 'Wash your Hands' or a 'Latte Art for Baristas' course. For inspiration for applications, read our dutch blogpost with examples such as onboarding and the example of micro-learning about kingdom affairs.

    Personally, I use the word microlearning as a didactic approach, I hear that many people also use 'microlearnings' as a noun, then it's about the content, the bite-sized chunks.

    Microlearning tools

    You can implement microlearning with the tools you already have available. For instance, using a newsletter by mail and Moodle. You can offer it via Whatsapp. Or it can consist of short videos via a video platform. New tools are also available that specifically focus on microlearning. I thought it would be fun to test one of these tools. I choose Guidiance because it looks nice and you can test it for free with a group up to 10 people.


    Guidiance.com has the bad luck that Google is on the outlook for typos. Google thinks you make a typo and mean guidance, so pay attention to the i :). So go directly to guidiance.com, not through a search engine. You can create a free account and you can easily set up a micro-learning mini-course yourself.

    After creating your first course, add content via 'Add', which can be a video, text, photo, quiz or link. You can indicate when your participants receive the content and if you want to schedule it over a certain time (day 1, day 2 etc). I got 2 test mini-courses: one to become a barista and wash your hands course.

    You invite participants by mail after creating a group. Participants must download the (free) Guidiance app and receive the content via the app. This means that you make your own mini-course via laptop or desktop, but participants take part via the app.

    What else can you do in Guidiance as a host? You can also create events and view the activity in your group via statistics. I find it very simple and clear. You can easily create a mini-course, add people. I also think it looks attractive. You can indicate whether participants can comment on the sources. I would not call it a social tool, it is really focused on sharing content and quizzes. Recent development is that you can easily place courses where you want: on your website or in other software. See an example here

    More microlearning tools and apps

    Besides Guidiance there are many other microlearning tools en apps. For instance:

    Want to experience a microlearning course? 

    Join in some free options to experience what it is. Here are two possibilities:
    PS. Guidiance now has a partner program: this program is aimed at trainers who serve a clear business target group. During the program Guidiance helps you to create a successful scalable training product. In this way they guide you from creation to marketing and sales, so that you ultimately generate a continuous turnover stream through online training. For more information, please contact Guidiance via info@guidiance.com.

    The skillset of a blended trainer or facilitator: technology is overrated

    This week I co-organized the #Trainingtrends2018 session in Utrecht (the Netherlands) with some 90 participants. It was fun. Amazing that we are already working on blended designs for 10 years and for some this a really new area. I think the change is relatively slow because it is shift in mindset.

    The current mindset

    Which of the following arguments for not investing in blended training do you recognize?
    • For learning, intimacy is needed which you can only achieve face-to-face
    • I feel completely energized when I am standing in front of a group
    • I am quite technophobe/ I have little interest in working with technology

      Why would you invest in blended training?

      Blended training and coaching is becoming the norm. This means that clients are increasingly asking for it. The problem with standalone training days is often the transfer to practice. Karin de Galan describes a nice research example in which a blended trajectory provides better practical results. Students learn osteopathy and practice the treatment of a shoulder complaint in the classroom. However, they do not feel equipped to apply these skills in practice. When the design is blended and the students receive two more online assignments with feedback, they have more self-confidence to apply what they learned.
      Clive Shepherd heeft een mooi voorbeeld van een blended onboarding programma. Who has not experienced an introductory program which consist of your first day. You have a program of briefings by all departments which pour a lot of information on you. In this blended onboarding case Nicole is joining a new organization. She starts online, hence she is already well prepared when she enters the organization and conversations with colleagues are more interesting and relevant. She has mentors during the first six months. That way she can get up to speed. 
      Another example which I experienced myself: I recently received an explanation from a barista how we could make delicious cappuccino. Unfortunately, I did not volunteer to do it and I have forgotten about it. If I would have some videos available about preparing the milk I would watch them right before preparing the cappuccino.
      A blended program has more contact moments than face-to-face training sessions. This implies that your participants are more likely to engage with the topic (spaced practice). I am hence convinced a good blended program can therefore achieve more effect. But .... of course there are also bad blended programs!

      We underestimate the required skills 

      In order to design a strong blended program, you need new skills. On the one hand, this is sometimes underestimated. For example, a trainer starts working with a online platform from the idea that it can not be that difficult. After all, you also taught yourself how to LinkedIn isn't it? On the other hand, there are trainers who fear the technology part, get paralyzed and do not venture into blended learning. They think: "this is not for me". I believe the needed technology skills are overrated, but the other skills underestimated. 

      The five most underrated skills of blended trainers 

      1. Being able to ask participants questions about experience with and interest in online tools. This is necessary to decide the toolset, the learning curve of participants in using these tools and support for onboarding participants online. Without this you risk the empty online platform and subsequently everybody saying: "it doesn't work, we need to get together".
      2. Being able to design a strong blend instead of a one-off event. This requires experience with online and blended trajectory. Spacing is new, online activities. Think from the participant perspective which combination of online and face-to-face learning activities will be powerful.
      3. Choosing the right online learning activities. It is my experience working with trainers and facilitators that they are great at this once they realize that you can also translate face-to-face training methods to online. I never understood why this is not logical for everyone. 
      4. Online facilitation. Here, too, trainers already have a lot to offer. However, there are new dimensions to learn: online you have to ensure that people find their way online. You must also be present in a different way. More often and shorter. Sometimes you need to be more directive.
      5. Last but not least: being able to choose a toolset from different platforms and online toolset. This is often a whole new area for trainers and coaches. It helps to realize that a good blended design can work in a variety of platforms. 

      (image throug wikipedia)

      What you see is that the latter skill, the technology, is overrated (and feared). However, the other four are equally important or even more important. The blended trainer is actually an amphibian. He / she can work on land (face-to-face) and in water (online).

      Besides skills you have to believe in it

      More important than skills is perhaps the mindset. You have to be convinced of the added value and the power of a well-blended design. Once you experience how you can have a huge effect on supporting the learning process of your participants you will definitely start to enjoy it.

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