Finding stuff online

One of the things professional bodies do is provide resources to help their members do their jobs better. And many professional bodies produce fantastic resources, but then get frustrated because they are not used by their members. But having had a look at some websites, I am not surprised that resources are under-used – they are just so difficult to find! What is the point of having wonderful and useful resources if you don’t organise them in ways that make it easy for members to locate? Professional bodies need to apply the principles of information service management to their resources. And one aspect of this relates to how people find stuff online. Basically they do so in three different ways: by browsing and searching, and through their networks:

  • Browsing: An individual may have a general idea of the topic or activity they are interested in and surf sites that might provide some information on the topic or activity.  They may or may not use a search engine to do this.
  • Searching: An individual may have a specific resource or activity they are looking for. They will use a search engine, either a site-specific one or general one like Google, to locate the information.
  • Networks:  An individual may belong to a community, such as Linked In or Twitter, whose members suggest useful articles, tools and activities. These online networks are now very important.

 The implications are that organisations need:

  • To structure their websites so users can browse for resources easily with or without using a search engine. Using a hierarchy of topics should help the user filter the items.
  • To have search engines that enable users to browse as well as search for specific resources.
  • A standard system for categorising resources, in other words a taxonomy. This needs to be used organisation-wide. And whilst categorising resources seems time-consuming, it is essential. The taxonomy should address the type of resource it is (eg. podcast, audio-visual content or document) and the topic (or however, you define the coverage). Whilst an item may cover a range of topics, limit the number, perhaps to five.
  • To structure content so that users can ‘push’ items to their networks easily. In addition, the content itself needs to be easily accessible by those in the network. So, the number of clicks that users have to make to get to the content should be minimised.

These are just some of my ideas on helping organisations get their resources found. If you have any other ideas do post them!

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Conversations online

You are a tutor on an online course for working professionals. The course includes forums, and your responsibilities include facilitating the conversations on these forums. How do you get learners conversing online? How could learners have better quality conversations? These are questions I’ve grappled with. Last year I attended a workshop on conversations at the School of Life. Whilst it was primarily about face-to-face conversations, some of the ideas we discussed at the workshop can be applied to asynchronous conversations online. So, drawing from the workshop, here are a few tips for having better online conversations:

  • Be interested: Show a genuine interest in what your learners do and what they write about. This will lead you to asking the right questions that prompt responses and discussion.    
  • Move beyond the standard questions: Instead ask more probing ones, or even more playful ones.
  • Empathy: Try to understand the world from the perspective of your learner. And you can do this through your online conversations: sharing your own thoughts and asking imaginative questions. And this may also help you see the world differently, and this includes your work.

And learners, these tips apply equally to you. Be interested in your fellow learners and the work they do, ask imaginative questions, and try to understand their world view.

Some interesting resources:

  • Joanne Jacobs blog post Ecology of Engagement: Joanne discusses engagement as ecology. The second part of her blog post on barriers to engagement is particularly applicable to this post on online conversations.
  • Roman Krznaric’s Outrospection blog provides interesting ideas on empathy: what it is and how it can improve our lives.   
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Conference flash mob

A business conference. It’s the first day. The conference hall is packed with delegates dressed in business suits. They are seated, waiting for the speeches to begin. The first speaker is introduced. She walks to the centre of the stage. Her first PowerPoint slide appears on the large screen behind her. The speaker begins her presentation. She is formal and earnest. The second slide appears. She continues her talk. The third slide appears; all that is on it is a symbol of a quaver. The intro melody to ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ begins. The speaker starts moving to the rhythm. She confidently begins the first verse of the song. Her voice is resonant. As the pre-chorus melody begins, groups amongst the delegates rise from their seats. Though they are dressed like delegates, they are in fact members of a gospel choir, as is the ‘speaker’. The choir launches into the first chorus. Their voices fill the conference room. The singing continues. The song ends, and the ‘speaker’ makes her exit.  What of the delegates? Are they shocked, delighted, joyous?

Okay, this didn’t really happen. I was feeling a bit frivolous on Thursday; and inspired by a few flash mob events I’ve seen on TV and YouTube, I dreamt up this idea over lunch. Over the course of the afternoon colleagues helped me refine it. Flash mob type events have been used by several companies so I’m not being particularly original. But this idea really tickles me. So, I share it with you. And if you put it into action at your conference let me know how it goes!

With particular thanks to Kay Gillard for the inspired choice of song!

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On conversation

Last month I attended a workshop facilitated by the excellent Roman Krznaric at the School of Life. The workshop was about conversations and conversing; and I had enrolled on it because I was dissatisfied with my conversational skills. The workshop was great. Rather than focusing on particular tools and techniques, it got participants to reflect on their attitudes to conversation.  It has made me rethink the conversations I have with neighbours and people in my local community, and by extension, my relationship with them.  The workshop has also made me reflect on the approaches we educators take to communication and interpersonal skills development.  I have worked with health professionals and internal auditors, and communication skills are critical to both professions. I have developed courses with colleagues designed to develop communication skills. On reflection we have tended to focus on tools and techniques rather than attitude. Perhaps the word ‘skills’ itself encourages a focus on the outward – technique – rather than the internal – attitude and emotion.  It is time that those of us involved in teaching and developing professionals shift our focus to the latter. By doing so we can help improve the quality of conversations between working professionals and their clients and colleagues.

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