Engaging the social learner

Twitter chat – Held on 9 February 2016 17.30pm [GMT]  

Chat collaboration:  #aapchat and @nicolastrong 


Working with Andy Swann and Adelaida Manolescu from the great new enterprise called All About People that seeks to create amazing environments that “bring together the right people in the right places doing the right things” … at the right time.

Here is an introduction to our Twitter chat, Engaging the Social Learner with a link to the Storify summary.

As keen content developers and tech enabled organisations seek to understand the secret world of the unmotivated employee, the word “engagement” buzzes around like an annoying fly. A survey by Gallup last month announced that a consistent 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged by their job. Ouch.

Standing, now, with my fly swat of reflection, I wonder what we really mean by the word “engagement”… in the context of the social learner. In this case, I see a social learner is defined as someone who is using the broad range of web-based learning tools or artificially intelligent autonomous systems to learn something new.

Is learning engagement:

  • Counting clicks through theory
  • Tracking eye movement across a bite-size of learning
  • Testing a learner’s capacity to remember another methodology
  • Diverting the focus from the employee to measure performance by asking the end-user/customer to rate their level of satisfaction of the product or service?

At the Learning Technologies 2016 (LT16) this week, I decided to talk to as many people as I could and asked them the question:

what does your product or service really do to engage a learner? 


Jane Hart in her presentation on how to use Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) for social learning talks about creating an opportunity for collaboration “encouraging interactions, conversations, sharing and discussions to support and improve performance on the job.” Jane offered 10 ways you can use ESNs to increase engagement and she has kindly posted a summary of her slides on SlideShare:

Moving on to the next stand, I got talking to members of the Implementation Team at Fuse Universal. They explained one measure of engagement success they found helpful was to monitor the ease of access to the learning content by looking at the number of “views”. This was in addition to the standard requirements that the context is relevant, bitesized and supported by “community managers”. An interesting question emerged that I used as my first of four questions in my Twitter Chat #aapchat @nicolastrong.

Question 1. Are our social learners actually learning on-line?

At the next stand, Atticmedia, who are specialists in digital learning, they highlighted their successful live, i-Pad led, technology designed for the employees on the shop floor at Marks & Spencer. The Atticmedia Design Teams had drawn on their long history in education and animation to develop a sense of serious play in their learning tools. The M&S Way: delivering learning on the shop floor project placed the learning tools right into the hands of the employee as they were managing live issues and, quoting the Atticmedia website, to re-ignite the staff’s ‘passion for fashion’ .


Question 2. What is the most valuable measure of successful employee engagement in the workplace?

I was particularly interested to see a presentation by Rory Lawson (Account Director at City & Guilds Kineo) and Iain Trundle (Group head of learning channels, Barclays) on their award-winning global Barclays Colleague Curriculum launched last year. Some of the unenviable challenges included creating 170 programmes accessible to 135,000 employees in over 45 countries, across multiple devices (some in very remote locations), embedding Barclays’ values and behaviour. Not only that, this process had to maintain the highest and most secure standards. The final product achieved an impressive take-up in the first two days. A more detailed analysis can be found in the Human Resource Management International Digest.  The photo below show some of the highlights set out by Iain Trundle in his presentation.


Then, I decided to check out the Italdata/Sharper Analytics Stand. Italdata were talking about using data analytics to feedback and motivate the learner. Their demo took me through the first two modules KONSocial and KONit but the most interesting part for me was the third module, KONview. This module creates sets of visual analytics using machine learning to provide live feedback on learning progress, community engagement and learning community champions. The photo below shows the individual, illustrated with a blue dot, leading a learning community forum discussion.


Question 3. Does giving live feedback on a learner’s impact on a learning discussion increase engagement and learning?

The Team on the Skill Pill Stand talked about agency and the inclusion of the employee in designing their learning. They argued that engagement increased when the learning content was co-created. They had some wonderful examples – check out the website.


Question 4. Who should take responsibility for learning to improve the employees’ job performance, the organisation or the learner?

If you would like to see the results of the Twitter chat here is the link to the Storify version:



Animated learning

I have had great fun creating a simple dialogue using different animation tools. I think they provide engaging, accessible and entertaining clips of learning that can have a helpful impact on an ongoing plan for any level of learning.

Here is an example I have created using a simple web-based tool called xtranormal. I have decided to take a simple story of two robots trying to make sense and understand the learning styles of humans.

I was given a series of options with either one or two characters, a backdrop with a background sound. I could edit in the camera angles, expressions, gestures and pace into my dialogue using drag and drop.  This is the result from my first published experiment!

What would be your weekly message? Have a go at creating your own animation.

 As I discover more free animation tools I will add them to this page.


Learning: how do you embrace confusion?

I was delighted to find this 6 minute talk by Ramsey Musallam on his three rules to spark learning. He presents a strong case for his rules in the context of teaching science.

As a facilitator, I am interested in the balance between creating a safe space to learn with the adventure of curiosity. Sometimes, when a learner arrives at this place, it can feel disorientating or seem confusing.

The question I would like to ask is, is this “confusion” a sign of openness to the unknown or a reluctance to learn something new?

What do you think?

How do you get collaboration, reflection and feedback in a learning network

Recently I was facilitating an on-line learning network and I was curious to find out how learners responded to this space, i.e. a place to collaboratively learn. On-line learning is where the learner can complete, at their own pace, a series of steps. But it is often perceived as an isolating experience However, not all learning can follow a defined process. There are many topics where the diversity of thinking will create agile and highly relevant answers to a conversation thread. An exciting move forward is the use of social networks in the learning process, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These environments have created a culture of unconditional sharing. Through this voluntary collaboration, the breath of knowledge is multiplied exponentially (2010, Clay Shirkey).

The question is how do you create a focused learning conversation in a learning network that can benefit a smaller group?

Perhaps we need to take a closer look at what we are seeking to achieve.  A leading thinker in experiential learning, David Kolb, sets out four stages in his cycle of learning that help to explain human learning behaviour and how we might get a better understanding of supporting others to learn (1984, D Kolb). The four stages are:

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
  4. Active Experimentation

It is worth observing that ‘Reflective Observation’ builds on the first ‘Concrete Experience’ that then allows us to build new intelligence in stages 3 and 4. Equally, we can apply this to an on-line network where an individual describes their new experience in a discussion thread and then invites comment. It is arguably much easier to add observations and comments when the new experience is described clearly. So my next question needs to be, where do you start your learning process in this model for learning? For example, when faced with the assembling a new gadget do you prefer to read the instructions thoroughly first (Step 1.) or just plug it in and play with the buttons intuitively (Step 4.)?

Knowing where you start this learning cycle will inform you on how you will choose to approach a new process and, in turn, observe other’s learning. In participating in an on-line course there are likely to be many invitations to try new tools and techniques so there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about your experiences and to notice everyone’s learning preferences. Consider inviting feedback from the group on your learning preferences as well as how you are encouraging learning in others in the group. This will give you important information when do your assignments.

Feed back can make or break a learning thread. So here are a few pointers for both those asking for feedback and those giving feedback.

  1. Good feedback is information-specific, content-focused, and based on observations. It is helpful, in this case, that we are informed by the assignment descriptions set out in the E-learning Studios Learning Management System (LMS).
  2. Do pay attention to the feedback the learner has asked for before you broaden your observations to areas they might have missed.
  3. Consider asking open questions that invite new reflections such as: What is it about this on-line tool that will appeal to your primary audience?
  4. Apply positive feedback to any specific strong points in an assignment. It will add valuable information on ideas that have worked well.
  5. If something does not work well for you give solid evidence explaining why.
  6. Consider that your feedback may well be relevant to you. It is often said that we notice, in others, what we need to learn ourselves.
  7. Ensure you are clear when making your point. Check through the meaning of your feedback before you send it off as you might not have explained the real point!
  8. Remember your feedback may well be a personal opinion and bring important diversity to the conversation thread. Illustrate, where possible with examples, to show them what you mean as you may be offering something completely new to their world of understanding.
  9. Follow up when they respond to you.

In summary, if I am going to create a learning network I need to share my experiences, however small and respond to any feedback I receive. To do this productively I need to understand my own learning preferences that will, in turn, indicate my bias when giving feedback to others. That way I can ensure that the dialogue is rich with the diversity of the group and reveal that unexpected gem of new learning and collaboration.

What do you think? What is your experience of creating collaborative thinking on-line?


2010, Shirkey C., Cognitive Surplus, Pub. Allen Lane

1984 Kolb, David A., Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Pub. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.