Who’s Playing Games Now?

For those who don’t know, Thiagi (short for Sivasailam Thiagarajan) is a education and gaming guru. For those who had the opportunity, he was a speaker at this year’s ASTD conference in the Legends track. He was great, as always. If you get a chance in the future, be sure to check him out. In the mean time, T&D Magazine‘s June 2007 issue does a quick interview with him. This needs to make it to my favorite quotes list (if I had one of those):

Q: Have you encountered any companies or cultures that do not accept game playing?

A: While there are cultural differences, here is an interesting fact: All human beings play games. There is no culture in the world that doesn’t play games, other than some middle managers in Chicago who think it’s beneath their dignity.

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Re: Libraries in Terminal Decline

A couple weeks back, Don Clark posted a topic called Libraries in Terminal Decline. I’m not sure I agree. I know he has numbers to support them for the U.K., so I wondered if the numbers hold true in the U.S. or other parts of the globe. To find out, I went an checked out my local library’s stats (actually 5 branches with 1 more being built). It seems that the budget is substantially flat over the last 4-5 years, but in the last couple years visitors are up about 10%, program attendance is up about 15%, computer use up about 30%, website traffic (including offsite self-service) up about 50%, and circulation up about 50% at well over 3,000,000 items.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten to know the various local libraries quite well, and my anecdotal evidence also says that the libraries are bustling hives of activity. Certainly the computers are always packed, but I’ve also seen many people taking advantage of the free wireless access, story time for kids, reading periodicals, borrowing videos, and frankly browsing and checking out lots of books. I haven’t been to the library since I was in high school, but I don’t remember it ever being this busy. The role of the library has changed a bit on the surface, but it still seems to be about free (or seemingly free) access to information.

At first I thought it was just my community. Ann Arbor tends to land strongly on the open-source-free-love-legalized-drugs-save-the-world side of the debates, so I would expect library use to be high. However, recently I was in Troy, part of Oakland County, one of the wealthiest regions in the state and the same things could be observed. In fact, I’m writing this post from Fenton which is a semi-rural part of Michigan hit hard by GM plant closings. This library, while small, is equally as busy.

A few years ago, I would have supported the library to some extent, but after my recent experiences I’m a huge fan. What a great place for all people (regardless of background, demographic, or even home town) to take advantage of the resources once only available to a few. The libraries are even holding frequent, free classes on how to use the Internet (search, e-mail, e-commerce, etc). I know we’ve got a long way to go, but with so many free services online and free access to the technology, we may be able to begin to close the digital divide in the U.S.

I don’t know if Don’s right or wrong in the rest of the U.S. I certainly hope he’s wrong, and at least the local evidence says we might have some hope.

Synthetic Happiness?

In reading the references from Tony O’Driscoll and Tony Karrer about Dan Gilbert’s book and presentation on Happiness (real and synthetic), I knew I wanted to comment, but couldn’t quite put the words to it. Thankfully, Janel had some thoughts on it. I’ve been trying to encourage her to start blogging on her own (maybe I should have sent her the 10 Reasons to Blog threads). In the mean time, here’s her thoughts in response to my question “What do you think of the video?”. I wish I had been able to say them as well.

Hmmm. Not sure what I think about it. Probably somewhat true and somewhat not true. I don’t like the term “synthesized happiness.” Makes it sound somewhat less real. Just because you become happy out of a bad situation doesn’t mean it’s somehow artificial, but using the word “synthesized” makes it sound that way.

The examples he gives are fairly compelling. And I can appreciate the experience of too many choices leading to dissatisfaction rather than happiness. Clearly, that’s easy for me to identify with.

I do think the brain and the soul can adjust to less than perfect situations and still find happiness. But there’s also the danger of such thinking leading to a person’s accepting situations or circumstances in life as “the best there is” when maybe there is much more to be striven for. One of the more dangerous examples would be a domestic violence situation. Maybe someone can actually find a form of happiness in that kind of a situation – does that mean she should remain there and accept that skewed form of contentment? Of course not. Where’s the line to be drawn between being content with your situation and being in a growth-prohibiting rut?

So where do I come down on it? I don’t know. But maybe it depends on your definition of happiness. I would say that if you can come to a place of inner peace, then you’re good. Not so sure that equates with happiness.

Maybe, but maybe not. And I always think there’s something more to be striven for…..so settling for my lot in life would probably not personally bring me happiness, but maybe someone else. I’m not sure.

So no real answers from me. But it did make me think. And true, he is a good speaker.

Janel Esker
Registrar, Aquinas Institute
St. Louis, Missouri

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Getting Started with Competencies

Why Manage Competencies?

In the learning industry, we’ve said for years that one-size-fits-all learning is at best a waste of resources for some and at worst it doesn’t work for anyone. On any given competency, experts, practitioners, and novices require different resources and tools for their development. In general, we don’t know who falls into which category, so we just supply the same training to everyone creating a Goldilocks paradox where the training is too hot or too cold for everyone, and this is only on one dimension (experience). What if we were to consider relevance (need to know a lot vs. need to know a little), timing (need to know it now vs. need to it occasionally), or a number of other dimensions?

Managing competencies allow us to determine who has which gaps, how big each gap is, and then get the training just right. This is the customization and individualization we’ve been talking about. Help the learners determine what they know (and don’t know) and then help them find a way to get the right content, the right way, at the right time. When we achieve this, our training will be both efficient and effective. Competency-driven learning is the right thing to do.

The Challenges of Competency Management

However, it’s a lot easier said than done. Defining competencies is a lot of work. What is a competency any way? How many should there be? Are they high level (Trust, Sales) or low level (Typing, Mopping)? Do the competencies have skills associated with them? Does each skill have tasks? Do all roles have the same competencies? If not, then competencies need to be tied to roles. How many roles does the organization have? Which competencies are in each role? Is the remediation different for each role for each competency? How is competency going to be measured?

This all takes a lot of time, effort, and money to create. Ongoing maintenance of a complex system like this is an even larger (and often hidden) cost. If an organization is doing a full-blown competency management process, the time, effort, and money allocated can be overwhelming and often leads to failure. Does the organization really get the benefits that justify the cost?

5 Quick Tips to Designing and Implementing the First Competency Model and Process

So, it’s challenging but important, so we want to do everything we can to ensure it’s success. How do we go about doing this? Here are 5 quick tips to giving competencies the best possible chance:

1. Start with the strategy
All competency development, in fact, everything an organization does should be tied to the strategy. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that any activity an organization does that does not drive the strategy is a waste of time and money. If the business strategy is to grow long-term sales, the organization probably needs a relationship/solution-selling competency rather than a widget-selling competency. If the business is focusing on consulting services, manufacturing efficiency may not be a competency worth the focus. Selecting competencies that are tied directly to the strategy helps to ensure that the efforts will have a positive impact to the organization.

2. Start small
Pick 2 or 3 competencies that, if executed well, will best help execute the strategy. Resist the temptation to pick a lot of them. Selecting the level of competencies is important as well. Also, resist the temptation to make them high-level to incorporate everything because only a few get chosen. If they are too high-level (Teamwork), they may be difficult to measure. If they are too low-level (Pencil Use), they will create a documentation and maintenance nightmare. So there is an art and a science to selecting competencies. Competency needs in an organization will change over time, sometimes very quickly. Be sure to design a system and a process that can grow and change quickly and easily as the needs of the organization change.

Once you’ve selected the right level of competencies, pick the key roles in the organization, maybe 3 to 5, which actively need the competency in order to execute the strategy. Much like the competencies themselves, resist the temptation to do lots of roles. Managing scope will give you the ability to learn and adapt much more quickly. Depending on your objectives, this may not just be the pilot project; it may be the only project. Remember, if it drives the strategy, then it has achieved the goal.

3. Get the measurement right
Next, work on the measurement systems and processes. Get that right first. It’s essential. To determine gaps, they have to be measured. Select competencies that can be measured. Be sure the competencies are things are objective not subjective. Since the competencies to be measured are tied directly to the strategy and have real impact, the metrics should be widely available. In the sales example above, using an individual salesperson’s repeat customer metrics such as length of time a customer’s been active, dollar growth by customer, and unit growth by customer, the impact of competency management can be directly measured at Kirkpatrick Level 4 (or whatever scale the organization uses). The side benefit may be that once the measurement is set up, it’s easier to measure all interventions regardless of whether or not they are related to competencies. In fact, if done well, this process can become part of or even take over the performance management process at an organization since one intent of performance management is to align performance with strategy, and competencies can do that quite well.

4. Link gaps with interventions
Once the competencies have been identified and the size of the gap has been measured, take special care to link the appropriate interventions to the gaps. This is where the years of experience in learning come into play. Rarely are one-time interventions the best answer. Be sure to integrate coaching, performance support, classroom, and online learning as appropriate for this need. Not every competency, role, or gap needs all forms of intervention. Find ways to reduce the amount of transfer required. (For more details on eliminating transfer, see my related post).

5. Review, evaluate and adjust
As always be sure to evaluate and review the entire program. Is the strategy being executed well? Are the business metrics being achieved? Are the roles having a greater impact on the metrics than they did before? Did people who participated in the interventions have a higher impact on the metrics than those who did not? Notice that these evaluations are all based on the business-related measurements, not internal training metrics.

Once successes have been achieved and the processes have been fine-tuned, consider expansion, repeating the process from the beginning.

What’s Next in Competencies?

Some organizations are already well along the path of competencies. For them, they’ve already begun working on the next steps. Here are a couple of things that are being explored:

1. Integration
For competencies to be truly effective, they need be ingrained in the entire life cycle of an organization’s people including Hiring, New Employee Orientation, Performance Management, Succession Planning, and Knowledge Management What if during orientation, each employee received only the content they needed? What if, based on the continuous Performance Management process, a company knew how to find the best knowledgeable, skilled resource to fill a position when someone was ill, quitting, or retiring? A well-managed competency process can assist with the answers to these questions.

2. Inform the strategy
One novel use of competencies is in addition to having the strategy drive the competencies, use the competencies to inform the strategy. Companies are more likely to execute their strategy well if it leverages their strengths. This is similar to the debate between emphasizing your strengths and downplay your weaknesses versus improve your weaknesses to combine them with your strengths. As in most cases, the solution is probably not either; it’s both depending on the circumstances.

Update from the TechKnowledge Floor

A very interesting trend is starting to pop up among the vendors. After years of absence (despite audience demand), e-Learning development tools have started to appear. There is of course the traditional suppliers Adobe (Captivate/Flash), Trivantis Lectora, and Articulate. Articulate just released their newest product called Articulate Online, a place to easily publish and track content online. Some of their newer work is becoming more and more impressive. However, there are new players in the space. Watch for several new announcements both from the incumbents and the new competitors in the coming months. I’ll be blogging on several of the latest advancements especially in interactive exercises and simulations in the upcoming weeks. These tools are going to put power of quality simulation and interactivity into the hands of the instructional designer and learner instead of just being the realm of the programmer and artist.

Introduction and Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. This is my first entry on my own blog. You can expect the entries to be all over the place from travel and food to business to gaming to learning, probably all with a thread of technology. Enjoy! Definitely let me know your thoughts.

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