E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

Learning

How Social Networking Tools Enable Heutagogy in Learning Organisations

Gran Canaria - Cruz Grande's surroundings

 

Imagine one day you read this quote: ‘The way we teach in our schools isn’t the way I think you create successful (and happy) adults, it’s the way you create the society we’ve had until now.’ Now imagine you swap the wordings ’teaching’ for ‘learning’ and ‘our schools’ for ‘our workplaces’. Read it out loud again, please. Slowly. Imagine if you then read this other quote at some point in time later on: ‘I don’t want to grow up and 30 years later find out that I’m an office worker unhappy in life and that hasn’t done anything to improve this world. Because that’s my main goal now: leave a positive mark here’ and ask yourself how many of your work colleagues you could name up out loud that would fit that description. Yes, I know!, I had the exact same problem. Not many! That’s why Workplace Learning is broken and why heutagogy may need to come to the rescue to save us all…

Heuta… what?, you say’ …Hang on for a minute, before I go into that topic a bit deeper, allow me to give you all some context as to why I have started this blog entry with those two quotes. Those absolutely mind-blowing and rather provocative sentences, as depressing and as exciting as they may sound, don’t come from a knowledge worker working in a particular corporation protesting about the poor state of workplace learning or learning in general. They, actually, come from a letter written to Roger Schank by a 15 year old girl in Central America protesting herself about the poor state of the education system in her own country and the very few choices she has got to change the situation herself on her own. Roger himself recently published it in his own blog for all of us to be wowed, and not in a positive sense, by the way, more than anything else, because, upon reading through it, one has got to shamefully admit that current state of education / learning is incredibly pervasive and available in most countries throughout the world, and, of course, in vast majority of organisations. Ouch! 

After publishing the letter in his own blog, which I strongly recommend you go ahead and read through it in its entirety, Roger comes forward to share a couple of uncomfortable reflections that, upon reading through them, reminded me as to why I heart, so much!, heutagogy, not only within the overall education system, but also with workplace learning inside organisations, in general. To quote: ‘We just let kids be miserable, or, we use school for its true intention: indoctrination’. Again, replace ‘kids’ for ‘knowledge workers’ and ‘school’ for ‘workplace’ and, once again, we would have the reaffirmation as to why workplace learning is currently broken within the business world.

But perhaps the most mind-boggling, and rather troubling!, quote from the entire post he shared is this other one: 

Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilisation, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.

That quote, you may be wondering, is from Edward Cubberly, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, from around 1900. Yes, you are reading it right, it’s not a typo, 1900!! 116 years ago!! Whoahhh! 

My goodness! No wonder the current education system is totally broken. It’s been broken from well over a century, already! Yikes! And I’d dare extend that sentiment as well towards Workplace Learning, despite notable efforts of wanting to wake up into a new reality and see if we can still save it all. Even Roger himself already hints in that blog entry part of what the potential solution(s) may well be. To quote him: ‘Let kids learn what they want to learn in curricula design by professionals’.

This is where heutagogy kicks in beautifully, because that’s exactly what it is all about: 

Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning … It is also an attempt to challenge some ideas about teaching and learning that still prevail in teacher centred learning and the need for, as Bill Ford (1997) eloquently puts it ‘knowledge sharing’ rather than ‘knowledge hoarding’. In this respect heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces.’ [Emphasis mine]

First time I ever got exposed to Heutagogy, as a concept, was back in March 2013, when I was invited to speak at the Welcome Heutagogy conference event in Prague, where Dr. Stewart Hase (Founder of Heutagogy himself), along with the delightful Lisa Marie Blaschke, were the keynote speakers (Links to the presentations AND recordings can be found here and here, respectively). Little did I know, back then, I have been practising it actively myself for 13 years already, and still going strong today, more than anything else because, if anything, heutagogy is all about making learning a change experience, indeed. But it’s also about placing ‘the learner at the centre of the learning process not at the end of a linear process starting with the curriculum, through the teacher, to the resources and finally ending with the learner’, as Stewart himself wrote about in this wonderfully inspiring blog post a little while ago.  

Fast forward to 2016 and this specific tweet may be particularly helpful in describing some more in depth what it is: 

That is, certainly, one of the many reasons why I heart social networks and social networking tools from all along, because thanks to them, we have been given the incredible and unique opportunity of being in charge of our very own learning, a la self-determined learning, whether at work, or elsewhere, based on a specific set of needs and wants, to the point where it’s always each and everyone of us, and not the system, deciding upon what we would want to learn more about, how we would want to learn and with whom (i.e. our networks) we would want to learn with / from. In other words, thanks to all of these social networking tools, specially, in a work context, and thanks as well to applying those heutagogy principles referenced above, we may be, at long last, working really hard towards making that successful transition from being a knowledge (Web) worker into a learning (Web) worker: 

So you can imagine how happy I was when earlier on this year, while serendipity was doing its magic and I was searching for something else, I bumped into the recording of the presentation I did back in 2013 about how I was applying heutagogy myself into my day to day work routines using social networking tools (IBM Connections back then and nowadays it would have morphed a fair bit into a combination of IBM Connections, Twitter and Slack) in the context of #NoeMail to get work done more effectively WHILE I was learning away.

The mind-blowing thing is, upon watching myself deliver that very interactive presentation, I realised that pretty much what I said back then it still applies to how I learn AND work nowadays, even though I’m no longer a salaried employee and don’t work in major corporation, confirming, therefore, if anything, that a combination of both heutagogy and social networking tools have managed to convert me into a lifelong learner with a completely different mindset of work, one where you realise your knowledge, and what you learn further along with it, is no longer just yours, but from the communities and networks you spend the vast majority of your time with, which is just too funny and perhaps a tad ironic because that’s, essentially, the main reason why, even today, I am still even so keen on sharing openly my own knowledge. Indeed, to learn even more! 


PS. By the way, in case you folks may be interested in going through the recording of the presentation I did back at the Welcome Heutagogy event in Prague, I have taken the liberty of embedding the video clip over here in this blog entry, so you can watch it right away, as you may see fit. It’s about 35 minutes long, plus Q&A, and in it I describe, through my first hand user experience, what A Day in the Life of Luis Suarez using IBM Connections was like to learn AND get work done more effectively through my own social networks and online communities, still today two of the most powerful enablers for the adaptation of emerging social technologies in the workplace without having to rely too much on email per se, which, if you ask me, it’s a good thing altogether, don’t you think?

Welcome Heutagogy – Luis Suarez from HR Kavárna by LMC on Vimeo.

Hope you enjoy the presentation, just as much as I did back then, and I still do today, as a self-empowered lifelong learner through applying heutagogy’s principles and making extensive use of social networking tools 😀👍🏻

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Loyalty in Social Networks

Gran Canaria - Meloneras Beach

One of the best decisions I ever made upon becoming a freelancer, nearly three years ago, was to consciously spend plenty more time doing tons of additional reading (Whereas in the past I just couldn’t, for whatever the reason), whether it was books, white papers, reports, studies, research, articles, long-form blog posts, etc. etc. more than anything else to help me switch away from that constant flair of snacking around content on media tools and, instead, slow down a fair bit enjoying the many healthy benefits of reading (who knew?!?) or, perhaps, help augment my overall human experience, which is not such a bad thing, I suppose, if you look into it closely, don’t you think?

It’s also one other reason as to why I’m not online, on those media tools, as often I used to, but little did I know, back then, one of the additional perks of reading more was also being capable of instigating and actively participating in plenty more conversations, whether offline or online, specially, thanks to updating and revamping my own blogroll, which, in a way, is what triggered everything else. I suspect that, somehow, the Social Web slows down a fair bit when blogging kicks in and that may well be the reason why I am having plenty more conversations over here in this blog, since I resumed my blogging mojo just recently, than in the last few months on media tools. My goodness! Did we manage to kill already the conversation in the so-called traditional social media tools landscape? Please tell me that’s not the case, for our own sanity.

Ok, ok, I know, here I am, once again, excoriating the very same social tools that once gave me birth and that, 16 years later, have made me what I am today. Goodness! What’s wrong with me?!?! Yikes! Maybe. But then again, in my defence, I am only now just realising that was the main reason why I quit Facebook over 5 years ago, why I deleted my LinkedIn account over two years ago and why I started this experiment in Twitter that I blogged about over here under the thought provoking title ‘Is Twitter Where Conversations Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment’. I was just simply missing the great conversations we once used to have all over the place, while everyone else was just (and still is!) busying themselves broadcasting out loud their own (somewhat expected) marketing messages and whatever their services.

Don’t take me wrong. I know that’s very much needed, specially, if you would want to change the game of how we have managed to build, nurture and cultivate personal business relationships online over the course of time, but I think we are just falling too short in terms of conversing with one another about the topics we are truly passionate about. And that’s a pity, because that still is *the* huge potential all of these (social) media tools have permeating all around through them.

Here is an example of what I mean, and let’s see how much it relates to your own user experience. Take one of the major media tools out there, I will go ahead and pick up Twitter, since that’s the one I still use the heaviest, and now, very carefully, ask yourself when was it the last time you had a conversation, longer than 5 posts / comments / tweets, etc. (that’s important!) that was not triggered by you but by someone else in your social networks. When was the last time that happened? I don’t know about you, but unless I am the one triggering the conversations, because I have the intent to provoke some additional dialogue or interaction around a particular topic that I know is of mutual interest for both of us, it just won’t happen anymore, at all. Is it just me? Am I the only weird, freakish, strange knowledge (Web) worker out there going through that experience at the moment? Please tell me if I am, because, if I am, I may well be doing something wrong and I would love you all to tell me what it is in the comments below, so I can fix it.

Somehow I suspect I may not be the only one out there currently going through this, am I? You tell me, please.

Ok, back to the topic of reading and getting inspired by the reads in the long form that I mentioned in the original paragraph shared above. Here’s an example of what I mean, so you can see it why I heart it quite a bit at the moment. Take a look into the recent blog article put together by my good friend, and KM mentor, Dave Snowden under the suggestive heading ‘back to the salt mines’ where he shares one of my favourite descriptions of what blogging is all about and that I can totally relate to. To quote him:

As is often the case with a blog post, the subject and picture come before content; one of the reasons I like the medium so much. Starting with a title, finding a picture and then starting writing without a clear goal I find curiously liberating. I suppose it harks back to the impromptu speaking and debating tradition which was so much a part of my education up to leaving university.

Oh, boy, if that paragraph, on its own, doesn’t instigate you to blog, I suppose nothing will, I tell you! It’s wonderfully weird as well that Dave pretty much described my blogging process without a single flaw, that is, pick up a recent photograph from my archives, upload it into my Flickr account I still use quite actively, and then start writing about a particular topic and see where it would take me, regardless of its length, with the title being the last thing I will write down about it. But Dave’s article gets much better, as you read along, because he gets to reflect on loving what you do, and being passionate about the stuff you love, is all about. Here’s one of my favourite quotes, which happens to be a rather lovely piece of advice that may well confirm why I’m not so keen on using some media tools anymore. To quote him (again):

Enjoyment is about anticipation and expectation and if those are two high at the start you are on a downwards slope thereafter.

Ouch! No further comment needed, I guess, right?

Well, there is more in that golden post Dave put together that really resonated with my own user experience, even more so nowadays as a freelancer. This particular quote pretty much hits the nail on the head, as far as I am concerned, and requires also very little commentary, if at all:

Seize the day: as opportunities present themselves experiment

Oh, gosh, but there is one more! Perhaps the one single sentence that pretty much describes the raison d’être as to why I got involved with Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, Online Communities and Social Networking for Business over 16 years ago in the first place as an opportunity to learn and grow as a knowledge (Web) worker:

Survival (and with that enjoyment) is finding work arounds and for that you have to ….
cultivate and build informal trusted networks.
” [Emphasis mine]

Indeed, I couldn’t have said it better myself and I can certainly relate to it big time, but, at the same time, earlier on in that article he wrote the following, rather thought provoking sentence that is currently haunting my mind (in the right way!) and for which I haven’t got a proper answer just yet: ’I also realised early on that loyalty within a network is key to survival, something I still hold as a principle.

Have I lost, along the way, my own loyalty to the social networking tools that once gave me birth?

And that, my dear friends, is the main reason why I am currently having a blast diving into #longform reading. It makes you think really hard and seek out the uncomfortable answers…

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Vanity Killed the Social Media Star

Gran Canaria - Meloneras at sunset

Over the course of last few months a few folks have asked me about why I am not so active anymore in different social tools from the so-called Social Web, as well as why I stopped advocating and pontificating about their huge potential to transform the way we connect, collaborate, share our knowledge and, eventually, get work done more effectively. And I guess, after all of this time, I am now ready to put together this article to explain why not and what I am doing instead. It all comes down to vanity, unfortunately. Or, better said, it all comes down to, finally, come to terms with the fact that our very own self-importance has managed to destroy Social Media and just leave it at Media, as we become … it.

At some point in the not so distant past, we knowledge (Web) workers decided to, collectively, kill one of the most profound and deep reaching components from all of these social networking tools out there: our very own conversations and, instead, we embarked on that frantic, unstoppable rush to become publishing machines blasting out marketing messages non stop that continue to be impregnated all over the place with our very own vanity. We just simply decided to leave conversations behind thinking that people would be so much more interested in the stuff we share about ourselves that all of a sudden we dropped social and instead became vainly digital. Yikes! Where did we go wrong? Why did we turn Industrious in our own vanity in the first place?

You know, I remember the time, back in the day, when several of these, now media, tools were all about conversations, about people wanting to reach out there to other people who would be sharing similar interests, who may have had similar needs and wants, or who may even want to work together as an opportunity to connect, learn and share what we each knew as an opportunity to grow further along as one single entity: a social network. Our social network. Alas, that seems to have died a rather fast and painful death on its own and we all ought to blame ourselves for that wonderful exercise of destroying social networking, on the Social Web, for the sake of our own vanity. I mean, when was the last time you had a conversation with someone on any of these media tools without talking about you or the stuff you are reading, or doing, or interested in? I bet we all know the answer to that question, don’t we? The thing is that we all seem to be rather comfortable with that state of things, because if you look out there, very closely, we aren’t doing anything about it, more than anything else, because we all seem to be rather busy all over the place industriously sharing our tidbits of how vain we all are, after all. Very sad, really.

Speed kills, specially, in the world of media tools, where we are all fighting to survive one more minute of our very own glory! One tweet, one like, one comment, one emoji, one meme, one infographic, one photograph and what not, is what we are all striving for to keep surfing the wave of popularity for just another 15 minutes of fame. Then we are left behind into oblivion only to repeat the same process, once again, 15 minutes later. The very popular ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ has taken a whole new meaning where we all become famous, forever, to those audiences we keep feeding further along with our very own vanity. These media tools have, finally, managed to convert us all into Web celebrities, at least, to someone out there who may be morbidly interested in what we have got to say and share about ourselves, just so that we can compare. We, indeed, have become the media, much to our collective regret.

We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us’, as the famous quote goes, is, eventually, the worst that could have happened to the so-called social media tools, because thanks to our very own behaviours and mindset it’s those very same tools the ones that are now perpetuating that very same vanity flair we keep exhibiting proudly out there all over the place. Remember the good old ‘me, me, me’ mantra from the Web 2.0 times? Well, it seems we have now successfully shaped our tools not only to observe such behaviour, but to enhance it to the extreme fully. That’s how all the trolling, bullying, hate speech and vilifying have come up over time, because, if you think about it, social networks and social networking tools just didn’t exhibit such ill-behaviours per se, as they would have contained and self-policed them right from the start, even for their own health and sake. Alas, with media tools, it’s the spectacle du jour we are glued on to from the comfort of our screens, wherever we may well be.

And we seem to enjoy it very much, at least, vast majority of people, because we are starting to witness two things that, say, a decade ago, would have been tabooed in the world of social networking. First, we continue to design these media tools for vanity although those very same tools would claim they are, instead, introducing different algorithms to improve our overall user experience, when, in reality, they are destroying it by perpetuating that constant urge of sharing one’s self-admiration. And we buy it, because, you know, we still want to be right at the centre of the spotlight. It’s our very own 15 minutes of fame glued to our human condition. And the issue is even greater when we start embracing such behaviours as something both positive and very much needed, or encouraged, as if nothing else ever happens. 

This is where blogging and the original social networking tools differ tremendously from today’s world of media tools, more than anything else, because they have never been about you, but about the collective, the network, the community, in short, the conversations. You may well say that it’s somewhat related to one of the seven deadly social networks and that may well be it, but it isn’t, because all of this self-glory and narcissism have got a clear consequence that most folks don’t seem to notice the reach it’s achieved: vanity, narcissism just doesn’t like flat organisations, more than anything else because these represent a threat to the potential aspiration of being at the top of the ladder with an inner urge to protect one’s own turf, position, status or power, just because we feel we are better than everyone else. So if you ever wondered about why enterprise social networking tools have been so slow in their adaptation curves within your own organisation, I guess you would know now why that’s happening and why we would need to work, even harder, to defeat self-importance from destroying the ’social’ component of media tools. 

You see? ’Social’, comes from ‘socius’, ancient Latin, and it literally means ‘partner’, so when people are talking about social networking tools there is an inherent flair of building, nurturing and cultivating partnerships, yet, when you enter the world of Social Media it’s everything, but partnerships. They just don’t exist anymore, more than anything else, because somewhere down the lane we decided to stop conversing with others, speed of execution in being social killed us all in the process. We stopped listening, caring and being more empathic about our peers, if anything, just for the sake of them, vs. our very own alone. Somehow, at some point, we decided we are far too important ourselves for our very own sake and now that we have media tools to demonstrate that everything else just doesn’t matter anymore. We are always right, even more so when it’s about our very own personas that we try to portrait out there, whether real or fake, no-one really knows anymore, which is why we have got this tendency to just switch off, hoping it will pass, but still making ourselves present out there, constantly, in the moment, so that people won’t forget about us for when things would come to normal, if ever. 

No, they won’t. We initially shaped the tools and nowadays the tools have shaped us so badly to showcase that dysfunctional behaviour of vanity without remedy we no longer want to get rid of it, we need it, we live from it, we thrive through it to the point of addiction, we despise everything AND everyone who doesn’t understand the only thing we care about is me, me, me.

You know what? I remember the day when things weren’t like that. I remember the golden days of the Web 2.0 spirit from back in the day, where people were generous, empathic, caring, helpful, trustworthy, honest, open, inspired, authentic, motivated, engaged, excited or even purposeful  enough to wanting to change the world, make it a better place for everyone, unleashing the true potential of networks and communities as the new operating model of both work and our personal lives. Yet, these hungry-for-our-data media tools decided to relinquish all of their potential to expose our very own dysfunctional behaviours and instead of attempting to do something to mitigate them and bring us back to basics, they decided to potentiate them, because they knew they were going to get even more! And for free. That’s how self-assured we all are. It’s a sickly system I keep thinking, and hoping dearly, it will eventually find its path to healing itself for good and come back with the other side from each and everyone of us, you know the one that thrives in networks and communities, the caring and empathic one, yet, every day that goes by I keep getting signals about how current media tools, if anything, not only will they not be able to recover, but, if anything, they would be taken us all down with them with their own poisonous demise. No, thanks! Not me.

I refuse to think that’s the horrifying end of the social tools we once thought were going to help us change the world as we knew it and our very own selves as well for that matter. However, I do realise those media tools won’t change by themselves, unless we do first, and very abruptly, since they feel they don’t have a good enough reason for it, after all, they already have your data. We will need to be the ones wanting to change the game completely altogether by breaking off the status quo, by slowing down, by pausing, reflecting and thinking what we, each and everyone of us, could do for our networks and communities to get the most out of our own contributions, not for us, but for the well being of the community itself.

Yes, it’s the ever harsh and rather difficult, as equally challenging, transition we need to make from the good old ‘me, me, me’ into the ‘we, we, we’ mindset. And for that to happen today’s media tools, those that keep feeding from our very own vanity, won’t help much. We would need, instead, to look elsewhere for those social software tools we once thought would change the world, because, you know what?, whether we like it or not, they will. It may take time, but, eventually, they will. When? Well, when we all stop feeding the self-importance triggers and, instead, we focus our energy, effort, attention AND time invested into what we know we do best: connecting (with) people through some bloody good conversations. 

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Top 10 Tools for Learning 2016

Gran Canaria - Charca Maspalomas

Every year, and for the last 10 years, which is a huge achievement in this day and age, if you ask me, Jane Hart puts together this wonderful list of Top 100 Tools for Learning, where she encourages everyone to fill in a form, or tweet further along, or even create your own blog post, where you’d be listing your Top 10 Tools for Learning, indicating whether each of those tools would be fitting in under the following categories: 

  1. Top 100 Tools for Education – for use in schools, colleges, universities, adult ed 
  2. Top 100 Tools for Workplace Learning – for use in training, for performance support, social collaboration, etc.
  3. Top 100 Tools for Personal & Professional Learning – for self-organised learning

Now, I guess it’s never too late to dive in into such an interesting exercise that would definitely help you question how you learn, at work or in one’s own personal life. I mean, even though Jane has been running this exercise for a decade I think this is the first time I’m chipping in. I suppose better late than never, right?

The voting for this year is well under way and folks can cast their vote(s) till Friday 23rd, September 2016. So I thought for today’s blog post I’d put together my own list and share it further along. I can’t wait to see what that list would be like say, in 5 to 10 years from now, and whether my tools selection I’m sharing across today would differ much over time. Something tells me that a good number of them won’t even have a place anymore in the landscape of options I’d go for to accommodate my learning needs, but we shall see.

Needless to say it’s been a bit of a challenge as well to try to summarise my own Top Tools List for Learning down to just 10, more than anything else, because of how varied and mixed my very own learning needs and wants have become over the course of the last few years. So from the initial list of 40 different tools I eventually came down to the following 10 for 2016, where I have just selected them based purely on learning terms versus other key elements such as productivity, life hacks, curation, content management, etc. etc. 

I have also taken the liberty of adding a brief paragraph for each of the tools themselves to explain a little bit how I use them to help cover my learning needs, but I’m pretty sure that, over the course of time, I will be talking plenty more in detail about each and everyone of them, plus the other 30 I have left behind for now, in order to share across how I, eventually, get work done WHILE I learn, because that’s what matters at the end of the day, doesn’t it? Adapting to living live in perpetual beta, as my good friend, Harold Jarche would say… So here we go: 

Top 10 Tools for Learning 2016

  1. IBM Connections: [ Education and Personal & Professional Learning ]  Like I have blogged just recently, ‘Learning is the Work’, and since IBM Connections is where I spend nowadays vast majority of my time, while working with clients, it would be my number #1 tool for this year. And more than anything else, because, a long time ago, I realised that one of my main sources where my learning comes from is, basically, the clients I work with. They are my main source that keeps feeding my brain on a daily basis and that, thanks to them, plenty of the blog posts you see over here, in this blog, are direct reflections of those key learnings. At one point in time, I believed rather strongly that the moment you stop learning from your clients, that’s the moment that you are in trouble and it’d be a good thing to perhaps move on to better things. IBM Connections becomes then my number #1 Learning tool for 2016.
  2. Twitter: [ Education, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] Coming up, and pretty close, as my number #2 Learning tool, it would be Twitter. And for obvious reasons, specially, after I did a little experiment, which I blogged about under the heading ‘Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die – The Unfollowing Experiment’. There will be a specific blog post coming up where I will talk more in detail about what has happened in the last year since I embarked in that experiment, but suffice to say that Twitter has become my main Personal Learning Network of choice and for absolutely everything, whether it’s work related, personal, global events, news items, etc. etc. It’s become my main glimpse into the Pulse of the Planet, as I used to call it back in the day. I have always sensed the moment I decide to leave Twitter behind, for whatever the reason(s), that’s the moment a little bit of me will die off as well. It’s become my preferred method of just pure learning, whether work related or not, just for the sake of it, which would probably explain a little bit further along why I’m so picky with it in terms of defining how I would want to use it to get the most out of it outside from the standards and expectations everyone seems to be conforming with.
  3. Slack: [ Education, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] Ok, I realised I haven’t blogged much about Slack per se, unless it’s been in connection with something else, but right now, for 2016, it’s my number #3 learning tool of choice and for multiple reasons… If there is a single word I could utilise to describe my own use of Slack, it would probably be flexibility, more than anything else, because I’m using Slack for work with different project teams, as well as participating in a number of different communities of practice, or of interest, as well as one of my favourite use cases, that one of a personal knowledge hub, but I will blog plenty more about it over the course of time, not to worry. For now though, it’s my number #3 learning tool for this year.
  4. WordPress (blogs): [ Education, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] It’s been powering this blog for over a decade and still going strong! It’s this blog that I have always considered an extension of my own brain, my own reflections, ideas and thoughts, along with experiences, about everything that I learn on a daily basis, so, of course, WordPress had to come up within the Top 5 tools list for learning and, in this case, at number #4. It’s also the main blogging platform that vast majority of the blogs I follow through my blogroll are using at the moment. To me, a non techie, it’s the easiest and most effective blogging platform out there, with a huge community to offer support and learning along the way and, above all, the most effective tool, in the long run, to help your manage your own personal knowledge. That powerful.
  5. Feedly : Education and Personal & Professional Learning ] Since I rely quite heavily on reading and commenting on different blogs, as well as receiving news items from different various Web sources, one learning tool that I just can’t do without, and which, in this case, comes up as number #5, is Feedly, my preferred RSS news feed reader. Yes, I still use RSS feeds and quite a lot! Remember them? From the good old days of the Web 2.0, it’s still very much alive and kicking and, to me, an integral part of my day to day learning activities to keep me in the know about what’s going on with the blogs and Web sites I am subscribed to. I mostly use Feedly on my iOS devices (both iPad Pro and iPhone), but on the Mac I don’t use Feedly, but Reeder, which is also available in iOS, where I’d only use it for when I’m offline for an extended period of time, like being stuck on a plane for several hours on a business trip. The great thing about RSS news feed readers is that there are tons of choices out there, and it’d be just your own personal choice to go for the one that works for you the best, pretty much like you would do with your own Web browser of choice. 
  6. Pocket [ Personal & Professional Learning ]: Coming up as number #6 is one of my all time favourite Apps, accessible via both the regular Web browser and iOS, it’s become an essential application to help me keep up with #longreads, or more in-depth items, I’d want to read and learn from with more pause and while disconnected, taking my time, allowing me to reflect on a deeper level what I am learning about. At the same time, and since not long ago, it acts as a superb tool for curation where you can recommend the best reads you may bump into that you’d want to share across, so your learning becomes everyone’s learning. It’s got a gorgeous user interface making the learning more focused on what you are reading, rather than trying to figure out the tool. Essential for the toread-later fans. 
  7. SkypeEducation, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] I think I may have been using Skype for well over a decade and, despite everything that may have happened throughout all of that time, it still remains within my top 10 list of tools for whatever the purpose. It’s the main learning tool I keep using on a regular basis for both audio and video conferencing, for podcasting, for vodcasting, for reaching out to people (either 1:1 or 1:many), so I can keep up with them and learn what they have been up to and despite other noteworthy efforts, like WhatsApp, Google Plus Hangouts, Blab, Viber, Tango, FaceTime, Zoom, Fuze, WebEx, Vyew, GoToMeeting, etc. etc. (It’s a far too long list already!) Skype is the only one I can continue to use reliably with good quality of both video and audio, and, most importantly, knowing it will always be there, while some others just don’t manage to pick up enough steam and therefore disappear into thin air over time, sadly. 
  8. Instagram / FlickrEducation, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] Back in the day, over 11 years ago, for number #8 I would have selected Flickr as my preferred tool to learn about how people live AND experience life, both on a personal and work levels. But in 2016, while I still use Flickr a fair bit, things have switched and I would now have to go for Instagram. It’s my photoblog where I try to share what I experience during the course of a given week, not just when I’m on the road, traveling, but also while living in Gran Canaria. It’s become my window to show the world a little bit of my world and therefore for me to learn plenty more about everyone’s world. I’m a visual animal and can then spend a fair amount of time learning different tidbits about the different photos people share through my Instagram feed, more than anything as an opportunity to help me cultivate and nurture my own social capital skills, so I can then put them into work when meeting up wonderful folks face to face to talk, share and learn about those mutual experiences of the pictures we share. Yes, I know, you may have noticed I got a thing for Instagram, and I surely do. It’s the only social networking tool from the Dark Social Web (a.k.a. platform monopolists) that I still use on a regular basis to keep me on my toes and remind me why I left that Social Web behind a long while ago (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pulse, Slideshare, Uber, Airbnb, etc. etc.) and why we still have got a long way to go to realise the so-called Web 2.0 spirit in its full potential and reach.
  9. Haiku DeckEducation, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] I am pretty sure that plenty of folks would probably choose between either PowerPoint or Slideshare as one of their preferred Top Tools for Learning in 2016. Perhaps not only for the creation and curation of their own presentations they may have done for a particular conference event, or a client engagement, but also to learn about a whole lot of different topics by curating other people’s decks. Well, in my case, it’s been nearly three years since I last uploaded a presentation into Slideshare and quite a long while ago as well last time I went there to learn about specific subject matter or themes. For the creation of my own presentations, I don’t use PowerPoint either, but rely more on Keynote (Mac & iOS), specially, if offline, but since I’m mostly online when crafting a presentation or learning about other’s presentations I usually resort to Haiku Deck. It’s my preferred learning tool to put together different stories that then, eventually, end up in a presentation and the reason why I heart it quite a bit is because I can always manage to find some stunning visual aids that would go really nice with the story, in a heartbeat, and therefore makes the job of having to find that perfect snap shot painless. That’s why Haiku Deck is my number #9 top tool for learning in 2016. 
  10. YouTubeEducation, Workplace Learning and Personal & Professional Learning ] And, finally, my top tool number #10 would go to YouTube. Yes, I know and realise most of you would be a tad surprised I’ve picked up YouTube as one of my Top Tools for Learning in 2016, but I use it quite frequently, either on my MacBook Air, iPhone or iPad for almost every type of learning aid: whether it’s a podcast, a vodcast, a screencast, a tutorial, a MOOC, a review, a presentation and / or a dissertation, interviews, book reviews, music videos, funny videos, etc. etc. and you name it, YouTube does it for me. And since there is a lovely hack everyone can use to download either the video or just the audio of the clip for offline watching it makes for the perfect companion when being disconnected for a while and having to catch up with a particular presentation, video, podcast / vodcast, etc. Yes, indeed, YouTube makes it into my Top 10 list of learning tools for 2016. 

And that’s a wrap! That’s my list of Top 10 Tools for Learning for 2016. But before I let you all go I wanted to mention, perhaps, how my favourite learning tool this year, and without a doubt, although it doesn’t have much to do with software or a specific service, is a piece of hardware, or, better said, two pieces of hardware: my iPad Pro and my iPhone. Why am I saying that? Well, because for the very first time in a long while 2016 is the year where I have gone mobile with my own learning, regardless of whenever, or wherever I may well be and that’s, probably, as good as it gets as I can now take my own learning where I’d want to, or need to, and not be attached to a specific setting, computing device and what not. Just me and my own learning activities on my own space, the way it should have always been.

How about you? Have you put together your own Top 10 Tools list for Learning for 2016 yet? What are you waiting for?

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2016 – The Year I Went Mobile Only with My iPad Pro

iPad Pro - My new main computing device 😎 #mobilefirst

In a recent blog entry I referenced an article Euan Semple published a few days back under the heading ‘Being at work’, which I can strongly recommend re-reading through it, if you haven’t just yet. There were a number of different themes that caught my attention back then and I thought that, perhaps, for today’s article, I’d focus on one of them I didn’t mention the last time around. This one, to quote: ‘Ten years later, having experienced over that time the joy and increased effectiveness of being a freelancer in charge of my own productivity, […]’, although I would have added as well the following tidbit: ‘and computing environment’. Because that’s what freelancers do, right? Always looking for that final productivity hack within their own computing environment that may well take one’s own effectiveness into the next level. Well, I think I may have found my own: The iPad Pro.

According to coconutBattery, my MacBook Air is 1733 days old, even thought it’s still in perfect working order, except for a couple of keyboard keys I can no longer read, as they are too worn out, and a battery half way through its capacity. It still works. Perfectly. It’s been my old time favourite computing device to get work done, even when I was a salaried employee at IBM. What I love the most about this machine is the fact that despite all of the heavy computing and business traveling I have done with it over the years, it still works flawlessly. And I hope it continues to be like that for many moons to come (knocking on wood, as I write these few words down…). 

However, a few months back I came to terms with the fact I might need to update my own computing environment for when the MacBook Air is no longer there. And, at the time, I had to question whether I was ready to go mobile only or still rely on a laptop. I was really keen on confirming whether 2016 was the year of mobile or whether it was just another frustrating experience like the one I blogged about nearly 5 years ago. Mind you, for the kind of work I do, you can imagine I don’t require a very powerful machine. So perhaps I was ready to make the jump into #mobilefirst.

Indeed, I was and still am! Back in February this year I decided to jump the shark and purchased an iPad Pro, the 12.9-inch one, with the whole intention of making it my main computing environment for my daily work and take it for a spin to see how things would work out eventually. I could always back out of it and carry on with my MacBook Air till it would break apart and get another laptop, but so far, I can tell you all I am loving it! Next to my iPhone 6S Plus, it’s perhaps the best purchase I have ever done. 

I just didn’t buy the iPad Pro alone, by the way. From my user experience with other iPad models in the recent past, I knew I’d need to buy the Smart Keyboard, so I did purchase one. And I also quite fancied getting my hands on the Apple Pencil to see how much creative I could get writing again on a screen. So I got one, too! And, eventually, my new computing environment, that you can see on the above snap shot, was born.

Back in 2011 I put together a blog post under the title ‘My Top 10 Reasons Why I Bought an iPad 2’ and, while re-reading through it, I found it rather amazing to see how little my own needs and wants for a computing device have changed over the course of the years. Yes, iPads have gotten incredibly better in terms of specs and what not, but, if you look into those reasons I shared back then, they were down more to my own behaviours, habits and work practices than anything else. And in 5 years, very few different things have changed, apparently, even though I have moved from being a salaried employee at a large IT corporation like IBM to becoming my own CIO looking after my own productivity and computing environments. 

Now, I am not going to go through all of the various different reasons again explaining how the iPad Pro fairs in comparison with the iPad 2, more than anything else, because, like I said, those very same reasons would still stand, and very accurately, for the iPad Pro itself as well. Instead, I will just list them all over here and go ahead and add another 5 more reasons as to why I truly heart such brilliant mobile computing device. So, the initial round of reasons were as follows: Speed, Quality, Design, Cameras, Games, Friends, Price, Early Adopter, The Apps, Mobility. Go ahead and read through the blog post itself from back then for a short explanation for each reason, if you’d want to read some more about them. For now, let’s go and dive into the 5 new reasons…

  • The Speakers: The audio on the iPad Pro is just simply stunning! I spend a good chunk of the day watching or listening to rich media, whether it’s podcasts, vodcasts, presentations, speeches, talks, interviews, news items, TV & films, etc. etc. you name it, and the quality of the sound coming out from my iPad Pro is like no other! Even my good old MacBook Air can’t even come close to such level of quality when I am doing, for instance, video / audio conferencing with tools like Skype. And if you are into listening to music, while you work, because, you know, amongst several other things, it helps you concentrate better and work more effectively, using Spotify on the iPad Pro is just a treat to the ears! 
  • The Screen: I never thought I would be saying, or writing, this, but size does matter and in a computing device, no matter what they tell you, the bigger, the better. I realised about that when I went from the iPhone 5S into the iPhone 6S Plus and have never walked back ever since. The rest are just toys! That’s why I went for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch versus the 9.7-inch. It just makes you feel like you are working with a laptop (if you have a keyboard with it, of course), which means it’s a whole lot easier adjusting your own computing habits to the iPad even when you know it’s not a laptop anymore. It would not be the first time, nor the second, or even the third time that when I am, occasionally, still using the MacBook Air, without realising, at a certain given point in time, I start touching the screen and go silly when I realised it doesn’t do anything. Of course, it doesn’t, it’s a laptop! Grrr See? That’s how bad the iPad Pro has already shifted my own habits using computers. Still, having such a large screen makes me feel I’m cheating a little bit thinking I’m not using a tablet, but my own laptop, after all heh
  • The Apps: Oh, yes, it’s always been about the Apps. And now that I have got a bigger screen, the apps are all that matters. With the recently introduced multitasking capabilities, ‘Split View’ is a must-have. It makes all the difference in terms of how you interact and get the most out of your iPad Pro. It’s by far, one of my all time favourite capabilities from iOS. And if you have used it yourself, you will know, exactly, what I mean. Either way, it’s all about the Apps. It’s the main reason why I keep using iOS over the last few years and why I haven’t moved elsewhere. Remember when I used to write ‘Top 5 iPad Apps of the Week – Week #N’? Well, I am hoping to bring that back, sharing with everyone what are some of my preferred and favourite iOS Apps I use on a regular basis on my iPad, specially, nowadays with the emphasis of being a freelancer and having defined already, pretty much, my own computing environment with them all in a single page or two. So, stay tuned for more blog posts to come along where I’ll write down short reviews of those Apps and why I use them on both my iPad Pro and my iPhone. 
  • The Smart Keyboard: Yes, it’s a keyboard. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s a keyboard for the iPad Pro, but, boy, do I enjoy writing along with that keyboard?!?! I love the touch and feel, I love the speed my fingers pick up as I type along coming pretty close to what I can do on my MacBook Air. I love how I can dispose of the keyboard as I may see fit and get another one. That’s just portability taken to the extreme and I quite like it! It’s as flexible as it can get! Oh, and it’s seamless. Hit a keystroke and off you go! Ideal for when you are on the road, traveling, and need to jot down something quick while your phone just run out of battery. But, again, what I enjoy the most about it is the touch and feel of the keys making it sound much more natural, less mechanical, or metallic, than the typical laptop keyboard. It’s as if you are typing on the skin! Unreal!
  • The Apple Pencil: Finally, there is the Apple Pencil. Now, I was very skeptical about this gadget initially, because I wasn’t totally convinced it was something I’d make extensive use of. After all, I’m not a designer, I can’t draw, nor paint, properly, and all along I much prefer to do my note taking through Apps rather than writing. It’s how they stuck in my memory. But, at one point, I thought, why not? Buy it and take it for a spin and see how it would work, if at all. Well, so far, I’m enjoying it! Perhaps not for the main use cases most people are thinking about (drawing, sketching, designing, etc.), but so far it’s become an extended part of my hand, just like a regular pencil, or pen, for when I am browsing Web sites, checking different media tools (for text, photos, audio, video, etc), typing along, etc. etc. It just feels almost natural. One of my favourite use cases for it at the moment, for instance, is for mindmapping. And another one for sketching, doodling and learning how to draw, specially, after watching this stunning video clip on the topic (It claims everyone, yes, everyone, including you!, can draw no matter what). The end result is that I never thought I’d be making use of the Apple Pencil and now I just can’t go anywhere without it and my iPad Pro. 

Now, I realise this may well be a too simplistic blog post on its own to confirm whether you may be enticed to purchase an iPad Pro yourself, or not, but I am seeing this article as an opportunity to put together a series of entries around how I make the most out of my own computing environment, as a freelancer and digital nomad, to perhaps suggest and share further along with you all how it works for me and to demonstrate whether going mobile only with both my iPad Pro and iPhone does eventually make me more effective in the work I do than when I was using a computer / a laptop. So if you’d have any burning questions out there that you would want me to answer sooner rather than later, or share my feedback on, drop me a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I possibly can, while I get to work on the different blog posts from this series as time goes by.

Finally, one question to open up the floor, if you wouldn’t have to do tons of heavy computing tasks for your day to day job, that would require you to use a powerful desktop or laptop, would you move into mobile only and rely on an iPad Pro? If so, if you have already done it, what’s been your user experience so far? Is 2016, at long last, the year of mobile computing

Something, 12.9-inch large, tells me it may well be … What do you think?

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

Gran Canaria - Guayadeque in the winter

One of the biggest challenges I have been facing in the last couple of weeks, upon resuming my blogging mojo, while reducing my own online presence in different media tools, has been re-building my own blogroll. Remember them? They were a really cool way to help you build community, through wonderful interactions and connections via comments, trackbacks, pingbacks and what not, around the stuff you were truly passionate about and loved writing on and on and on. They were, and still are!, one of the core founding elements of the so-called Web 2.0 spirit that, 22 years later, is still very much alive and kicking. Or so I thought, because trying to update my own blogroll has been quite a daunting task, not necessarily because of the quantity, but more because of the lack of quality, or, better said, lack of critical thinking, if I may say that. Whatever happened to it? Where did we leave it behind?

While going through the different blogs I was subscribed to over the course of last few years, trying to see which ones were still being updated on a more or less regular basis, I found out how plenty of them no longer were having recent, fresh content (say, in the last 6 months or so). And that was pretty ok, because upon checking their different Twitter accounts I was finding out that plenty of those bloggers have moved their blogging into someone else’s homes (Facebook, LinkedIn’s Pulse, Medium, etc. etc.). Too bad I can no longer use RSS news feeds to subscribe to them. You know, ‘RSS still works. It’s still free. It’s still unfiltered, uncensored and spam-free‘.

What was most worrying though was how plenty of those bloggers who are still blogging away in their own blogs weren’t, in most cases, sharing some of their own original thoughts, ideas or experiences about what was motivating them to write and reflect on in the first place. Instead, they were just regurgitating the content shared across from a small group of social media gurus, always the very same group, ironically enough!, hoping those blog posts would trigger, in the shortest time possible, some kind of ‘engagement’. Yikes! Why?

Busyness just trumped blogging’, was my first initial reaction thinking that, when knowledge (Web) workers are just too frantically busy, they stop thinking, reflecting or musing about different topics and, eventually, stop focusing on building up on what’s still considered one of the most paramount skills from any good blogger out there: critical thinking. Instead, we just ‘rant about politics and share cat pictures‘.

Mark Schaefer couldn’t have said it better as well on a recent article he published on this very same topic around critical thinking. To quote him: 

Although we have the infinite opportunity to learn and consider opposing views, the level of critical thinking may be no better today than the people who had access to no information in the 1800s. We’re too busy to think, too busy to dig for truth.

Ouch! That seriously hurts, but he’s got a really great point with that reflection, because, that’s exactly what we have been doing in the last 3 to 5 years with all of these so-called social tools. Somehow, somewhere down the line we all, collectively, decided to become the media. Actually, better said, we decided to become the mindless media commenting and regurgitating the very good old same discourse from that handful of social media gurus and celebrities, except that, in the process, we were determined to include tons of bullying, trolling, hate speech and, eventually, tons of hatred, specially, when we are confronted with opposing views to our comfort zone of thought. It’s just like we can no longer dissent with people in a healthy, constructive and critical thinking driven manner without being insulted in the process a few times here and there. And insulted doesn’t refer to just using foul language, but also to simple things just like ‘Oh, sorry, you are totally wrong’ or way off base just because you think completely different than what me and my social media gurus and celebrities think! Oh my my! 

I guess it must be rather tiring, and exhausting!, for those social media gurus to hear, or read, their own regurgitated thoughts by the thousands and thousands of times from their own minions, but I guess it’s something they have already gotten used to it, as they have already reached celebrity status and, of course, they need a mindless, vilified audience, more than anything else, because it’s easier to manage, even if by merely ignoring the whole thing, while driving traffic to their own personas. Good or bad, traffic volume still is where the game is at, apparently and sadly.

Mark himself highlights what may well be the problem when he writes: ‘We have more information at our fingertips than at any other time in history and the technology may be depressing our ability to think, process, and think critically’. Well, maybe. But somehow I keep thinking it may well not be technology per se the one to blame, but, once more, ourselves. We’ve always been very good at blaming the tools when they help us demonstrate, time and time again, our very own dysfunctional behaviours, more than anything, because, once we do that, we feel we no longer need to do anything else. You know, it’s the tools that don’t work, not us! It’s always the tools. Well, no, it’s not the tools to be blamed, but our very own behaviours, I am afraid.

We have stopped to think, process and think critically, as Mark mentions, because we are just too busy to build on our own thoughts and experiences and it’s much easier to build on everyone else’s, specially, when they are in our dear and beloved echo chamber (Retweets or reshares anyone?), and if it comes with a certain taint of celebrity status all the better. We no longer think, we just become amplifiers, for good or bad, although in most cases it’s for bad, because we seem to rejoice ourselves from that morbid sense of enjoying more of the bad news than the good news

But fear not, there is hope out there for us all to revert course, before it’s just too late. Actually, more than hope, there’s plenty of help going from excellent resources and recommended reads like ‘Net Smart’ by Howard Rheingold (I can strongly recommend as well this video clip on Crap Detection 101 (25 minutes long)) or the wonderful online course from Harold Jarche about #PKMastery. We just need to become, once more, the critical thinkers we once were, at least, at our very own online home(s), i.e. our own blog(s), more than anything else because we need to start rebuilding on that very much needed skill of questioning everything.

My good friend, Anne Marie McEwan, once wrote that critical thinking is a ‘complex process of deliberation, which involves a wide range of skills and attitudes’ along with ‘checking for bias’, but she also ventured to state what critical thinking is all about and I just thought I’d take the liberty of adding a teaser here highlighting what she then gets to develop in more detail in this rather insightful and thought provoking article about acquiring and mastering such rather helpful and very much needed skill. Critical Thinking is: 

  • ‘A systematic approach to scoping and identifying the interacting elements of a strategic problem
  • Assessing risks in the process
  • Challenging assumptions (our own and those of other people)
  • Evaluating strategic options from among alternatives
  • Identifying and defending selection criteria
  • Reflecting on effects of paradoxes, constraints and incomplete knowledge
  • Using evidence to draw valid and justifiable conclusions in making a case for action’

So why am I writing about all of this, you may be wondering, right? Well, more than anything else as a reminder to myself to resist the urge of amplifying and, instead, fight the good fight of never conforming, of questioning everything, or understanding how critical both empathy and caring are when applying your very own critical thinking skills about what happens around you, whether at work or in your personal life and that, if anything, we always have a choice in terms of what kind of online digital footprint we would want to establish, treasure, cultivate and nurture over the course of time. Either regurgitating someone else’s thoughts and ideas that you may, or may not agree with, or, through sensemaking, build your own at your own home turf. The home you never left.

Our choice.

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