Stuff that works

by Jay Cross on November 19, 2006

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that I think we have to turn our attention from building courses to assembling learning ecologies. Here are a few informal learning practices that might seem trivial until you weigh how they can improve the entire learnscape.

Knowledge capture. A fellow whose card I have misplaced approached me at Learning 2006 to relate how he helps his organization retain useful knowledge. He’s a senior guy and clearly the sort who is willing to share what he has learned freely. People ask him questions all the time. When he gets the same question for the third time, he records the answer in a blog. From then on, he simply points new inquirers to the blog entry. Answering only questions that come up keep the blog free of the sort of claptrap that is a hallmark of top-down FAQs.

Learning a new application. Yesterday I downloaded a thirty-day trial of Pamela. No, no, not that Pamela. I mean Pamela, the “personal digital assistant for Skype.” George Siemens and I recorded a podcast from Skype that afternoon. Neat application, drop-dead simple to use. Last night I received an email from Pamela titled Tips and Tricks #1. It was the first of five emails that will explain the nuances of using the application. This is brilliant: lessons for those who already understand the basics, following the initial period when my main focus was to get Pamela running. The features they described moved Pamela from nice-to-have to must-have; I gave them $25, a steal at the price. When you register for most software, you receive spam and upgrade notices; they miss the point that those who get the most out of their products are their best repeat buyers.

Swiss Army Knives. Too many software suites aim to provide ever feature they can, a holdover from the days when naive purchasers made decisions about which LMS or word processor to buy by checking off boxes on a features list. Over-stuffed software is like a Swiss Army Knife. They do a lot of things but do none of them as well as a dedicated tool. It’s handy to have a Phillips screwdriver and a corkscrew in your pocket; you never know when you’ll be in need. However, if I’ve got to drive a dozen Phillips-head screws or uncork several bottles of wine, I’ll use a screwdriver or a real corkscrew. Most of the time, single-purpose tools and software work better than toolkits-on-a-knife or bloatware.

Tags. Assuming you are organized, you can find your tools in your toolbox. Locating your digital goods in the vast realm of the internet is more problematic. That’s where tags come in. When you create a tag for a website, a blog post, a photograph, a podcast, or any other file on the web, you can retrieve everything with that tag.

Tagging lets you call up such things as:

my photos of Israel

interesting photos of Israel

recent photos of Israel

photos of the Western Wall

Jerusalem Post

Maps of War

All items tagged Israel on del.icio.us

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