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The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for the ‘online learning’ Category

Using Virtual Meetings to Support and Enrich Collaboration

Monday, November 1st, 2010

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On his e-learning focused blog, Christopher Pappas just provided a quick, meaty overview of several of the best free virtual meeting, web conferencing, and online meeting and online learning tools. I hope you’ll take a look at it today.

For several years, Christopher and I have been learning and from each other – across the globe. He’s in Greece and I’m in southern Oregon. And we’ve both been participating in online communities focused on e-learning. We haven’t met in person yet, but I look forward to getting a chance to shake Christopher’s physical hand one day soon and thank him for this post and all the rest of the pointers he’s shared with me and other colleagues focused on helping people work and learn from each other at a distance.

People have asked me several times to make a post like this and I’ve simply been too busy to take the time, so I’m grateful to able to point you to Christopher’s blog.

INTERMITTENT AND PERSISTENT COLLABORATION IS A WAY OF BEING
I particularly appreciate this vid he found from the folks at Yugma because it articulates a crucial distinction between intermittent and persistent collaboration.

I love the way this vid highlights the magic of using virtual meetings, web conferences, and online learning tools to enable different people to think about and work on the same thing in different ways – in real-time. Because that’s what’s important: the people working and learning together using whatever tools they find easiest to use when they’re not co-located.

I’ve found Yugma to be a practical tool for what the Yugma team calls “fluid collaboration.” So are all the other apps Christopher highlighted in his post. They all provide simple, practical, browser-based platforms for people to work together – both intermittently and persistently.  There are a couple of dozen other tools that work well, too.

But the issue isn’t really so much about finding the right TOOLS to use. The trick is understanding how to work with others fluidly and collaboratively. The real challenge isn’t so much how to technically access an online whiteboard or do a screen share. It’s learning to think about work and learning as continuous processes of creating and nourishing a sense of shared meaning – and purpose – with others.

MY PERSONAL PROCESS
Four years ago, I relocated from Austin, TX, a busy major metropolitan area, to a sweet town of 20,000 in rural southern Oregon.  Since I did this, I’ve been using all kinds of free virtual meeting tools on a daily basis to work with old and new clients across the country and continents.

After my move, clients and colleagues (many of whom have since become clients) started telling and showing me that they didn’t understand HOW I thought about work and learning as processes of persistent collaboration.

They didn’t understand how I chunked the work into manageable pieces we could accomplish in 30-90 minutes. They didn’t understand how I set up the tools to make it easy for us to interact in real-time. And they didn’t understand how I made decisions – on the fly – that made it easy for BOTH of us to contribute to the work product at the same time. (Especially useful when people have different ways of thinking and looking at what they need to do together.)

So, I started coaching my clients and friends and colleagues…and now, four years later, I’m “The Virtual Meeting Coach” as well as a health and wellness coach who uses virtual meetings to support my clients’ deliberately reorienting their lives around their natural strengths.

Over the last four years, I’ve field-tested all kinds of helping strategies, from one-on-one coaching to small group meetings. At this point, I’ve discovered that the one-on-one coaching is the fastest and easiest way for people to learn. But it’s also the most expensive. Some people need to speed things up and are ready to go for it, one-on-one. Others can’t focus all their energy on new skills because they’ve got a lot to attend to just to keep their revenue streams flowing. I can help in either situation.

To address the needs of people who can’t do one-on-one work right now, this year I developed what I call the Madhatters’ Tea Party Group Coaching Programs. They provide a 10-week fun, high-energy, and emotionally supportive practice environment where small groups of people can quickly learn “fluid collaboration” processes by doing them weekly – with me and their friends, fans and followers.

Participants report the outcomes are greater ease and a sense of excitement and facility at creating both intermittent meetings and persistent collaborative practices that nourish – and sustain – a sense of shared meaning and purpose with the people who are most important to them. Even when they’re not able to be physically co-located.

If you’re not sure which tools you’d like to get started with, I hope you’ll take a look at this post in Christopher’s blog.

When you’re ready for some one-on-one coaching, or to build your skills by practicing in a small group – using whichever FREE tools you like the most – I hope you’ll give me a call. I use all of the tools Christopher highlighted in his post and many others. I offer a FREE initial 30-minute consultation and I’d love to hear more about your situation.

As “The Virtual Meeting Coach,” I’m committed to helping smart people learn to use the free tools in ways – and at a price – that’s affordable and sustainable for everyone as well as our fragile Earth.

This is the future we’ve been waiting for, friends. The tools are FREE and they’re available NOW. If you’ve still got a lot more to share with others – and you can’t afford either the time or the money it takes to fly and drive all over the place all the time to share it – I’d love to help you get started collaborating fluidly with the people who are most important to you – in the areas that you’ve got crucial gifts to contribute. We need your gifts. Now.

Human flourishing is not a mechanical process. It is an organic process.

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Everything Sir Ken says in this TED Talk, from February 2010, is just as true about adult learning as it is about our children’s education. And my commitment to this perspective about “informal” learning is central to the program design for the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching programs.

If we are to resurrect our local, national and global economies, we’re going to have to resurrect our spirits first. Starting with the spirits of adults! And the resurrection of spirits depends on organic processes, not pre-packaged “scalable solutions.”

Early in the talk, Sir Ken says, “Changing education is about challenging what we take for granted, challenging the tyranny of common sense…. And it’s very hard to know what you take for granted – because you take it for granted…”

Then, delightful, dry Britt that he is, Robinson quotes Lincoln:

‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with it. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.’ – Abraham Lincoln

Robinson went on to say so many funny and profound things. I captured just a few in text as I listened:

” The idea we are enthralled to in education – the idea that life or learning is or should be linear – is simply false. Every TED speaker has, either implicitly or explicitly, told us this for the last five years!

“Life is organic. We create our lives organically in response to things that happen to us. This is what is true. Yet, we have built our educational systems on a fast-food model where everything is standardized. And that model – as Jamie Olivers’ Food Revolution has been telling us – is depleting our spirits as badly as it is impoverishing our bodies.

“We have to change metaphors – from a manufacturing model based on linearity, and conformity, and batching people – to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We simply have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process.

“We cannot predict learning outcomes. All we can do – like a farmer does – is create the conditions under which human beings can begin to flourish.

“So when we look at transforming education, it’s a process of customizing and personalizing services for people you are actually teaching. Doing this is the key to the future.

“The reformation of education isn’t about ‘scaling a new solution.’ It’s about creating a new movement in education where people create their own solutions with external support based on a personalized curriculum.”

Amen, Sir Ken Robinson!! Amen!! Bravo, bravo, bravo!!

And bravo to the Spring, 2010, cohort of Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers! Your willingness to use virtual meeting rooms, video conferencing, Web 2.0 tools and innovative teleconferencing tools to learn together – online, organically, and grounded in your precious and personal passions and dreams – makes my life worth living. As a coach, as a trainer, as a consultant.

As a “teacher.”

I would like nothing better than to be able to use that word, “teacher,” again without thinking of a hapless supervisor on some horrid assembly line like the one Chaplain depicted so masterfully in “Modern Times” – now close to 80 years ago… Can’t we please wake up from the industrial /mechanical trance? The alarm’s ringing loud in the Gulf of Mexico!

Making the Transition from Teleseminars and Telephone Coaching to Fully Interactive Multimedia Virtual Meetings

Friday, May 21st, 2010

virtual meeting coach dream

On a dark winter evening back in January, a group of Rogue Valley women business owners gathered in the living room of a “Prosperity Web” member’s home to hear “The Virtual Meeting Coach” talk about virtual meetings.

As I finished my presentation, gathered up my notes, and returned to my seat, I glanced around the room, taking in the looks on people’s faces. They were at once excited and wistful. My presentation had told and shown them things about virtual meetings that these women had never considered. At least not in relation to their small businesses and business processes.

I could see one here, one there, reflecting on the possibilities – and the realities – of time and financial commitments they would need to make to take advantage of my coaching services. And I could see that despite their considerable interest, most of them thought the time and money involved were going to be too big a stretch this year. Or longer.

Like so many small business people across the nation still hanging on by our fingernails during this economic downturn, these women had been nixing every “non-essential” expenditure for at least the last 18 months. And transitioning even one service product from face-to-face delivery to a virtual meeting format wasn’t on their list of “things-I-have-to-do-now.”

My eyes fell on Carolyn Shaffer, an experienced hypnotherapist, coach, and author of a terrific book on community building I had read a decade before when I was living in Austin, Texas. I could see that Carolyn was really pondering the possibilities of expanding her reach beyond our local market. But I could also see her wistfully beginning to dismiss any thoughts that she could do more than just buy a copy of “The Coach’s Short List.” She didn’t think she could afford the time or money for my high-end coaching program.

As I took in the look on Carolyn’s face, a voice in my head said, quite clearly, “Meri, come on! There’s got to be a faster, less expensive way to help Carolyn – and other women like her – take advantage of virtual meetings. They can’t afford what you’re offering and they need help now – not two or three years from now.”

So, I went home that evening, continued ruminating on what I’d heard in the privacy of my mind, and fell asleep wishing I could be of better service to Carolyn and other women business owners. When I woke the next morning, I bolted upright in the bed, grabbed paper and pen, and started scribbling down what I’d seen in a dream. In my sleep, I had completely redesigned my high-end coaching program! As I began writing and drawing little diagrams before I forgot them, I heard the same voice from the night before say, “Now, that’s more like it! Get this down on paper. And make it so – now!”

It’s important to say that I don’t often hear voices ;^). I’m just a regular middle-aged woman who’s always been a little wacky, but I’m not someone who hears a lot of voices. So, the voice was a little distracting. But not enough to keep me from continuing to capture the plan… and…

Long story short, the next thing you know, The Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Programs took shape and 5 Madhatters signed up and brought their friends, fans, and followers into the Virtual Meeting Camp and… Today’s post here in The Virtual Meeting Coach Blog features a debriefing conversation after last Monday’s Virtual Tea Party. Participants are Tom Carroll, of Evolutionary Learning, me, and Carolyn Shaffer, hypnotherapist, author, coach, teleseminar leader and blogger at The WhyWorryGuide.

It’s close to the end of May, the first cohort is 9 weeks into the Madhatters Group Coaching Programs, and Carolyn is deep into the process of transitioning some of her coaching services from telephone and teleseminar work into fully interactive multimedia virtual meetings!

Please take a listen as we discuss some of the challenges and successes Carolyn encountered this week as she hosted her Virtual Tea Party.

I’m so proud of Carolyn I can hardly stand it! I’m also really pleased with the way the Madhatters Group Coaching Programs are working for the Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined the speed of the multi-level learning taking place in the parties or the kinds of synergies and synchronicities that are showing up throughout the sister programs.

Except wait a minute! That’s not true! It’s all part of a wild dream… that’s actually coming true…

Learning to Use Virtual Meeting Tools is Not For the Faint of Heart

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Back in the 6th century BC, Lao-Tzu said:

“Failure is the foundation of success. Success is the lurking place of failure.”

So, during this fifth month of the year 2010, I’ve been wondering if this means that sometimes the fastest route to success is right through failure. What do you think?

For the last 10 days, I’ve been participating in a collegial exchange at LinkedIn in a learning, education and training group. One member of the group raised the question,”What do you think the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, meant when he said, ‘Failure is the foundation of success…success is the lurking place of failure?’

Folks from around the globe have been weighing in on this question from a many perspectives. While I’m not any kind of authoritative interpreter of Lao-Tzu, I found myself provoked by the quotation and the question, too. I shared that it seems to me that…

“…Live, experiential learning environments provide real-world feedback. And this always includes feedback about failure. If we already knew how to do something, we’d already be doing it, right? I find experiential learn-by-doing environments with small-group coaching to be the fastest route to success. And it goes right through failure…”

I went on to describe a bit about the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Programs as high-fun, low-pressure learning environments in which small groups of experienced trainers, coaches and consultants are transitioning from delivering high-value services in face-to-face meetings to delivering services in the very different environment of virtual meetings.

I shared with the group that I have deliberately designed the Madhatters Group Coaching Programs so that all participants – both Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers – have a chance to learn from their personal successes and failures as well as others’.

This means there’s not a lot of one-on-one handholding or upfront explanation going on in the Madhatters Virtual Tea Parties. There is quite a bit of communication through email and in two private online learning spaces – one for the Madhatters and one for the Virtual Tea Partiers. But, in the end, both coaching programs are based on two presumptions:

1)  Adults have enrolled because they want to learn more about using free or very low-cost virtual meeting tools in a safe, laughter-filled learning space and
2)  Everyone will be learning by doing.

IS A VIRTUAL MEETING COACH A DRIVERS’ ED TEACHER, A DIRECTOR, OR BOTH?
This means both the Madhatter presenters and their friends, followers and fans – the Virtual Tea Partiers – receive weekly guidance and coaching. But the Monday afternoon Virtual Tea Parties are always more like zany “on-the-job training” sessions than like “recitals.”

I’m calling the sessions Madhatters Tea Parties because so many of our expectations for how human beings can and should behave when we’re “meeting” are turned upside down, inside out, and backwards. That’s just the truth of the matter in virtual meetings, isn’t it?

Each week everyone has an opportunity to learn by doing. There have, so far, been some delightful displays of genius! There have also been some gnarly difficulties getting the free online tools to work as promised and some problems with participants’ computer and phone equipment. Sometimes things happen as planned, sometimes they don’t. Either way, there’s a ton of learning going on – via both successes and failures. Sometimes there’s frustration, but no one’s getting hurt.

A current Madhatter participant, Cynthia Winton-Henry, one of the co-founders of Interplay, calls me her “Driver’s Ed Teacher.” Another Hatter calls me her “Director.” She says I’m eliciting new kinds of creativity and performance from her well-honed talents – stuff she didn’t know she had available. From my side of the game, both “driver’s ed teacher” and “director” seem like pretty useful metaphors for the two ends of the spectrum we’re developing. On the one hand, none of the Hatters has run a truly interactive virtual meeting before and they all need to master the connectivity tools. On the other, every one of them is already a proven trainer, coach and/or consultant who knows her stuff inside out and upside down and only needs help repackaging her “magic” for delivery at a distance.

NEW CHOICES CAN BE OVERWHELMING
Using sound and text and visual images, simultaneously with other people – at a distance – can be a bit overwhelming for people using web meeting tools for the first time. It can be a big surprise to be not only permitted – but expected – to do more than sit passively and observe others’ slideshows or software demos.

Faced with the need to choose where to put their attention, some participants – Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers, alike – have frozen or gotten really frustrated. Do I track the continuous flow in the public text chat, start up a private text chat with someone I know, draw or write on the whiteboard or the presenters’ slides, or just use the telephone bridge to speak? HELP! When what you’re wanting to do is be as fully present as you can with others, that’s a lot to figure out at once!

Other participants – those who’ve already acquired a taste for and some experience with multi-media – have found themselves so stimulated and excited by all the channels available to connect that they’ve been using all the channels at once! Which makes a lot of noise – both visual and auditory.

And from my perspective, all of this is just perfect! Learning by doing – in a deliberately managed and intentionally playful learning space – allows adults at different skill levels to learn what they need at their own pace.

FRESH, HOT, ADVICE FROM THE FIELD
This week, I’ve asked Susan Kramer-Pope, our fourth Madhatter hostess, to share her best advice about leading your first virtual meeting, based on the tricky experience we had together Monday in DimDim.

Here’s Susan sharing with me and Tom Carroll, from EvolutionaryLearning.com, who’s been our background photographer and my valued thinking partner throughout this Virtual Meeting Camp.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Now that you’ve heard from Susan, will you share your best advice for her – and other experienced trainers, coaches, and consultants – as they make their journey towards virtual meeting mastery? If you’ll do this, I promise I’ll compile all your responses and publish them here on the blog!

The Challenge of Balancing Different Channels and Ways of Connecting Using Web 2.0 Collaborative Tools and Live, Interactive Virtual Meetings

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

After this week’s Madhatters Tea Party, Julie Lockhart, Tom Carroll and I debriefed in the live video chat above.

Because I’m traveling today, I have less time that I wish I could take to write up a bit of the context. That said, I want to make this conversation available to the 6-Week Virtual Meeting Campers and anyone else listening in, so I’m just posting it today with a brief intro.

Julie is an experienced classroom teacher and meeting facilitator with twenty plus years in a traditional higher education setting. Her first foray into hosting her own “outside the academy,” live, fully interactive, online meeting illuminated a host of issues for her. Tom and I were both struck with how well she managed the complexities of the tools and the ways she referred and deferred to her team around issues of expertise. It’s hard to jump from one cultural context to another and the Web 2.o tools not only allow us to share the stage with each other – they just about demand that we do so. And this is a whole new arena for people who’ve had academic enculturation about expertise and authority.

The new opportunities for 2-way communication and interdependence that collaborative writing/editing tools offer us, for instance, can be truly paradigm-shifting. The primary value we have to offer others is no longer fixed to us knowing something that others don’t…and transferring it to them. Exchanges of value are potentially complex, depending not just on providing others with new concepts or ideas, but on our skillful hosting of contexts where safe, trusting, creative dialogue and relationships occur on a regular basis.

Welcome to the 21st Century! It’s a wild and crazy world out there… What do you think?

Bringing the Whole Body/Mind into Virtual Meeting Rooms – The Madhatters Tea Party – Facilitator Review #2

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The Madhatters Virtual Tea Party #2, was another wild ride for the Madhatters and their friends, fans, and followers. It was hosted by the inimitable Gretchen Wegner – Interplay leader, academic coach, blogger, and inventor of MuseCubes.

I admire Gretchen’s commitment to bringing the whole body/mind into even the most intellectual of human pursuits – like writing and other academic pursuits.

I also admire her commitment to keeping play at the front of the mind.

It’s been my personal experience that these two commitments yield work experiences that provide human beings with deep satisfaction – not just paychecks. And, when work enables human beings both to express the skills we have mastered and to experience our fathomless human creativity, then it becomes the highest expression of our humanity. While also producing something of value.

Gretchen’s Virtual Tea Party gave participants an opportunity to see, hear, and begin to imagine a whole new range of possibilities for using live, real-time virtual meeting rooms to faciliate whole body/mind interaction – at a distance. It was a fabulous first-time demonstration of Gretchen’s potential for adding authentic telepresence to her skill pack.

Here’s a recording of a video chat that Gretchen, Tom Carroll of EvolutionaryLearning.com, and I had Thursday, April 29th, as we debriefed our experiences and talked through some of the background issues Gretchen found herself dealing with during the party. We talked for a little over 28 minutes. As I did last week, I’m posting the recording here in the hope that it provides some additional value to participants in the 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp - and to anyone else who’s lurking in the shadows, peeking through our Virtual Tea Party windows, listening for tips and tricks you can use to improve your virtual meetings.

As always, I welcome your comments below, anytime you’d like to contribute to this conversation…

The Language and Culture of Virtual Meetings – The Madhatters Tea Party Launch

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Opening day of the Madhatters Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp went just about as I’d imagined it would. Wild. Crazy. Full of surprises. And a little on the chaotic side for the first 15-20 minutes.

How else would you expect things to go with a gang of mostly inexperienced virtual meeters, coming from a dozen different frames of reference, with wide-ranging computer literacy, using both PC and Macintosh computers, and connecting through a free teleconferencing line and a full-featured multi-media virtual meeting room at the same time? And did I say most of them were middle-aged women?

As the Madhatter of Madhatters, I was utterly delighted by the whole event! It was the quintessential Virtual Madhatters Tea Party!

When it was over, participants’ feedback reflected various levels of cognitive overload … and excitement …and curiosity …and a desire for more!

I had a debriefing conversation about the first Madhatters Tea Party today with my colleague, friend, and former client, Tom Carroll, founder of EvolutionaryLearning.com.

Tom’s lifetime of research mapping human excellence and designing strategies to rapidly transfer that excellence from one human to another (and another and another…) has inspired me since we met a decade ago in Austin, Texas. When I first met Tom, he was a Senior Performance Consultant at International SEMATECH where he and his colleague, Mike Bown, helped semiconductor engineering and wafer fabrication teams make the most of their full human capacities in a high pressure, multi-company, multi-cultural consortium whose mission was to ensure that the US get ahead – and stay ahead – of the rest of the world in the development of semiconductor technologies.

These days, Tom has moved into his own consulting practice where he continues to research and test ways to help human beings perform better, faster, and cheaper in a variety of industries where the competition is tough and stakes are high.

At my request, Tom was a participant/observer during the first Madhatters Tea Party and I’ve asked him to continue observing. I’ll be publishing a series of our “behind the scenes” debriefing conversations here on the blog to help the Madhatters and the Virtual Tea Partiers – and anyone else who’s interested – get some background context for the experience-based-learning they’re doing.

I hope you find  something useful for yourself in this dialogue and, as always, I’m interested in your thoughts and feelings. Please feel free to comment below.

This first conversation is focused on Tom’s perceptions about the Virtual Tea Party and explores some of my assumptions about the language and culture of virtual meetings. Out of my training in educational psychology and anthropology, my personal experience teaching ESL and cross-cultural communication, and my research and testing of hundreds of virtual meeting technologies over the last three years, I have come to believe that immersing people in a learning experience that is both safe and serious is the only sound way to help human beings quickly build the literacy and fluency each of us needs in order to make the most of new, online meeting tools.

In this economy, the stakes couldn’t be higher – particularly for independent business people with high-value services to sell.

I’m completely convinced that once we understand how to use them, virtual meetings can allow teachers, trainers, coaches and consultants to lower costs while providing more and better service.

Give a listen. And by all means, feel free to share what you think…

Exploring the Culture of Virtual Meetings – Using Madhatters Tea Parties!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

What the #$&($# is a Virtual Madhatters Tea Party?

Everyone knows how to behave and relate in a traditional meeting environment. We’ve been doing it all of our lives. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. We have protocols. We have Robert’s Rules of Order, for heaven’s sake.

Live, online meetings have introduced a whole new meeting culture – one that takes time to make sense of. One that takes work to become familiar with. Software developers have spent a long time planning for and investing in new, synchronous meeting technologies. They’re spending a fortune advertising them. But the truly astounding thing is how little has been done to address the deep culture change required for human beings to shift into new, online meeting environments.

It’s like a conspiracy of silence that makes no sense to me.

So, I’m a bit of a drama queen. And I’m more than a little fascinated with Web 2.0, collaborative technologies, and the promise of live, synchronous meeting tools. There’s never been much about me that anyone would call “normal.”  But when I moved from Austin up to a small town in southern Oregon, and launched into three years of research and testing of virtual meeting tools and strategies, I never expected to turn into a Madhatter. But I did.

And yesterday – just like a Madhatter – or maybe the Pied Piper – I led a cadre of experienced facilitators, trainers, coaches, and consultants right off the cliff of well-known face-to-face meeting practices into the free-fall of immersion in a live, multimedia virtual meeting. It was a wild and crazy experience! And, judging from their immediate feedback, they got out of it just what I’d hoped they would – all their pre-existing notions of how human beings “should” behave and communicate were flushed out of the dark corners of their minds and deposited on the virtual “table” for us to examine and learn from. Oh, goody! In times like this, that’s just what highly experienced professionals need to be doing, because…

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you already got.”

So, yesterday we used DimDim in a fishbowl kind of format together with a separate teleconference line at Freeconferencing.com that wasn’t as reliable as I might have wished. But I promised the participants that the program would focus entirely on the use of FREE virtual meeting tools because I truly believe – based on my own personal experience – that buying a license for a virtual meeting tool before you really understand the NEW DYNAMICS OF THE CULTURE OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS is an exercise in futility. And expensive to boot.

The best way to learn any new language – or any new culture – is to be fully immersed in it. And that’s what the Madhatters Tea Parties are doing: dunking the participants and their friends head first into a whole new culture.

Over the coming weeks, as we share Tea Time online on five Monday afternoons, the group will be opening to meeting with others in new ways – ways that we can’t meet face-to-face. They will be examining assumptions about dia-logue and collaboration strategies. And they will also be developing new professional skills – and new ways to deploy old professional skills – while we are, together, immersed in a series of new kinds of meeting environments, testing some new ways to coach and consult with others at a distance.

I’ll be blogging about what I’m noticing as we move through the Virtual Tea Parties. I hope regular and new readers will feel free to get into the conversation around this folksy kind of ethnographic inquiry I’ve gotten into. It’s a wild and crazy ride! And I’m lovin’ it!

If you want to read more about the programs – and possibly become a Madhatter yourself during the summer session, go here. I’ll be posting a new video for the 10-Week Madhatter Group Coaching Program later this week on the Virtual Meeting Startup site along with a more extensive written description about the program.

Creating Meaningful Experiences – Using Real-Time Virtual Meetings

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Madhatter's Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp

From Clark Quinn’s blog, Learnlets, December 8, 2009:

What if the learner’s experience was ‘hard fun’: challenging, but engaging, yielding a desirable experience, not just an event to be tolerated, OR what is learning experience design?

Can you imagine creating a ‘course’ that wins raving fans?  It’s about designing learning that is not only effective but seriously engaging.  I believe that this is not only doable, but doable under real world constraints.

Let me start with this bit of the wikipedia definition of experience design:

the practice of designing…with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience…, with less emphasis placed on increasing and improving functionality

That is, experience design is about creating a user experience, not just focusing on their goals, but thinking about the process as well.   And that’s, to me, what is largely ignored in creating elearning is thinking about process from the learner’s perspective. There are really two components: what we need to accomplish, and what we’d like the learner to experience.

Our first goal still has to look at the learning need, and identify an objective that we’d like learners to meet, but even that we need to rethink.  We may have constraints on delivery environment, resources, and more that we have to address as well, but that’s not the barrier.  The barrier is the mistake of focusing on knowledge-level objectives, not on meaningful skill change.  Let me be very clear: one of the real components of creating a learning experience is ensuring that we develop, and communicate, a learning objective that the learner will ‘get’ is important and meaningful to them.  And we have to take on the responsibility for making that happen.

Then, we need to design an experience that accomplishes that goal, but in a way that yields a worthwhile experience.  I’ve talked before about the emotional trajectory we might want the learner to go through.  It should start with a (potentially wry) recognition that this is needed, some initial anxiety but a cautious optimism, etc.  We want the learner to gradually develop confidence in their ability, and even some excitement about the experience and the outcome.  We’d like them to leave with no anxiety about the learning, and a sense of accomplishment.  There are a lot of components I’ve talked about along the way, but at core it’s about addressing motivation, expectations, and concerns.

Actually, we might even shoot for more: a transformative experience, where the learner leaves with an awareness of a fundamental shift in their understanding of the world, with new perspectives and attitudes to accompany their changed vocabulary and capabilities.  People look for those in many ways in their life; we should deliver.

This does not come from applying traditional instructional design to an interview with a SME (or even a Subject Matter Network, as I’m increasingly hearing and inclined to agree).  As I defined it before, learning design is the intersection of learning, information, and experience design.  It takes a broad awareness of how we learn, incorporating viewpoints behavior, cognitive, constructive, connective, and more.  It takes an awareness of how we experience: media effects on cognition and emotion, and of the dramatic arts.  And most of all, it takes creativity and vision.

However, that does not mean it can’t be developed reliably and repeatably, on a pragmatic basis.   It just means you have to approach it anew.  It take expertise, and a team with the requisite complementary skill sets, and organizational support. And commitment.  What will work will depend on the context and goals (best principles, not best practices), but I will suggest that with good content development processes, a sound design approach, and a will to achieve more than the ordinary.  This is doable on a scalable basis, but we have to be willing to take the necessary steps.  Are you ready to take your learning to the next level, and create experiences?

via blog.learnlets.com

What Does All This Have to Do With The New Group Coaching Programs at VirtualMeetingStartup.com?

Let me briefly explain. For the past three years, Clark Quinn’s thinking has been of enormous value to me while I’ve been researching and testing virtual meeting tools. I stumbled across this piece today through a pointer in Harold Jarche’s blog and I have to say that this post describes in the most eerily synchronistic way the assumptions that have been driving me as I’ve been building my new coaching programs for VirtualMeetingStartup.com.

The Madhatter’s Tea Party Group Coaching Programs are, precisely, experiential learning programs. And as I design them, I’ve been focused much more on creating quality user experiences than on increasing or improving functionality.

Why? Because the kinds of people I’m most interested in supporting are already experienced teachers, trainers, coaches, and consultants who have developed high levels of functionality. They just don’t know how to take the things they’re best at and move their interaction with others into cyberspace. They’re subject matter experts (SMEs), but that’s not what’s most precious about them. It’s their compassion, their creativity, their curiosity, and the depth of their empathy for others that make a real difference in others’ lives. Like they say these days, “information is free, experience is expensive.”

Out of my extensive research and testing experiences, it seems to me the best way for teachers, trainers, coaches, and consultants to learn to SHARE THEIR LIVING PRESENCE WITH OTHERS across space and time is to set up situations in which they just DO it. And then fail to connect. And then learn from their failure. And then do it again. And fail to connect in another way. Learn from the failure. And do it again. Etc…

And, since adults really don’t enjoy failing – especially when they’re sitting in a room all by themselves in uncomfortable chairs, staring at a monitor, wearing a headset that pulls their hair and makes their ears hurt – I’ve designed the learning experience to provide regular high-energy interaction, in real-time. And what they’re doing is learning to dump their fear, worry, embarrassment, and self-consciousness as quickly as possible.

Because of this, the Madhatter’s Group Coaching Programs focus on the Madhatters un-learning how to act like subject matter experts – especially at a distance – more than on any deliberate, staged learning about pumping their expertise through the computer into someone else’s mind.

I’m documenting every step of the process so that the design can be repeated, quite pragmatically. But I’m definitely seeing that what I’m doing is creating an experience design that I’ll be replicating, not a traditional “instructional design.”

Fascinating work for me! Hard, hard fun!

Join us, if this interests you…

I’ll be writing more about all this in the days and weeks ahead. What do you think about all this?

How Can We Use Virtual Meeting Tools to Do A Better Job of ‘Informal’ Learning Support?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

When adults need to learn something new, they either welcome training/coaching/consulting opportunities – or they shy away from them. There’s not much middle ground.

When we look at the facts about formal learning, it’s no wonder there’s a divide like this. Whether we happen to be people who enjoy it – or not – formal training, coaching and consulting just don’t seem to improve people’s real-world performance of most things. Real life situations have so many more variables in them than even the most engaging workshops or simulations. People have a hard time translating great new information into great new performance.

The training, coaching, or consulting outcomes we set are often poorly realized because once we’ve transferred our “expertise,” we and the other parties move on. We go back to the real world. This means we’re no longer shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. Then, when clients run into problem situations in the real world – and need some brief, over-the-shoulder support for skilfully applying new principles or routines we’ve suggested – we’re not around. And they fail. The sad part us that clients are often too busy to take time to learn from their failures. So, even if they’ve mastered an acronym that enables them to recite by heart the new principles, new information, or new routines we shared, their performance doesn’t change much. Rats.

Besides hanging our heads or complaining, what can we do about this?


I suggest we make more frequent use of free virtual meeting tools to support clients in “informal” learning environments.

There must be hundreds of ways we can do this! This morning, here are a half-dozen ways I can think of right off the top of my head. I bet you can come up with a half-dozen more!

1. When someone is learning to use a particular piece of software or a complex website, you can do a quick desktop share to demonstrate, specifically, how you use the program or what you find most useful about a particular website. (You could also make a quick screencast and share it asynchronously, if you can’t get together in real-time and share some back-and-forth dialogue while you’re “showing and telling.”)

2. Skip the lectures and the production of accompanying “manuals” and simply publish process “checklists.” Then offer a series of short, conversational virtual meetings to explain/expand the process steps. Be sure to allow sufficient time for the back-and-forth people need to master the sequencing of new routines. Also be sure to allow for time to talk about what’s important to them about making changes to their habits. Everyone needs to establish their own sense of the meaning and purpose – to them – for changing things.

3. Develop a regular 30-minute “mentoring” meeting and use it to troubleshoot specific documents, images, videos, or other “evidence” that a mentee doesn’t know how to respond to as effectively as s/he would like. Call this meeting “Coffee with Susan (or Mike)” and schedule it for the same time every week or two weeks so both mentor and mentee can count on enjoying a cup of coffee while they get smarter about something tricky.

4. Host regular 8-minute virtual brainstorming routines to help clients, coworkers, teammates find new ways to solve specific real-world business problems. Invite the person with the problem to take 3 minutes to describe what it is that has him/her stuck. Turn the description of the situation into a simple question and ask the person with the problem to type that question onto the whiteboard. Then take 5 minutes for everyone participating in the VM to type their ideas onto the whiteboard as quickly as they can think of them. (Or open a Google Document and use it to capture everyone’s responses.) No evaluating, no discussion. No analysis. Just use one – or more – whiteboards to capture ideas as quickly as people spit them out.

Brainstorming works best when there’s little or no cross-talk permitted. Just “popcorn” the ideas aloud and capture the words in text. When 5 minutes is up, quit. Just let the person with the problem take the offerings offline and decide later how to use them. Stop promptly after 5 minutes and let someone else take a turn. Or come back later if you’re in a hurry. Online brainstorming can be a fun and creative “break” that people look forward to if you set a ground rule that you’re going to get in, do it, and get out – without belaboring anything.

5. Create a WIKI or a project team space (using vYew or Wiggio or Basecamp) where people can share their thoughts whenever they have time (asynchronously) and also at a regularly scheduled private live virtual meeting (synchronously).

Give everyone permission to add whatever they like to the online space. Ask a team member who’s not a control freak to “manage” the space so that it doesn’t get too cluttered. (But it’s important not to worry too much about the working-studio-look, either.) Active project spaces are great for just capturing and holding documents, photos, videos and links that people are finding useful and posting them quickly where others can find and use them in their work. It can be helpful to use part of your weekly (online) team meeting to “tour” the project space together and “survey” the riches. Take 5 minutes to hear from whoever parked things in the space during the week to say a few words about what they think is so valuable about the items that they added them to the workspace. If others agree they’re finding something useful, it stays. If not, it goes. Simple housekeeping.

6. Use virtual meetings for OJT (on job training). Set up a rotating schedule of short briefings that trainees/learners can attend. Use short videos or PDF text files to display content that can and will be repeated, but use the whiteboard and text chat and VOIP tools in the virtual meeting space to briefly discuss questions and concerns that come up for trainees/learners as they watch the video and/or read the text file.

Making changes or improving performance requires adults to master new information, new principles and new routines. But learning while we’re working also requires us to create and absorb the purpose of new routines so that we can make the most effective non-routine choices when unexpected or unplanned circumstances occur.

Scheduling a deliberate series of short online meetings based on various OJT learning topics allows trainers, coaches, and consultants to support both formal and informal change processes over the whole span of time it takes people to make lasting changes.

What are some ways YOU could use virtual meetings to support adult learners, clients, and co-workers in their ongoing ‘informal’ change processes?

You don’t have to write a dissertation about it. Just popcorn your ideas out below as comments. ;-) Why not use this space to do a little ‘informal’ learning right out in public?

After all, a blog is nothing more than an asynchronous meeting of the minds. N’est-ce-pas?


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