Blogging for Learning--"Audio Blogging"

This is the last (for now) in my series of posts on using blogs for learning.

Earlier this week, Lee Kraus wrote a post on finding the time to blog. He mentioned that he has a two-hour drive every day, which leaves lots of time for thinking, but not for writing. Time is always a challenge for bloggers, but if you're in the car two hours a day, audio blogging (podcasting) might be something to consider.

A great option for this would be Gcast, which lets you record a podcast from your cell phone. You simply set up your free account and then when you're ready to record, you call a toll-free number and start blabbing into your cell (hands free, of course). You're also able to upload podcasts you've recorded from another source, but for easy, on the fly recording, the cell phone option is a good one, I think. Once you're done, it can be uploaded directly to your blog.

Some possible uses?

  • Record and share audio at meetings, conferences and workshops
  • Record and share interviews with SMEs or with speakers at conferences.
  • Create mini audio lessons that staff can download onto their computers or mp3 players and listen to at their convenience.
  • Document success stories and best practices--in their own words.
  • Have people introduce themselves for an audio employee directory.
  • Have learners create audio journal entries--maybe describe what they learned as the result of a training event or as an ongoing professional development activity.
  • Create learning channels--maybe a leadership learning channel where you create and share podcasts on leadership lessons and issues or a channel for different professions to share best practices and ideas.

Here's a quick guide to using Gcast. This guide is helpful too (PDF).

What do you think? Does podcasting have a place in the blogging for learning toolkit? How do you see something like Gcast working as a blog learning tool?


Blogging for Learning--How To's

This week we're exploring various strategies for using a blog to support personal and formal learning as part of the Work Literacy course's focus on blogging. Today we're going to talk about "how to's" or instructional blogging.

"How to" posts can serve a few purposes in terms of learning.

  • They're a great tool for assessing skill development. If you can write an effective instructional post, then you're demonstrating you have an essential understanding of the skills and tools involved in accomplishing the task or activity you're describing. On an individual level, this can be a check for your own personal learning. If you use "how to" blogging as part of instruction in a course, this allows you as a learning professional to determine if people actually understand and can apply the learning.
  • The process of developing the instructional post actually solidifies learning--it helps learners consolidate different skills and through the process of application, cement the ideas in their brains.
  • Posting a "how to" on a blog invites peer discussion and commentary. You might describe one way to handle a task, but then someone else might offer a tip on how to make some aspect more efficient or effective. The two-way conversational nature of the blog allows you to futher build upon the learning that begin with developing the "how to."
  • "How to" posts can also serve as a collective resource not only for the learners who post them, but also for others in an organization.

In developing "how to's," blogs are really a platform for publishing the information. You can develop written instructions with pictures if that makes sense. But you can also use a tool like Jing to record and post a screencast. You can also record a video demonstration or audio or a VoiceThread presentation. This is one of those areas where choice of presentation method can be a further aide to motivation and learning and blogs lend themselves to using and sharing a variety of engaging media.

Do you use "how to" posts as a tool for personal learning or to support skill development with other learners? How do you use them? What benefits and drawbacks do you see?


Web 2.0 Wednesday--Come up with a Blogging for Learning Activity

Web20wednesday300x79  For this week's Web 2.0 Wednesday activity, we're going to tie in with our ongoing series on using blogs for learning.

Your task is simple--share your favorite blogging for learning activity. You can do so in comments here or write your own blog post to share. If you blog about it, be sure to use the "web2.0wednesday" tag and then leave me a link here in comments.

Looking forward to seeing what you have to share. . .


Blogging for Learning: Blog Challenges

Lego blogger This week we're exploring various strategies for using a blog to support personal and formal learning as part of the Work Literacy course's focus on blogging.  Today we're going to discuss running a blog challenge.

What is a Blog Challenge?
In a blog challenge, several  bloggers work together on a group learning project over a period of time--a few days, a week, a month. Each day during the challenge, learning activities are posted for bloggers to engage in and then blog about. Challenge participants also visit and comment on each others blogs to provide feedback and support during the challenge. The 31-Day Comment Challenge and the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog were both examples of blog challenges.

Benefits of a Blog Challenge Format
The Challenge format has a lot of benefits as a learning project:

  • It builds a sense of group cohesiveness and connection as people work together on learning a particular topic. This is enhanced by the intensity of focusing for several days or weeks on a specific theme.
  • It allows learners to explore various aspects of a learning theme, comparing and contrasting different ideas and methods over a period of time.
  • It encourages experimentation and exploration. Each day there's a different activity for learners to try.
  • Many people love the challenge concept--it engages them in focusing intensely on a learning area and depending on how the challenge is structured, it can get their competitive juices flowing. 
  • Well-structured challenges are fun, especially if you bring prizes into the mix.


Organizing a Challenge

The first step in getting started with a challenge is to pick a topic. This is pretty wide-open territory because just about any area can lend itself to a blog challenge. However it's best to pick something that's broad enough for you to identify several different activities that are related to the theme.

Deciding on the amount of time for your challenge is another key decision. Both Challenges that I've run here have been month-long activities. Although both were very successful, I've come to believe that in most cases, 31 days is too long for this kind of thing. I'd suggest at most 2 weeks, and probably an ideal strategy would be to do week-long challenges. This is enough time for people to get into it, but not so long that the challenge begins to feel like a chore.

Blogging The Activities
At the heart of a blog challenge is a set of daily activities related to the theme of the challenge. What I've found works best is to have a mixture of different kinds of activities. Some are concrete, specific tasks like "comment on a colleague's blog" or "try out the active listening technique with one customer." Usually learners will then blog about what happened as a result of that specific activity.

You can also include activities such as having learners:

  • Read a brief article or blog post and respond with their own thoughts.
  • Develop a set of instructions for accomplishing a specific task.
  • Respond to a "big question," such as "What does leadership mean to you?" or "What's the best way to sell XYZ product?"
  • Respond to questions asked by their colleagues
  • Research a topic and provide links to relevant resources.

Think carefully about how you structure and organize your activities. I've found that it's a good idea to mix different types of activities throughout the challenge and to allow a lot of flexibility in terms of how people respond to the activities. For example, if you're going to have them develop a set of instructions to do a specific task, encourage them to try out using more creative tools to express themselves, like VoiceThread or putting a PPT onto Slideshare. The best activities have both structure and some level of choice for learners.

I've also found that it's a good idea for Challenge organizers to be flexible in coming up with activities. In the Comment Challenge, I watched what people were doing and where they had questions and concerns to adapt the activities accordingly. When it looked like people needed a break, we did a "catch-up" day. We also had participants contribute some of their own challenge ideas and added those to the activity list.

At the end of the challenge, be sure to include at least one activity that asks learners to somehow summarize what they've learned. How did the experience change their practices? What three things did they take away from the activities?

Running the Challenge
The challenges that I've run here have both been "open"--I interacted with bloggers from all over the world, as opposed to bloggers within a particular organization. Personally I found that openness to be one of the key advantages of the challenge format--we had people with different perspectives and approaches responding to the activities, which opened up some interesting discussions about what we were doing. If at all possible and appropriate for your topic, I strongly encourage making challenges as open as possible.

In terms of logistics, I used my blog to post each day's activities.This gave people something to look forward to each day, plus they could use RSS to subscribe to the feed. If they had questions, they could ask them in comments on the post. They could also leave links to their own posts so that everyone else could see what they were doing.

For the Comment Challenge we  set up a wiki where we could keep track of the participants, the entire month of activities, etc. This also allowed us to have a central location for people to find instructions on how to participate.

Conversation Encouraging Interaction and Participation
One of the primary benefits of blog challenges is the ability to build up group connection and interaction. It's important to have a mechanism for participants to be able to find each other. Select a unique tag and have learners tag their posts with it. You can then embed the Technorati feed to that tag in your own blog or in a wiki.

Technorati can be a pain, though, so I've also had people use Delicious  to tag and save their posts and then participants could subscribe to that tag feed or, again, it could be embedded in a blog or wiki.

Encourage people to interact with and comment on each others blog posts. In part, this can be done through the daily activities. For each daily activity, for example, include visiting someone else's blog and commenting. If that doesn't encourage interaction, set aside a day for people to somehow interact with another blogger, such as "visit your colleague's blogs and identify the top three ideas for solving a problem" or "go to a colleague's blog and answer one of their questions."

It's also a good idea to have at least one facilitator who is reading all blog posts and helping to connect learners to each other by noticing and commenting on common threads, contrasting ideas, etc. This helps connect learners to one another as well as helping to connect the different strands of thinking and learning that are happening. 

One thing I would strongly encourage is to engage your participants in some process evaluation as the challenge goes on, particularly if you've decided on a challenge that runs for more than a week. Find out what people feel is and isn't working so you can make adjustments accordingly. Try to find out where the energy and engagement is and see how you can build on that. Social media is, in many ways, more of an organic, from the ground up tool. You have to watch where the seeds are taking root and be alert to opportunities to nurture that growth.

Ending a Blog Challenge

As part of concluding a blog challenge, a few things I'd suggest:

  • Invite learners to develop a summary of what was learned and how they will apply it. This is an area where you could invite a lot of creativity--people could record audio or video, create a slide presentation, etc.
  • Write your own summary post of what was learned. What were your observations about the experience? What key issues and questions emerged? 
  • Recognize participants. If you decided to use prizes as part of the process, now's the time to award them. For the Comment Challenge, we had participants nominate and vote on people in several categories. This can be another way to extend the learning as people reflect on what they considered to be quality work during the challenge.
  • Get feedback. Use an online poll to find out what participants did and didn't like about the challenge format. Particularly if it's your first time, you'll find that you may need to refine what you're doing. 

Although a blog challenge requires more planning and structure than other strategies for learning with blogs, they can also be really powerful learning experiences. What experiences have you had with blog challenges? Have you run one yourself? What tips do you have for participating or managing a challenge?

Photos via minifig, suerichards and netzkobold.


Blogging for Learning--Using Quotes

Quotes This week on Work Literacy, we're exploring how to use blogs for personal learning and as part of more structured formal events with learners.  I haven't done a week-long series in a while, so I thought it would be fun to spend this week sharing different kinds of activities that could be used to support learning with blogs.

Today we're going to talk about how we could use quotes as a springboard to learning through blogs. This is an activity that you could do for your own personal development or that you could use with a class.


Write a Quote Post
The basic premise is pretty simple--you're going to use the quote as a springboard to posting, essentially a writing prompt to explore further thinking.

  • Find a list of relevant quotes. If you're doing this for personal development, then search for quotes pertaining to the area that you want to focus on. If you're doing this with a class, then find quotes related to the theme or topic of the class.  At the bottom of this post, I've included some links to quote sites you might want to explore.
  • Select one or more quotes that you agree with or that you disagree with or that somehow reflect a learning point you're exploring. You could also select several quotes that perhaps are in conflict with each other or that somehow complement each other and then blog about those. 
  • Write a  blog post considering why you agree or disagree or how you could use the quote to think about future action. If you select multiple quotes, write about how they might work together to make your learning point.

Comment on a Quote
If you're using the quote concept as a tool for formal learning, you could use your own blog to post a quote and then ask learners to use commenting to respond to the quote. As comments develop, the learners can also respond to what other learners are saying.

Quotable You
In a twist on the quoting concept, you could also come up with your own quote related to a particular theme or topic.  Write it in a blog post. Try to capture the essence of the learning theme.

Quote Board
For a formal learning event, write a blog post asking people to share their favorite quotes on your learning theme. Have them post their quotes in the comments section of your blog post. Encourage them to comment on the quotes posted by others, too.  This could be a good icebreaker for an online course.

Quote Resources
Here are some sites where you can find quote prompts.

  • Despair.com--This is the world's greatest source of "de-motivational" quotes and it never fails to crack me up. For a change of pace, visit the demotivators and find one to use as your quote prompt. Particularly good for exploring issues like teambuilding and leadership.

What are other ways you could use quotes for learning with blogs? Write your own post or leave me a comment.

Photo via Mr. Bren