Presenting at Networked Learning Conference, Aalborg

I’m now at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg, Denmark. Today I will be presenting the paper that I wrote with Robin Yap. On leveraging social technologies in corporate environments.

So here are the slides in advance, and also the paper for download.

Some scrapbook thinking on social learning

Last week I was sitting in my backyard garden, enjoying the spring sun. I suddenly felt the inspiration of combining two models that i lately have been using a lot with the framework from my social learning study with Robin Yap.

I was taking notes in a scrapbook and i drawed the two models such as the figure below. The one on the left is model that I’ve come to use a couple of weeks ago that addresses differences in organizations on strategic, tactic and operational level. This is a sort of upstanding pyramid with on the top the value that you want to create, in the middle there are the solutions that you have found to create this value and on the bottom the products that you need for this. The one on the right is a totally different one, it displays the 4 phases from the appreciative inquiry process, a model for facilitating change in organizations. Normally these phases are drawn in a circle, but I’ve now put them in an upside pyramid that tells you that during discovery and dream you can be very broad in your discussion, there is a broad horizon. But the further you come to your destiny, you have to make choices in what you do in order to stay focused in the pursuit of your dreams. Displaying the models like this, i could see that the different levels have some connections in them as well. What you do in the discovery and dream phase is that your values and try to work toward a shared vision of all individual values. In the design phase you create the (boundaries) of the solutions and with the products you are your destiny.

How does this interrelate with the social learning model?

Value (discover & dream):

  • Improve and innovate business
  • creating a culture for learning, with trust as a dominant factor
  • Building the organizations social capital in order to become knowledge productive

Solutions (design):

  • learning in general, networked learning.
  • more specific: building communities of practice
    • profile – connect – share

Products (destiny):

  • community/ social web technology
  • (community) activities
  • tools such as elgg – twitter – blogs – forums – discussions

I’m aware that combining these in such a strict matter is a rather blunt exercise, but it helped me in defining what comes first in the chain. Using the two models helps to see things in a broader perspective and not to get to the tools right away. Ask yourself the value question first. Why are we doing this, what do we think is valuable in our work? What is my passion? How can we relate all this to the goals of the organization as a whole.

Communities of Practice Foundations #cp2

Last week I’ve started to participate in a course on the foundations of Communities of Practice. This foundations workshop as it is called is facilitated by the CP Square community with among others John Smith and Etienne Wenger. I’m doing the course together with my colleague Stanley Portier and i think it is a great opportunity to get emerged in the concept for 6 weeks and to learn a lot about theory as well as practice. Above all i think it is great to have the opportunity to connect with the founder of the concept – Etienne Wenger – and to get more involved in the community/ field of community of practice research and practice.  For research, as I will be going to the Aalborg conference on Networked Learning. For practice, as i see major opportunities in consulting on communities of practice to leverage the use of social technology for knowledge productivity in organizations.

Organizational Constellations

Two weeks ago, I asked my coach to help me with my thinking about a situation where I got stuck in a organizational change process. After a initial introduction in the situation he immediately started to move the furniture in the room, trying to make a open space in the middle.

“Lets make an organizational constellation”, he said.

I was introduced to the use of constellations in a change management course i’ve done two years ago and have had 3 other experiences with the method since then. Yet, this was truly the first time I was absolutely stunned with what happened during the process. Rationally speaking, I cannot explain what happened there, but I immediately knew it was a very profound and intense learning experience.

This made me feel so curious to learn more about this method of organizational constellations. I wondered, are there studies that could explain me what it was, where the intense feeling of connectedness with the system being represented came from.

First, a little intro on what you do with organizational constellations. Basically what you do is that you make a visual representation of a living system, placing all actors of that system in relation with one another. This can be done just on paper (just like you would visualize the arrangement of the players from a football team) or with the use of cups. Every single cup is then representing an actor of the system. This time we used sheets of paper that were to be laid out on the floor. Trough standing on one of the papers we now didn’t use cups but our own bodies, representing one of the actors. You sort of step into the system, looking and feeling it from the perspective of the actor you are representing. And thats exactly where it became amazing. While representing an actor I could feel what the presence of other actors did to me. To give some examples, I felt my body actually being pushed forward, or pulled backwards. I could feel a strong pain in my right shoulder directly hitting me when another actor was added to the constellation, but also disappear when I stepped out of it. Emotions of joy, power but also pain and wanting to cry went through me. To be honest, at one time this all drived me crazy: where did this all came from? Why in earth was it possible to feel all these emotions and physical “things”??

An article of Gunthard Weber (2000) gives a good introduction into organizational constellations, introducing it “as an autonomous consulting method for initiating useful changes in organizations.” The method is grounded in a systemic and phenomenological view often referred by Bert Hellinger who introduced the use family constellations for therapy. The phenomelogical view refers to the opening of our perception, “the ability to perceive and be sensitive to our relationships (Weber, 2000)”. Weber also cites Hellinger when comparing the scientific with the phenomenological  quest for knowledge as the latter “unfolds when we pause within the movement of grasping and we direct our glance not so much on tangible specifics, but instead we direct our glance upon the whole, and the glance is therefore ready to absorb everything at once”.

The phenomenological attitude requires we be poised for action, and yet not act. Through this tension we become highly able and ready to perceive. He who can withstand this tension knows after a while how the fullness within the horizon settles around a center, and he suddenly discovers a connection, an order, a truth or a step that leads further. This insight comes, as it were, from outside. It is received as a gift and is, as a rule, limited.” (Bert Hellinger in Weber, 2000)

This reminded me of the stories described by Otto Scharmer in the book Presence when he talks about Theory U and the ability to see the whole. Perhaps, in doing the organizational constellation I was a times able to pause and get to “the bottom of the U”, in Scharmer’s terms. I’m still not sure what it was that I learned in those moments, but I know it was special. I hope it was another step in the quest for the ability to see the whole. Discover patterns not yet recognized in order to come to new and better understanding.

If you have had similar experiences, please let me know. I very curious about your stories!

Personal Knowledge Management

Lilia Efimova has done her Phd on the blogging practices of knowledge workers. As part of that, she has developed a framework for knowledge work. See the picture below.

Yesterday (thursday 12 feb) I spoke a little at a CSTD workshop in Ontario (Canada) on the topic of personal knowledge management. Robin Yap invited me and Jeffrey Keefer for a short intermezzo via webcam (we used Adobe Connect). The question Robin asked me was: how do you make use of web technologies to get from idea to a blogpost?

I have found Lilia’s model very useful. I explained how I came to the idea of the concept of “serendipty” and how i used webtools to explore this further. The steps i showed in the workshop are summarized in the presentation below. Many thanks to Robin for inviting me and Jeffrey to participate in this workshop, it was a great experience.Using Web Tools For Personal Knowledge Management

View more presentations from joostrobben.

CP Square: the community of practice about communities of practice

After being “a friend” and lurking for a while, i became a full (paying) member of the CP Square (CP2) community. CP Square is a community of practice about communities of practice.

Ever since i started my studies in HRD i’m interested in social forms of learning, communities of practice are one of them. Especially with the growing attention towards the use of networked technologies like elgg, mahara, twitter and yammer for facilitating learning processes i felt the need to emerge myself deeper in the theory of community of practice (CoP). My customers at Stoas Learning, often come to me from a technological perspective. They ask what the technology could do and how they could use it in their organization. For social technologies like elgg to work in an organization, i believe you need to look beyond the technology and develop a clear concept of the organization’s knowledge processes and how you would think the technology could support those processes. I believe that if we are talking about social learning processes, the theory of communities of practice could often help us to gain insight how these processes work. Thats the reason why i’m expanding my professional services towards consulting on CoP in relation to the use of technolgies. I became a member of CP2 to further develop myself in these practices and moreover to become part of a network of people who already have long years of experience in this field beyond using any technology.

So far it resulted already in a great (Skype) meeting with John Smith, co-author of the book“Digital Habitats”.  Today i’ve met with Joitske Hulsebosch, she’s a Dutch consultant in this field and an active member of CP2. I’m looking forward to all other learning experiences that are yet to come!

Paper accepted for #NLC2010

Yesterday i got the big news:

“I am pleased to inform you that your paper “A model for leveraging social learning technologies in corporate environments”, reference 0053 has been accepted for NLC2010. “

I’m so glad that this paper, which i wrote with Robin Yap, got accepted! It is the first time I will be attending an academic conference after my graduation. In 2007 I presented a working paper as part of my master thesis together with Ida Wognum on the AHRD Int. Conference on HRD Research and Practice across Europe in Oxford, UK. At the time I was used to go to conferences for commercial purposes and I was really attracted by the constructive feedback and atmosphere among all participants in the academic conference. In Oxford I also met Jeffrey Keefer and Robin Yap for the first time, I’m glad we kept in touch online since then.

After my studies (HRD at University of Twente) I kept looking for new possibilities to keep researching aside my job as consultant. In my opinion being a consultant is a highly knowledge intense job. To keep ahead of the competition you need to be able to create new knowledge from patterns of changes you see in the field of expertise and to be able to use that knowledge effectively in your job as a consultant. In else, -to be knowledge productive. In order to be knowledge productive I believe it is important to keep questioning what you see in the world and reflect on that what it means for your work practices. Also, i believe that at times you need to be able to get in “a step further”. Take the time to really study a specific topic and see what the changes mean for practice in relation to the current body of knowledge. So I’m really glad to be having this opportunity now with support from my employer and with the ability to do this research with a great friend who also works from this practice oriented perspective.

The Networked Learning Conference will be held in Aalborg, Denmark at the 3th and 4th of May 2010. It features Etienne Wenger and Yrjö Engeström in the keynotes.

Employee development and motivation

Managers and L&D officers increasingly tell me they need for employees to make themselves responsible for their own learning and development process.

One of the ways to help employees to gain insight in their learning process and to make it visible to their managers is by using e-portfolio’s. Especially when you look at e-portfolio’s from a reflective and development perspective. Weblogs can help employees in this process of reflection.

For the past couple of weeks i’ve had regular web-meetings with Jeffrey Keefer on this subject. An aspect returned in almost every discussion is motivation. We questioned ourselves how to motivate employees to actively engage in this process of development. Preferably in a networked environment where people not solely reflect individually but share and discuss their reflections with others in order for organizational learning to occur.

An article by Nohria, Groysberg & Lee (July 2008) in Harvard Business Review, presents a model for employee motivation. Partly based on results of neuroscience it is suggested that “that people are guided by four basic emotional needs, or drives, that are the product of our common evolutionary heritage”:

  1. The drive to acquire (obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status)
  2. The drive to bond (form connections with individuals and groups)
  3. The drive to comprehend (satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us)
  4. The drive to defend (protect against external threats and promote justice)

Thinking about how to motivate your employees to engage with using e-portfolio’s you can think of several ways how this can contribute to the first three drives. I can see how blogging can play a role in profiling yourself and what you do to others in the organization – world. This could fulfill the drive to acquire as it might improve your social status. Blogging could also contribute to the drive to bond as its interaction possibilities help you to connect with others. One thing that I especially appreciate in blogging is that through these reflections in blog posts i try to understand the world around me. Unfortunately I think that for a lot of people the drive to defend is an extremely strong force. As publicly blogging your reflections might improve your social status, one also might believe it could be decreased. One might also think readers would disapprove their writings and as a result would disconnect. These fears encourage the drive the defend.

In my latest paper on social learning technologies with Robin Yap, we have written about the importance of trust. I believe this is also important in this discussion on motivation. If we can offer a safe (learning) environment, we might be able to diminish people’s drive to defend.

Any comments on how you try to work on this in your organization are more then welcome!

#oeb2009: Relate to business goals for learning to have impact

It has been a week now since I was in Berlin at the Online Educa (#oeb2009). Prior to the conference I said in another post that I would experiment with using Mindmeister as a LIVE online mindmap tool. I wanted to experiment with new ways to create notes and instantly share and connect with others through that.

Well, in the end, Online Educa didn’t seem to be that online at all. Connections mostly were real slow or not available (eg. when attending a session across the street). Therefore at times I needed to get my little paper-notebook and completed my mindmap back home. Well, ok, opportunity for improvement i’d say. I was very satisfied with using mindmaps for taking notes. Next time I would love to connect with a few others to co-create a mindmap and see whats going on else-where.

Main theme

Thinking about main theme’s at the conference I realized that this is very personal and strongly related to my passion, things I’m working on at the moment and possibly also some frustrations:). The main thing that i repeatedly have seen coming back in various sessions is the need to relate to business goals in order for learning to have impact. (and yes this relates to my personal context).

Charles Jennings mentioned as one of the current fundamental changes the movement from learning as an event towards viewing learning as a process. Learning continuously embedded in the work process. I’m not sure if this was his wish, or something he had seen already emerging. In my view, looking for learning to embed in the process is one of the key aspects for L&D to have success. Also, many times, there not being paid any attention to. The reason for this might actually well be, what Jennings calls the conspiracy of convenience.

“A manager comes to a training manager and says ‘I’ve got a problem, I need training’. The training manager says ‘fine, we’ll develop a training programme’. So the training manager develops the programme, delivers it to the business and no-one measures it. The business manager is happy because they feel they’ve filled their requirement, the training manager is happy because they’ve done what they think their job is about, i.e. delivered training, and because no-one measures it, nothing really happens, but everyone’s happy….we need to break that conspiracy.” (quote from Newswire article)

When I talked about this with learning developers, their initial reaction was “you mean we need to do ROI?”. Could be, but moreover I would like a more process consulting approach (see eg. Ed Schein). Up front, try to discover the real need, why is your client or colleague asking for this training? What is the business problem behind this question? Try to actively engage the client/ colleague in the design process. Is training really the means to solve the problem. Afterwards, you can do research and come up with figures on the business impact but it depends on the situation if this is what you want. Mostly, it would be a great start to actually start the process of questioning the business impact (which is different from learning goals!!). Relate to business and help your client in this process of determining the impact of learning intervention.

Visiting Online Educa Berlin

Tonight I will travel to Berlin for this years Online Educa Conference ( #oeb2009). My colleagues Stanley Portier, Kasper Spiro, Randy Vermaas and Egbert van de Winckel will also join so we are with quite a group. It will be the first time I’m attending this conference, really curious about it.

The following sessions seem interesting to me:


  • The great training robbery (Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Jon Husband, Harold Jarche)
  • Demonstrate Value, engagae business ( which is at the same time as the training robbery…)
  • Recession, an open door for learning innovation?


  • Responding to the changing world of work
  • Narrative and storytelling in teaching and learning
  • Workplace learning
  • Standards for best mobile practice

Live Mindmapping experiment

If good connections are available, i will try to “mindmap” the sessions that i attend live and direct in this mindmap on