The Green Overlay

June 18, 2009

Have you noticed the green faces ( over 90,000!) on Twitter?  The green is in response to the following tweet: 

Show support for democracy in Iran add green overlay to your Twitter avatar with 1-click – “

This show of support requires 1-2 mouse clicks.  No  additional action is required, or even expected  — no petition to sign, no plea to any government, no endorsement of a specific action or figure.  This advocacy is not only passive, it’s ambiguous.  Some tweets have have remarked on the potential for confusion:

Erick1970 “Reading through about 7 hrs of tweets – what’s with the green avatars that are popping up?”  

bliccy    “Oh. I thought the green overlay had something to do with you smug bastards and your iPhones.  

Aurress20 “if I green overlay my avatar does that mean I want a smaller carbon footprint or I support Iran?”


The average bumper sticker is more articulate than the green overlay.  The bumper sticker explains itself, whereas the overlay can keep people guessing.  Futhermore, the bumber sticker requires the user to leave his chair and apply the sticker to his car. In contrast, the green overlay movement may be the first movement that requires no movement!

The faulty presumption behind the green overlay is that ‘showing’ support is tantamount to actually ‘giving’ support. Unfortunately, the tyrranic few who oppose freedom will not be dissuaded by the green overlayFor those who want to give real support, get some great ideas from Natalie DeBruin’s blog

Green was the chosen color of a specific candidate’s campaign for election. Guy Wallace provides a chilling explanation of why he has decided to show his true colors rather than adopting the green…hint, he “won’t get fooled again.”     

Clicking a mouse twice tells the world nothing, but taking steps to remove the green says much more.  The green overlay does not expire; it remains in place until the user decides to remove it.  Presumably, the overlays will remain in place until the users decide that the advocacy has achieved it’s goal.  What milestone will evidence that Freedom has been achieved and the overlay can be removed?

Will people remove the overlays once they’ve observed free elections…. or will the overlays fade aways as people grow bored with their avatars? What happens when someone wants to show off a new hair color, or wants to update a professional image?  Will the easy advocacy (e-advocacy?) of green overlays end when the Iran changes, or when fashions do?

Kermit the Frog sang about being green over 30 years ago.  An excerpt from the second verse provides the perfect description of the green overlayers:

It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re
Not standing out…

Kermit was wrong about one thing.  …It is, indeed, easy being green. 


UPDATE:  I appreciate her honesty and her sense of humor!  :

KoreenOlbrishWhiteKoreenOlbrish  Ok, I”m still supporting democratic election in Iran, but I can’t stand looking at my green avatar in Twitter anymore. 

(She’s worth following, by the way!)


What are you doing here?

June 12, 2009

Why are you are reading this blog at this moment?  What makes you think reading this is a good idea?

Consider how you would respond if a supervisor (or spouse!) asked you those questions. 

Non-trainers typically seem to evaluate training with  the following 2 questions:

Was the training (content & design) ‘good’? 

Was the trainer ‘good’? 

A common (but unspoken) assumption seems to be that it is the trainer’s responsibility to ensure that the learner does, in fact, learn something.   Failure to learn = Failure of trainer.   I don’t want to take the trainer our of that equation completely, but what is the learner’s responsibility for his own learning?  With that question in mind, I love the question raised this week by SLQOTD:

How does SL change the learner’s accountability to learn? How can an organization encourage learner accountability?

SL is a “You reap what you sow” learning experience.  The learner has a responsibility to cultivate the relationships and content that will yeild returns. 

What are sowing behaviors?  Friending, Following, Commenting, Posting, Blogging, RSS feeds.  Any others?   I’m new to this, so let me know what’s missing here.

What can be reaped?  Fluency in emerging practices; Problem solving via social network; Reduced need for supervision as ideas are vetted within the social network…Again, what am I missing here?  I know there is more. 

Not all activity in the name of SL is necessarily productive.  In keeping with the reap/sow metaphor, an unmotivated learner could spend a lot of time cultivating weeds while the healthy crops waste away. Organizations should encourage (monitor?) learners to assess their social networks:  How relevant are the memberships?  How pertinent are the exchanges?

The ultimate question to ask the learner is,  “How are you learning with SL/SM?” …and, at the risk of sounding Dr. Phil-esque, “How is that working for you?”  I’m convinced that asking “What have you learned?” is not a fair assessment of SL investment.  “What have you learned?” prompts a response based on informational content, but the questions neglects the intellectual vetting that SL provides. 

Encouraging SL involves modeling the right behaviors within the organization.  Establish SM as one of the primary means of communication.  The old adage, “What gets counted gets done,” is tricky for SL.  It’s not as simple as counting the followers & friends.    (For insight from someone exploring the metrics of SL, check out Davidove. )

Integrate SL into daily operations.  An employee who calls with a question can be asked, “How have others responded to this question?”  OR “Let’s post that and see what we get.”  OR “I don’t have time to talk right now, post that question on my _(blog, tweet, wiki, microblog)_ and I’ll reply soon. ”  [By the way, my thinking from this is from Overcoming 10 Objections to Social Learning  (check the chat, too) ]

 Ultimately, keep SL activities grounded in the organization’s mission.  SL is  a means to the end, with the end being improved performance of the company and the individual.

Kill or Be Killed

June 5, 2009

If you want to know the difference between “learning” and “training,” study martial arts.   All martial arts are rooted in developing lethal defenses against lethal attack — kill or be killed.  The modern study of martial arts may also include elements of self-discipline and cultural tradition.   For many, the value of personal growth supersedes the development of self defense skills.  In other words, many students don’t really care if “it works.”  For these student, the learning is the goal, in and of itself.  Frankly, these martial artists are probably not well prepared to defend themselve, but that’s ok. 

 Other martial artists, however, treat effectiveness as a litmus test.  If a technique won’t work in “real life,” then they don’t waste time practicing it.  These students are motivated by acquiring self-defense capabilities.  They know that they are preparing for an assault that may never happen, but they are still driven to prepare for the event.  These student are training.

 Learning is a function of interest, while training is a deliberate response to anticipated need.  The learner evaluates the learning experience with the question, “Is this interesting to me?”  The learner evaluates training with the question, “Is this preparing me?”

Most learning takes place outside of formal training.  The future of the training profession will be dominated by those who can add training value to those moments of informal learning that occur naturally.  It’s time to kill the traditional role of the trainer.  Any ideas on how to do that?

Have You Taken Advantage of Me?

May 29, 2009

Have you ever taken advantage of me?

…I hope so.  I take advantage of you whenever I can. 

I’m talking to you, Bob Mosher.  Just yesterday I shared some thoughts about Training & Performance Management with my boss.  Guess what?  I stole the thoughts from you.  That’s right, I used your PowerPoint slides .  I had seen your presentation as part of a live web based tour of e-learning.  Afterward, I googled your name, found your “Performance Supports” blog, jumped to your wiki, and found the PPT in resources.  I gave you full credit, but my boss  still views me as the source of the ideas.  

I’m also talking to you, Jane Bozarth.   I first saw one of Mosher’s slides in a training session of yours.  Then I saw it in your book, E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring.  You gave Mosher full credit, by the way.  Still, I associated the slide with you even though I knew you weren’t the primary source.  Social Learning is like that, good finders are just as valued as good creators. 

I’ve taken advantage of you, Dave Wilkins.  Your podcasts, blogs, posts, and emails have helped me understand a concept that is still new to me.  The  Overcoming the Top 10 Objections to Social Learning webinar was great for helping me examine my own resistance to integrating social learning into my training designs.  I’ve offered nothing in return, but I still hope that someday I’ll have something great to contribute. 

And you, Kevin Jones .  I even won some great elearning software, Articulate Engage, from you in an SLQTOD contest!  (update–working on it with IT folks) I’ve enjoyed your podcasts & twitter posts.    Any thoughts I have regarding Social Learning and Social Media are from you and Dave.  Oh, and guys, I’m about to initiate my first Social Learning project.  It will be like jumping in the deep end to learn how to swim, except I’ll be taking non-swimmers with me. 

I’ve taken advantage of you, Cindy Huggett.  I’ve used your PPT slides as guides to help me plan projects.  You are the one who convinced me to try Twitter, and WordPress! I attended an ASTD meeting but still haven’t joined yet,  (I will, I promise!).  I use your trainer tips from Twitter  and end up looking like an old pro…I mean that in a good way!

My Social Learning used to take advantage of people in more old fashioned ways.  I’d whine to co-workers about my work-related problems on the job.   These friends would give me new perspectives to consider, and many of them modeled better ways to get work done.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I used up some of their time unnecessarily, especially when time for small talk is added to the equation. 

Now I bring work challenges to online  communities.  Small talk is rare, and I often find that someone has already posted concerns similar to my own.  Only interested people respond, so the responses are always relevant.  Likewise,  I only respond to posts when I have something of value to add. 

Participating in these learning environments gives me an escape from other work tasks, but these online exchanges are work-related.  They influence my overall performance in positive ways, and I am in complete control of the time that I invest in this activity. 

I’m grateful to others for how much I learn from them.  My lack of contributions makes the relationship somewhat unequal, and I find that I am taking more than I give.  I hate to take advantage of people in this way, but I’m going to keep doing it. 

I hope one day I can say that you took advantage of me.  It would be gratifying if any of you could get back a little of what you’ve given.  

And now for a 1928 Rodgers & Hart song that’s creepy because it’s cute, “You Took Advantage of Me” :

Social Status Online: A Ladder to Climb or Dance Floor to Join

February 25, 2009

In life, our learning begins as soon as were born, but most of us don’t receive training until later.  Training is that deliberate attempt to induce learning within us, and some kind of behavioral change is (almost?) always desired.  In our early years, the parent/child relationsip is the primary socail dynamic.  As we age however, things get a little more complicated and stay that way. 


Children in grades K-12 suffer through the most elaborate attempt at training ever conceived, and social factors play a significant role.  Back in school, those of us who were not in the obvious in-crowd formed our own little in-crowds.  We judged the cool kids to be superficial snobs who thought they were better than the rest of us.  By judging them, we assured ourselves that we were the superior ones.  We committed reverse snobbery. Ah, adolescence! Thank goodness we’ve all grown up, right?  Right?  Experienced trainers (and participants) have observed similar clique formations in training environments. 


Visit any 7th grade dance and you’ll see a group of cool kids who dance and a group  of kids who refuse to dance because it isn’t cool.  How many of the latter group would join the dancers if they simply knew the steps?  And how many of the dancers would change the steps as soon as the outsiders knew them?  When it comes to e-learning, are you leaning against the wall of the gym, or are you strutting around in a white Travolta suit? 


Alas, neither embracing nor avoiding e-learning frees us from our human nature.   

Is it a coincidence that the relatively new interest in “Status Updates” reveals the age-old interest in Social Status?  Status is status is status.   As social beings, isn’t our interest in status the result of how we, ourselves, are programmed?  Our own programming is older than our computers’.

The E-Learning Community, just like any other online community, mirrors “real life.”  Social hierarchies evolve, and online communities adopt both the postive and negative aspects of offline communities.  This tendency actually legitimizes cyberspace as a place where authentic interaction occurs. 

Trainers contend with these group dynamics when providing classroom training.  Is learning hindered by the existence of an in-crowd?  Are legitimate points of view dismissed because of social standing within a group?   Are outsiders intimidated?  As trainers, we can apply these questions to our own online community.    

Answering these questions can improve the discourse we share and prepare us to address similar issues in the online environments we create for our learners.

Are you an e-learning elitist?

February 23, 2009

Remember the cool kids in high school, or worse, middle school?  The cool kids cast judgment on the rest of us for wearing Lee instead of Levi; for shopping at K-Mart instead of Calvin Klein.  I thought I’d seen the last of these trendmongers when I graduated from high school 2 decades ago, but I’ve discovered them here, online, in the e-learning community.   Online, The Cool Ones dictate not what to wear, but how to train.  They are slaves not to fashionable clothing but to fashionable technology.   The e-learning royalty hold court in blogs and on Twitter, reminding us with every update of their importance and our irrelevance.

“What are their names?” you ask.  “Who are these self-appointed judges of what (and who) is cool in e-learning?”     Unfortunately, the answer is…You.  That’s right, gentle reader, if you are so unaware of who the  elitists of e-learning are, then surely you must be one of them.

“No!” you say.  “Not me!  You don’t know me!”  True enough, I don’t  even know your name, or user name as the case may be.  So, to be fair, I’ve listed 3 simple statements down below.  You decide if these statements describe you.  Proceed, if you dare:

  • You call yourself an “early adopter” to remind everyone that whatever they’re doing online now, you did it first. 
  • You social network primarily to generate readership for your blogs.  
  • You take pride in your number of Twitter followers, especially the more notable names.

You can see that if these statements describe you, you’re probably an e-learning Elitist.  (Deep down, weren’t you were even hoping to be one?)  Your motives for membership in the online community are self-serving and transparent.

In contrast, maybe you were happily excluding yourself from this group with  negative answers.  Postpone your self-congratulations, and consider whether the following statements describe you:

  •  You take pride in acknowleding that “blog” and “twitter” still sound like silly words to you.
  • You scoff at the idea of e-learning having real training value.
  • Whenever you participate in any kind of e-learning experience, you simply go through the motions so that you can say you’ve done it.

If these statements are true for you, then you’re probably an e-learning Egotist.  As an Egotist, your insecurities motivate your opposition to e-learning, making you just as superficial as the Elitists you mock.  The Egotist is the flipside of the Elitist, as both concern themselves primarily with what others think of them. 

 When we focus on our learners instead of our image, and we focus on their learning rather than our delivery, we become e-learning Egalitarians.  Egalitarians welcome online community as a collaboration rather than a competition. 

Egalitarians represent the potential of e-learning.  What about yourself?  Do you dismiss e-learning without giving it a chance?  Or, in contrast, do you find yourself snickering over the clumsy participation of novices?  

In either case, the lesson is the same:

Trainer, train learn thyself.


February 13, 2009

A long time ago, before PowerPoint, cave men learned how to hunt through coaching, fireside singing, cave drawings, and by actually doing it.  Blended Learning was born.  We have modern ways to deliver training now, but the goal is the same — Learning.  What are all the ways we can make “Learning” happen?  How can we blend different training methods so that learning is achieved as smoothly as possible?  I’m learning, I’m blending, and sometimes I get mixed up.