Posts Tagged ‘eLearning’

On the Psychosocial Determinants of CoP Success

August 30, 2012

Over the past few years I have been inching along with a thought – what if we looked at Knowledge Management through the lens of psychology, what would we see and what problems and issues would stand out in relief against the many prickly problems faced by KM practitioners.

One that stands out to me is the question of whether CoP success (and we get to define that however we like) is proportional to variation in how much and how its members share knowledge.
When we look at this from a psychosocial perspective, the question that pops out to me is why do some people share knowledge and others don’t, why do some share more and others less.
Is there perhaps a character trait that predisposes people to sharing knowledge, are their environmental pressures and social norms that cause the behavior to vary, are these relatively stable over time and place or do they vary according to some sort of root cause?

Success Factors

Here is the first pass at a list of facets for what constitutes “success” for a CoP:

  1. Longevity
  2. Membership Factors
    1. Member Count
    2. Member Seniority
    3. Member Diversity
  3. Activity
    1. Level of Interaction
    2. Number of meets
    3. Participation
  4. Productivity
    1. Creation of a Controlled Vocabulary
    2. Innovations
    3. Creation of Operational KPIs
    4. Documentation of Best Practices
    5. Degree of Outreach
    6. Efforts in Training & Induction
    7. Mentorship

Psychosocial Constructs

So far this is what I have noted as potential constructs.
The list needs to be expanded somewhat and then trimmed back to only those things that really contribute towards explaining variation in success.

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Locus of Control
  3. OCEAN
  4. Individualism vs Communitarianism
  5. Emotional Investment
  6. Great Leader / Cult of Personality
  7. Action vs Reflection
  8. Conservatism vs Liberalism
  9. Q
  10. Creativity
  11. Frustration Tolerance




Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

Knowledge Management, Training, and Ongoing Professional Development

October 14, 2010

In a previous blog I covered the results of a case study into eLearning utilization and how the single biggest predictor of whether a person used an eLearning license was whether they thought their manager would smile or frown or be neutral if their staff used eLearning materials during office hours.

Not only did people who thought their managers would smile, use the licenses more and for longer, but they also put in significant amounts of their own time after-hours.
The big disconnect was that managers thought they were smiling but staff didn’t see it the same way.

This has significant implications for both the investment in learning materials and for ongoing professional development on the whole.

In this blog I will cover some of the next steps and what I have found by experience.

The Next Step – Engage the Managers

The obvious remedy is to engage managers and get them to conspicuously engage in their own ongoing professional development, and therefore by example demonstrate not just that they would be likely to smile, but that they were themselves eager participants.
Action, it would seem, might speak louder than words, or what managers believe their words portray.

Two immediate obstacles are likely to present themselves though – firstly, many managers regard themselves not as professional managers, but as SMEs who by virtue of seniority have been burdened with the unwanted baggage of managing other SMEs.
Secondly, even once that hurdle is crossed, the selfsame problem of perception about leaders disposition towards eLearning applies to managers – they are unlikely to take advantage of learning opportunities if they think that their managers do not value ongoing professional development.

This leads to infinite regress all the way to the CEO and beyond.

Before the managers will stick their necks out they need to know that senior executives would approve, and also to see learning behavior exhibited by the senior execs.

It comes down then to whether the senior executives will not only say good things about ongoing professional development, but also model the desired behavior themselves – If managers do not see both forthcoming from the executives, then they are likely to demure on self-development with the simple excuse that they are “too busy”, which is essentially shorthand for “not unless my boss makes it a priority”.

What to Do?

Getting senior executives to participate is the easiest thing, and the most difficult.
If managers ask for it, the execs are likely to wholeheartedly agree that budget needs to be allocated to training, that it should be done during office hours, and that managers have the duty to see that it happens – and they will generally be quite happy to include some choice phrases to this effect in their memos and speeches.

However, they simply won’t do any themselves.

The reason for this seems in many cases to be a mixture of three causes, one familiar, and two new.

  • Our old friend, “My boss doesn’t value it”
  • “I do my own development and it’s none of your business what that is”
  • “I don’t need any”

There are many technological ways to smooth the path, such as putting short audio-summaries of current books on their Blackberry’s or iPhones, printing out the 8-page pdf summaries for them to take on the plane, or subscribing them to business podcasts that deal with their divisional specialization or industry. Recorded interviews with business luminaries or respected leaders can be put on Blackberry or iPhone, as can short video clips from industry analysts. Technology updates on things like SaaS, Cloud Computing, and many other topics can be made available at the touch of a button (or few), and many can be done automatically via RSS feeds or concentrator applications like iTunes.

However, if they do not view it both as part of their duty as custodians of the corporate learning culture, and in their own benefit – and more to the point: that the CEO thinks so, then it is unlikely to happen no matter how technologically enabled it is.

The key would seem to be the CEO then.


The CEO is under constraint and direction of the Board, and they in turn are beholden to the major shareholders who mostly want to know about EBITDA contributions and share-price growth, not training and ongoing professional development.
Likewise, the view of analysts and customers must be considered, and while customers are generally very happy to hear that a supplier keeps their staff well trained (and might be prepared to petition for it), it isn’t going to be very high on either constituency’s list of desired corporate achievements.

The problem then boils down to whether the CEO feels strongly enough about learning to stick their neck out and make it an issue, which they are not likely to do unless it has a good chance of success and has broad support and enthusiastic champions within the rank and file. Sticking out their neck on something that is likely to be a flop and not highly demanded is not a habit that many people acquire on their way to becoming a CEO!

Which brings us back to D’Oh, … or rather, to middle management.

Back to the Middle

Unless the middle management show passion about developing the skills of their staff and are prepared to push the executives on the topic, there will not be the kind of groundswell that would make a CEO likely to take up learning as a cause.

It all boils down to the importance of middle managers and their self-image as professional managers responsible for the well-being and development of their staff, and being prepared to make an issue of learning even though the executives do not seem to be modeling learning behavior (yet).
However, once they take the first step and have the initiative to step forward and be the example first and to drive learning in their own teams, then the door opens for the CEO to step through and for the executives to follow and start modeling the behavior themselves.
Once middle managers take the initiative to view learning and modeling of learning behavior as something for which they must make time, then the rest can follow.

It is the middle manager who can add learning activities to annual staff performance appraisals, and make that part of the criteria for awards, bonuses, and other rewards. It is the middle manager who can regularly ask staff about their progress, and who can align training units to team objectives. It is also the middle manager that most knows precisely what training is needed and which staff members would most benefit (and most deserve) the funding for training materials. They are also the only people who are in a position to allocate time for people to use the training materials, or to present tutorials to other members of the team.

It is again a case of organizational change happening from the middle up and middle down, and a clear illustration of why it is vital that middle managers see themselves as management professionals rather than as SME’s with an unwanted burden of having staff!


To get a culture of learning embedded in an organization and to reap the benefits of a highly-trained and current workforce, my experiences and research lead me to believe that two constituencies are crucial – the passionate activism by middle-managers on behalf of their staff, and a CEO that is prepared to be the sponsor for a learning culture (even if they later delegate it to a prominent CxO or EVP).

If you miss the middle, the ends unravel.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

eLearning Adoption Case Study: Results of Research Into Professional Development Activities

October 5, 2010
  1. Introduction

A significant success-factor for the use of business and work-related eLearning materials – and by inference for all ongoing professional development activities of staff, is whether they think their immediate manager would smile, be neutral, or frown if they were seen doing eLearning during office hours.

This simple attitudinal inference may be a critical factor in the workplace.

  1. Discussion

Several years ago at a firm I am familiar with, a global employee-satisfaction survey was undertaken – before the Global Financial Crises, and at a time when workforce retention was one of the top three issues on the minds of operational directors.

What came to light were all the normal issues – lack of training, poor job development, low pay, and so on, and as a result one of the actions taken by the executives was to sign up a sizable contract for eLearning materials from a well-known provider.

When the next satisfaction survey was carried out, training had fallen off the list of grievances, and the top five grievances had shifted to other matters. Training, it was thought, was now satisfied.

Yet an odd thing came to light – it wasn’t actually being used to any extent.

Of the several hundred licenses – initially thought to be too few, hardly 30% were actually used, and even of those people who most aggressively complained of a lack of training opportunities, few had done more than log in once. Of the thousands of titles of training available, and tens of thousands of books, papers, audiofiles, job-aids, and test-preps, only a few scattered examples of use were seen.

It seemed like a scenario from a comedy – or tragedy, the next act was almost in view – the executives would re-visit the budget and after noticing that 70% of the investment was unused, would either trim it to match the usage, or cut it entirely. After which of course a year or so would pass and then lack of training opportunities would climb back to the top-three list of complaints, and so on ad infinitum.

Rather than see the money and opportunity go to waste, we set up a series of surveys and interviews to find out if there was some explanation for the seeming contradiction between how strongly people felt about having training opportunities, and their subsequent lack of use when it was provided.

Three groups were surveyed and randomly selected individuals were interviewed:

  • (Group 1) People currently active with their eLearning licenses
  • (Group 2) Those who had previously been given licenses but had failed to use them or had abandoned them.
  • The managers of people who fell into either groups #1 or #2

In addition to surveys and interviews, the usage statistics were also examined to derive trends and correlations.

The immediate results of this showed:

  • Low usage of available eLearning materials (Median of <33%)
  • High abandonment rate (>60%) combined with high repeat-requests for license re-issue
  • Low consistency in targets of use (foraging behaviour), and fewer than 10 units were used by more than n=5

The group make-up and response was as follows:

  1. Group 1 – Currently Active users
    1. n = 73
    2. response rate to questionnaire (rq) = 63%
  2. Group 2 – Previously Active users
    1. n = 35
    2. rq = 46%
  3. Managers
    1. n = 36
    2. rq = 61%

Main findings

  1. Significant opinion differences existed between staff that were currently using eLearning (Group 1), users who previously did (Group 2), and the cohort of Managers
  2. There was Low to Moderate variance within each group with strong clustering around the mean.
  3. All groups agreed on the whole that ongoing learning is important to the job and the person, and that a minimum of 1-2hrs a week during office hours should be spent doing it
  4. Both groups thought the materials and infrastructure were good, but felt they weren’t allowed to use company time, managers thought that the infrastructure was poor but that they freely allowed access to it.
  5. The more staff thought their managers would smile on learning during company time, the more they did it both at work and at home – the single strongest predictor of use was what the staff-member thought the manager’s reaction would be.
  1. Discussion

While Managers strongly believed that they were driving knowledge sharing, collaboration, and spread of good ideas, users of both groups felt only somewhat that this was happening.

Managers said that they strongly encourage inter-unit collaboration, whereas active users (Group 1) felt only moderately that different units shared knowledge, and inactive users (Group 2) felt moderately that they did not do so.

Managers reported that they incorporated knowledge sharing in staff evaluation discussions. Active users agreed with this but did not feel as strongly that this was happening as the managers did, and inactive users felt moderately that it was not the case.

Both groups of users thought moderately that managers gave them time to use eLearning, but where 86% of Managers reported that they would smile if they saw an employee doing eLearning during office hours, active users felt less sure (67%), and inactive users even less so (38%)

Active users and Managers felt more strongly than inactive uses that eLearning would improve them in their job or as far as their employment security.

Active users felt strongly that their Managers regarded their ongoing learning as important, and more so than inactive users, but neither as highly as Managers said they did.

Managers (53%) and Inactive users (56%) typically felt that less than 30 min a week of learning was actually being done during office hours, and Active users were split between those who did less than 30min (24%), and those who did 1-2hrs (33%)

It was somewhat surprising that 19% of Managers did not know how much time their staff spend outside office hours on learning, and 52% believed that their staff spend less than 30min a week in their private time.

56% of inactive users agreed with that, but active users were spread across all choices with 22% spending less than 30min, but 24% spending 30min-1hr, 1-2hrs, and >2hrs each.

67% of Managers said that the optimal time during office hours is 1-2hrs/week which is similar to inactive users (63%), where active users were split between 1-2hrs (44%) and >2hrs (45%) thus emphasizing that those who actively use the materials found value in it and wished to pursue even more value.

A comments section was provided in the questionnaire, and of specific note was how the response rate in this section was divided and perhaps lends weight to staff perception that Managers were not as engaged as they felt themselves to be.

Managers commented the least (9%), inactive users more (25%), and active users most (45%).

The split between the two groups on this item further accentuates the divide in participation.

  1. Conclusion

Whether or not an employee used available professional-development materials followed what they thought their manager’s attitude towards eLearning at work would be, and this single item could predict staff behavior both at work and at home. Those whose managers were thought by their staff to be positive about learning at work put significantly more effort into their own professional development and showed far higher levels of attachment overall. It could also be seen that what staff inferred their manager’s attitude to be was independent of what the manager reported their attitude to be.

A key to ongoing professional development and staff attachment would then seem to hinge on whether managers themselves showed that they value it by taking care to demonstrate by example that professional-development is important. What manager’s actually do in terms of their own development could well prove to be the most important factor in staff development, but additional research is needed to test this hypothesis.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Uncovering Your Knowledge Assets by Watching Your SMEs

September 29, 2010

In this blog I will attempt to lay out a skeleton of how to gather more value from your SMEs and provide you with a foundation for how to discover who your thought-leading SMEs are in the first place – and then how to use them to drive more consistency and quality in your knowledge-workers.


In a previous blog, I talked about gleaning more value from what your executives think, but the topic is of course broader than just mining the execs, and should cover the three other main categories of knowledge-builders in your organization:

  1. Executives
    The folks with the budget and control, who have the fancy office, and who provide your organization’s mission, high-level goals and objectives.
  2. Subject Matter Experts
    Your “Gold Collar” Knowledge Workers that take your biggest corporate assets home at night and on whom you rely to produce the products and services with which you compete against business rivals. Without this cadre you have structure and a mission, but no stuff to sell.
  3. Process Experts
    The people who provide the administrative structure so that things work in a consistent and efficient manner.
  4. Non-corporate Experts
    The hidden category that exists inside other categories, and who know people and know stuff that could be very handy if you only knew what they were passionate about and who they were. These are people whose friend at the model-boat club is also the CIO at a firm to whom you want to sell products.


The objective is to build an informational framework and knowledge ecosystem that (obviously) includes Content Management, Learning Management, and Knowledge-Bases, but that also makes it visible to staff what other people’s informational habits are in terms of business-related subjects and particularly in their domain i.e. (See also Social Network Analysis)

The concept is that once you have established who your thought-leaders are, making their information consumption visible will drive the followship of people who will also use the material and thus allow your SME to dynamically drive the informational material that others use – reducing duplicated effort, providing more visibility of critical informational sources or artifacts, and reducing variation and improving quality.


This effect can be achieved in practice in many ways, but will typically involve a software tool that tracks information usage and might also make use of tagging, rating, and other features. An example of this in the academic scientific world is Connotea

The information you will want to make visible includes mainly the following:

  1. What they read – journals, blogs, periodicals, textbooks, etc.
  2. The Podcasts or other materials they listen to
  3. Any Video materials including vlogs that they watch
  4. The seminars, conventions, symposiums, etc. that they attend
  5. The groups, fraternities, SIGs, and CoPs they belong to

As part of this you mainly want to know how your SMEs rate them and what they think of them, and most importantly – how they think the material relates to the company and the industry.
By knowing the opinions of your thought leaders, others are able to not just find information sources in a better and more natural way, but will also be able to more readily gauge trustworthiness and reliability.

In order to drive this information-consistency, it is necessary to capture three major meta-informational aspects:

  1. The identity of the SME that reviewed or captured the information
  2. How they rated the article in terms of
    1. Trustworthiness
    2. Completeness
    3. Accuracy
  3. Why they view it as pertinent to the organization or domain
  4. The vocabulary they use to describe the information i.e the internal or domain-specific jargon that will form a controlled vocabulary

In addition you want to make the information-sources that your SMEs use visible i.e.:

  • Who they think the thought leaders are in the industry or domain
  • People or groups they think are authoritative
  • Sources of information they trust


This does several important things for your firm:

  1. It uncovers and makes visible who your staff perceive as subject matter experts
  2. It allows followship which consolidates knowledge and drives consistency of use rather than having inconsistent practices and variation in methods and techniques.
  3. It forms the basis of leadership-replacement
  4. It feeds your Knowledge-bases with content that is rated and self-cleaning
  5. It builds a Controlled Vocabulary

Possibly the most important effect it has though, is that it builds Communities of Practice that in turn lead to higher staff retention and improved job performance respectively through an alternative career path to line-management, and faster access to better job-related information and knowledge sources.

An alternative to career progression through line management is progression as an expert, and a CoP provides the basis for recognition and peer approval in a domain of excellence. This allows people to earn a reputation for knowledge and expertise that is a valid and sought-after alternative to “going into” management.

By allowing the SMEs to select, rate, and drive usage of materials and sources, a significant amount of intellectual value is created, and re-use reduces duplication of effort and variation in practices. Since the SMEs are qualifying materials and sources, the average applicability and quality is higher than if people were finding their own way.


There are significant benefits to building an information and knowledge infrastructure that enables staff to see what materials and sources the SMEs consume and how they rate them. The net effect can include increased quality of work, decreased costs, and more work consistency with lower variation in quality.
It also provides a social structure to recognize expertise without requiring promotion into management positions, thus paving the way to lower turnover and increased tenure of your thought-leaders.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Aspects of Questionnaire Design

August 19, 2010

I have blogged before about using executive presentations and other artifacts as part of organization-wide organizational learning (see below), and in this blog I will cover some aspects of questionnaire design.

I will assume that the reader either already knows or will research the basic questionnaire-design constructs like having clear agent of action, avoiding double-barreled questions, speaking in the active voice, and the like.

Why Create a Quiz?

The objective of a quiz is to perplex and mystify the reader, or so you have been led to believe over the years of taking them yourself and being mystified at the purpose of some questions that seem to delve the depths of irrelevancy, and perplexed by the minutes of your life ebbing away as you answer them.

However, this is not at all the purpose of setting questions.

Setting questions achieves the following:

  • A second shot at highlighting to the audience what you regard as the important take-away points. You should set questions only on the things you want the reader to know are the most important bits – by posing a question you are saying to the audience “…and this is the important part
  • Finding out if there is something inside your material that is systematically misleading the audience. If significant numbers of people get the wrong answer, then you have misled them someplace and you need to fix that.
  • Finding out if there is a bias of some kind in the audience population. If only one department, or a specific age-group, or only people over six feet tall get certain answers wrong, or pick a specific incorrect answer from a list, then something is going on that you need to look into – which is probably something you told them previously.
  • Finding out if what you said made a lick of sense.
  • Discovering if the person felt confident about their answer or not

Of course this gets a tiny bit more complicated, but then that is why you are in this business – you like complicated things.

Which bring us to How.


  1. Only ask questions that test understanding on something you regard as a vital point – don’t waste your time and theirs on setting questions on irrelevant material.

  2. Never offer frivolous alternatives in a multiple-choice question, each alternative should be something the person is likely to pick due to a misunderstanding that you have already discovered.

  3. If in doubt, leave it out.

  4. Test and retest before launching.

  5. You need the SME to be involved in building a questionnaire because only they can know which questions are significant, and which answers are valid.

How to Create a Quiz

I have a book on my shelf that is written by the guru on questionnaire design, A.N. Oppenheim (Oppenheim1998) and one of the few books exclusively focused on the topic of designing questions. The preface to the 2nd edition starts off with the following:

The world is full of well-meaning people who believe that anyone who can write plain English and has a modicum of common sense can produce a good questionnaire. This book is not for them”

The basic drift is that it isn’t that simple to construct a good questionnaire, and boy, isn’t it in spades!

Ask a bad question, and you will get nonsensical answers and be left wondering what the audience thought you meant.
You will also have wasted your chance, and have wasted the respondent’s time – for which there is no excuse whatsoever.

There are plenty of texts (such as published by O’Reilly) dealing with the technical side of questionnaire tools both SaaS ( Survey Monkey, etc.) or embedded within Learning Management ( Moodle, WebCT, etc.), Trouble-Ticketing ( Remedy, OTRS, etc.), and other suites.
But that’s the easy part, albeit the part with the thickest manuals.

What I am going to cover here is the more tricky part of how to build the dialogue involved in asking questions in an eLearning context.
You cannot see the puzzled look on your respondent’s face in an eLearning situation, so you will have to plan for it when you design your questions.

Step 1 – Critical Elements

Identify the critical concepts or facts that you want the audience to understand and retain, jot these down.
If you get past 15 or 20, consider breaking your course into more than one part – a tutorial with more than a dozen critical points is starting to get really big, and unlikely to stick. Five is a good number, try to keep it that focused.
Keep it tight, keep it light, and rather build more tightly-focused courses than trying to solve the world’s problems in one fell swoop.

Step 2 – “By George She got it”

For each question, consider what supportive information you can give for a correct answer.
You are getting another shot at contextualizing and once more to drive a point home, don’t waste it.
You should present the respondent with a text of your choice and you should conform to the dialectic form of “
yes, and …”.
Affirm the correct answer and then provide the context of why that answer is right, and drive the point home a little deeper.

Step 3 – “um… no, because …”

For each incorrect answer you provide or which might occur (you will enable them to pick a wrong answer, right?), you need to furnish targeted corrective information.
Try to present wrong alternatives not to confuse, but to identify what you think are common mistakes or potential mistakes you want to address, so that once more you can drive your point home and provide a context.
The idea is to provide them with enough information (including referring or linking to other sources), so that you get the issue cleared up in their mind before they move on.

Step 4 – Concluding Summary

Many questionnaire tools will give you the option (which you will naturally take) to provide a feedback statement after they have finished answering it.

This is once again, an opportunity to provide additional context or remind them of the facts.
It allows you to place the question and answer in perspective in the broader picture, and provide the respondent with an additional link in why this is important and how to picture it.

Step 5 – Confidence

There is a big difference between getting something wrong when you are taking your best guess and being wrong and simultaneously being very confident about your answer, and it is very useful to know which is the case.
Consider constructing your questionnaire to add a rider to each question to measure how confident the respondent is – a simple five-point
Likert Scale should be fine.


By now you can see another reason why asking irrelevant questions is a waste of effort – for each question you need a comment for a right answer, comments for wrong answers, and a comment to put the whole question into a meaningful perspective.
A whole bunch of work that you only want to do if the question is worth the effort.

Remember, you are in an asynchronous dialogue with the respondent, and the objective is to pass on not just facts, not merely information, but knowledge – and you can only do that by also providing perspective and context.

Good Luck!

Some previous posts on Organizational Learning:

“How to get added value from corporate presentations”

“Knowledge Transfer”

“Niche Mastery – How KM can add a few hundred million dollars to corporate worth”

“The Corporate College is dead, long live the Corporate College!”

“Corporate blogging and web2.0 – training wheels first

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


[Oppenheim1998] Oppenheim A. Questionnaire design, iterviewing and attitude measurement. . Pinter, 1998.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

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