Conversation with Jane Bozarth

The other day I had a chance to ask my friend Jane Bozarth a few questions as we caught up. I’ve known Jane for a long time and I am lucky enough to see her at almost every conference, usually we have a quiet meal together, catch up on what each other is doing and talk about the world of learning development and design (it’s a rip roaring good time:). Jane is the author of many books about learning including her newest book Show Your Work.

Jane frequently speaks at conferences and provides insights into all types of social media. And often facilitates the twitter chat of learning professionals #lrnchat Here is some of our latest conversational snippets.

Kapp: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Bozarth: I work for North Carolina state government and my roles have changed along with the workplace learning field. I started out as a classroom trainer, did some time in as an L&D manager, then moved into eLearning. I now focus mostly on other ways of supporting learners, especially learning with social media.

Kapp: You’ve been in the field for a while, what is the most dramatic change you’ve seen in your tenure within the field?

Bozarth: The learners, who are increasingly identifying their own learning needs and quick, low-effort ways of meeting them without necessarily enrolling in a course. You’d be hard-pressed nowadays to find an adult who’s never learned anything from YouTube.

Kapp: You’ve just written a really interesting and thought provoking book, can you tell us a little about the book?

Bozarth: The book, Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud, was a response to problems I see everywhere, including my own work world, with traditional approaches to organizational knowledge management. We still think employees can just write down what they do and then somehow codify that for search and retrieval within a magical database. It just doesn’t happen, especially with tacit knowledge.

We have reports and status meetings and SOPs and mountains of documentation, we archive and tag and store, yet people spend 1/3 of their time looking for someone or something, or repeating work without knowing it’s already been done, or learning about something because we didn’t know someone on another floor already knows about it. We do a pretty good job at documenting what we do, but not how we get things done. Showing your work means making more explicit the ways in which you enact your work: why I did it this way; how I learned to do it that way; how I managed exceptions to the SOP; obstacles and how I overcame them; mistakes and how I corrected them. It can also extend to organzations, which can show their work to stakeholders or shareholders or donors or the public. There are advantages to individuals, who can market themselves, make themselves more visible to management, and help others find them; advantages to organizations, who will find new means of connecting talent pools and expertise, and advantages to customers and other stakeholders who can get a better understanding of the kind of work a business does and how that work happens.

While it doesn’t have to involve technology at all, new social tools like Facebook and Snapguide, and hardware like cameras on phones, coupled with increasing comfort with social sharing, make showing your work much easier now. By the way: If your readers haven’t seen the book yet, it’s gorgeous. My publisher really went all out with production on this one.

Kapp: You’ve written a number of books, what is the secret to writing books that hit the pulse of the learning and development industry?

Bozarth: Boredom LOL. While I’m not much of an early adopter of new gizmos, I seem to have a knack for moving on to something — eLearning, social media for learning, narrating work — just as it is emerging. Or maybe it’s that I see applications to L&D a bit earlier than others. For instance, I’ve just recently started doing a workshop on using Pinterest for learning and most attendees seem genuinely surprised by ideas like using images to build a virtual tour of the workplace for potential new hires. I’ve actually been employed in a training role in training organizations my whole career so I have a very much on-the-ground view of workplace learning and the workings of L&D shops. I am known for being pragmatic and down-to-earth, so I think I often hit the pulse by offering realistic solutions to real problems, many of which I’ve experienced myself.

Kapp: Finally, any advice for my instructional technology graduate who are just entering the field?

Bozarth: YES. I find people just entering the field often lack negotiation skills. They have a very textbook-based view of how things like the design process “should” work and struggle with the reality of needs assessment and balancing conflicting ideas from multiple stakeholders, and working with people from everywhere who all think they’re experts in designing “learning experiences”.

Learn to say “no” in such a way that you don’t get fired, and realize that although you are asked to do a certain thing a certain way (“We need a course!” “They need a workshop!”) that usually the person making the request really just wants a problem solved. Learn to have conversations in which you can offer better alternatives with the promise of solving that problem for them. And recognize the reality that sometimes, if we plan to stay employed, we all have to just sometimes go along with decisions that conflict with what we know about good design/sound approaches.

Kapp: Jane, great catching up with you. Thanks for talking the time for this chat. Here are some of Jane’s books, may I suggest, they make great summer reading!

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