Monday, 18 May 2009

Learning, Extended Brain and Topic Hubs

I hope you will bear with me on this post.  There's a bit of a back story, but I think it helps to paint the picture of a learning pattern that I'm finding myself using and the resulting topics hub and how they act as an extended brain.

A few weeks ago, I was asked about presenting to the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the National Speakers Association.   One of their members had seen me present and thought that my presentation around the use of Social Media would be a good topic for their group.  Since, I wasn't familiar with the National Speakers Association, I asked a lot of questions about the group and who would be attending and making sure that my presentation would be on the mark.

I'm guessing that many of you, like me, have never heard of the National Speakers Association.   It's a membership organization for professional speakers or aspiring professional speakers.  And to be considered a professional speaker, here's some of the qualifying criteria:

  • $25,000 or more giving presentations within the 12 months prior to application, OR
  • compensation for 20 or more presentations within the 12 months prior to application

So, actual members of the NSA are pretty serious paid speakers.  I know a few folks who would qualify, but the list of people I know is not that long.

Part of this conversation really struck me and was a bit of a wake up call.  I do paid speaking, not enough to qualify for NSA membership.  But I've never thought of that part of my work in the same way that I think about consulting or CTO-for-Hire.  Those I treat as professional activities.  Paid speaking has always been in-bound requests based on word-of-mouth.

The organizer explained that a lot of what NSA discusses is how to run your paid speaking like a business.

A light bulb went off in my head.  But not the good kind where you have a great idea.  Rather it was a more like the realization that there were some empty sockets that needed light bulbs.  Or maybe you could say I quickly found a few great questions, a new set of items for my  To Learn List, or what I just called a Learning Ignition Point:

  • What do professional speakers really do to generate paid speaking?  To make money?
  • Should I be doing something different about my paid speaking?  Should I treat it more professionally?
  • How can and should professional speakers use social media to help their business?

While the organizer assured me that my presentation would be just great.  The presenting what I presented to Management Consultants and Training Consultants would equally apply to professional speakers, I didn't feel comfortable with that as the answer.

What to Do When Learning Something New?

The answer of how to attack a new set of personal learning objectives is going to be quite different each time. 

I just talked about this in Online Coaching where I discussed aspects of what to do when your hit one of these learning ignition points.  What I described there holds for how I went about learning about this topic:

I take any new learning need and consider whether it's something I can likely just find through search, or if it's more complex, then I quickly move for learning need to the key question:

Who do I know who can help me figure out how to learn about this?
In practice here, I did some of the normal kinds of searches you would expect.  I found some okay resources, but the reality is that I didn't find quite what I was expecting.  When I shifted from searching to the question of Who – I found myself a bit at a loss.  As I mentioned, I know a few people who would qualify as NSA members.  I sent out a few emails and had one conversation, but it didn't help that much.

One thing I did find during my searching was that there were quite a few bloggers who talked about aspects of the business of paid speaking. 

So a light bulb went off (not an empty socket this time).  I realized that I could possibly create a Topic Hub that would:

  • Bring together and organize the content of the bloggers and other sources
  • Use social signals (page views, clicks, bookmarking) to help find the "good stuff"
  • Add to my list of people that I could contact as I had specific questions

I reached out to one of the bloggers who looked to be a very good central point in the discussion, who had good content, and who seemed approachable.  I basically asked.  Do you think this is a good idea?  Is there already a hub like this?  The response I received was that there really wasn't anything and it seemed like a good idea.

Speaking Topic Hub

Really that's the story behind today's launch of Speaking Pro Central.   I connected with a few of the leading bloggers in the space.  Most jumped in and also pointed me to other good sources of information.  Through existing social signals that will get better over time, it is helping to find good stuff.

As an example, I already used the capabilities to help me with my post Twitter and Webinars where the Twitter – Speaking Pro Central page pointed me to all sorts of useful posts.  Based on response on Twitter to the post, it seems like other people found value in that list of posts as well.

I'm looking forward to exploring a bit around topics like: Speaking Fees, Speaking Circuits, Back-of-Room/BOR Sales, and, of course, all the stuff around Social Media.

The other important aspect is that I've already had several great conversations with people who know about professional speaking and are quite willing to answer questions as they come up.

Extended Brain

I'm not 100% sure I can capture and explain what's going on here, but I'm convinced there's an interesting new learning pattern emerging out of this.

If you step back, what I'm doing is enlisting online coaches (Online Coaching) and I'm also leveraging an approach similar to what I discussed in Informal Learning Technology.  I'm enlisting the aid of other people to help identify good content.  And I'm enlisting a very broad set of users to help surface the good stuff.  And the social signals occur without them even knowing it – just by doing what they already do.

There's another aspect to this as well.  I firmly believe that having this resource (Speaking Pro Central) is much like having my blog and having eLearning Learning.  It is my extended brain on the subject.  It's amazing how often someone asks me a question about a topic and I am able to say – I don't remember but I posted about that in my blog, or I know you can find it on eLearning Learning.  Quite literally, this morning I pointed someone to the Social Learning and Informal Learning pages on eLearning Learning as an answer to their inquiry about resources on that subject.  No, it's not a complete answer, but since I bring across a lot of the good stuff that I encounter into eLearning Learning, it's a close approximation to what I've seen that seems to be good.

In a New Way of Learning, the crux of the discussion is that there's something other than learning – as committing to long-term memory – that we are seeking.  Instead, the heart of it is seeking a result of:

subsequently be used for solving problems, making decisions, and creating new knowledge

We seek a future ability to retrieve and use the information.  See Better Memory.

I'm thinking that there's merit to this approach far beyond this specific example.

Because this is not well formed in my mind – I really hope you will chime in.

Also, I'm constantly looking for people who want to apply this to other domains.  I've been very fortunate to have people helping me to create very interesting information sources on Communities and Networks, Mobile Learning, HR Technology and many others.  If you have ideas on a domain where this makes sense, feel free to drop me an email.

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