Learn and share your skills with the developerWorks community

The "Pass it Along" beta release

Pass It Along is a stand-alone Web application built internally at IBM that combines various Web 2.0 features to facilitate learning and sharing among participants. The application has been available on alphaWorks, IBM's premier site for emerging technologies, since June, and now we at developerWorks want to introduce it to you. This article explains the high-level concepts of Pass It Along as a segue into the application itself, where you'll find step-by-step tutorials on how to use Pass It Along to learn from others and share your expertise. So think about what you know—and what you'd like to know—and explore how Pass It Along can help you with both. (You might just earn some money along the way—virtually, that is!) And don't forget to tell us what you think. Your feedback is valuable to us as we roll out new, interactive features on developerWorks now and in 2009.


David Kovach (kovachd@us.ibm.com), Advanced design, IBM

David Kovach, a senior user experience designer with IBM developerWorks, is a user experience multidisciplinarian currently involved in community, personalization, and other Web-related design projects. His background is in the Web-based enterprise software arena and in the world of SAP. Much of his formal experience was in Silicon Valley, a hotbed for UE, UCD, UI, HF, Ux, and HCI. He works hard to shed personal views and challenge executive beliefs, and he takes a strong stand every day for users' wants and needs.

Lynn Haney (lbhutch@us.ibm.com), alphaWorks Web Editress, IBM

Lynn Haney is the Web editress for IBM alphaWorks. She has been with alphaWorks since 2001, as well as from 1997 to 1998.

23 September 2008


Pass It Along concepts include learning-based content sharing; knowledge paths; rewards for participation; self-nomination as a follower of some bit of learning; and declaration of yourself as an expert in order to help others. Nearly every modern Web feature is included: You can comment, discuss, rate, lurk, build up your public learning profile, huddle up within groups around learning topics that interest you, and build entire learning-based communities.

Figure 1. Pass It Along header, describing the application's features

Pass It Along resulted from listening to hundreds of IBM customers define how they wanted their learning and training organizations to be able to function in the future. The application is simple to navigate and makes it easy to focus on the specific tasks at hand as well as the main objectives of sharing and learning.

Our goals with the beta program are two-fold: to elevate Pass It Along in the industry and to help us better see how participatory interactive learning concepts can fit into the developerWorks Web site.

As content contribution in Pass It Along grows and your beta feedback comes in, we will begin to correlate these data-rich nuggets to the appropriate design and development projects, current and future. Your input will be dynamically driving the evolution of many game-changing projects already underway at developerWorks. Pass It Along is truly in your hands; your response will help determine to what degree its features, functionality, or the entire application slide into a new community-based approach that developerWorks will be rolling out in 2009.

Figure 2. Pass It Along's home tab, where you choose either learning or sharing
PIA home tab

What is Pass It Along?

Pass It Along is a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange network that builds communities of experts and learners around "nuggets" of knowledge. According to the application’s chief designer, Jamie Alexander, who works within the IBM Application Innovation Services organization as part of the Learning Content Canada group,

"Pass It Along is trying to revolutionize the way we learn and train others. It starts with the premise that everyone is an expert at something, whether that something be specific such as the tax requirements for an electronic commerce site, be more general such as the basic concepts behind Service Oriented Architecture or be completely unrelated to work, such as teaching salsa dancing. This expertise is "passed on" by recommending courses, books and online articles, by submitting materials for a lecture and speaking at lunch and learns and conferences, or by creating and holding an interactive class for a small group of colleagues, friends or just interested people that stumbled upon your expertise."
Figure 3. A learning topic about Javascript; topic includes embedded content artifact
learning topic

The core components of Pass It Along are as follows:

  • Knowledge paths: A knowledge path is a set of topics that, when learned, meet a particular learning goal.
  • Learning topic: A topic is a nugget of learning, which is short enough that it could be learned in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Learning bank: Get paid in virtual dollars while you learn and share expertise! The learning bank establishes a currency of learning by paying virtual dollars to learners, contributors, and experts as topics are learned and knowledge paths are followed.
  • Knowledge path leader: A knowledge path leader is someone who can edit the knowledge path information, such as the name and description, and who can choose and order topics that make up the knowledge path.
  • Knowledge path follower: A knowledge path follower is someone who wants to follow a knowledge path, such as one that a mentor has set up.
  • Topic contributor: A topic contributor is a person who wants to help collaborate on the content for a topic.
  • Team: A team is a way of grouping people together to share learning information specific to a project, group within an organization, community of practice, or social club.
Figure 4. A complete knowledge path for users new to the Javascript topic in Pass It Along
knowledge path

Pass It Along is a feature-rich application that can appear daunting at first, but is actually quite easy to use. We have intentionally left the original (alphaWorks) design in place and hope to discover your preferences through your feedback.

Figure 5. You are always either learning or sharing in Pass It Along.

Remember this (from the frequently asked questions—see Resources): "Passing something on is a way of sharing your knowledge by training and educating others." The premise of the application is simple: You are either learning or sharing.

How will Pass It Along concepts be used on developerWorks?

One of the application's most notable features is the ability to build knowledge paths from distinct learning content artifacts (such as videos, presentations, or documents). This content artifact is shared or passed along as a learning topic; each topic can be contributed by any individual and, therefore, fuses collaboration around a specific learning objective or goal. This feature is quite relevant to our developerWorks audience and authors.

Figure 6. An SOA learning topic with a rich media content artifact playing in an external video player
player artifact

In the Pass It Along beta, you can submit content into a learning topic and then build up knowledge paths comprising various learning topics. You can also explore and follow critical developerWorks beta knowledge paths. Our internal skills development leaders generated these example knowledge paths and supporting learning topics in order to show you how the presentation of developerWorks' learning content will become more interactive and participatory in the future.

The developerWorks beta knowledge paths are as follows:

  • Installing DB2 on Windows and Linux
  • Getting Started with DB2
  • DB2 Database Administration
  • Working with DB2 Tables, Views, and Indices
  • Working with DB2 Data using SQL
  • Getting Started with Linux
  • Basic Linux Administration
  • Advanced Linux Administration
  • Desktop Linux
  • Eclipse for Beginners

As you can see, developerWorks content—whether article, tutorial, download, e-learning, brand-based collateral, or anything from the site—can be further used to build up new learning content topics and then placed within a knowledge path. This is exactly what we have done with the developerWorks beta knowledge paths, which we hope will serve as good examples as you get started.

Figure 7. We want your feedback! Click on the link in the header and post ideas in our Beta feedback forum.
pia beta

Another popular topic among social communities and Web 2.0 groups is the idea of building and owning your own community, group, or team collaboration area in an ad-hoc manner. In Pass It Along, you can do this specifically around a team of colleagues and then build specific learning topics and knowledge paths geared toward their learning objectives. You could even break down the learning by role or job area. Historically, as technology has evolved, developerWorks has adapted quickly to satisfy all the hats a developer might wear during a project, as well as to satisfy the learning or skill-building needs of all project participants based on their technical roles. This idea of attaching your team to specific learning topics or knowledge paths seems like a logical evolution to us. How might such a practice fit into your team or your other peer-to-peer training efforts?

The Pass It Along application shows how learning content, blended with community and Web 2.0 features, is starting to erode the old ideas of big, monolithic, segregated Web sites. General Web 2.0 concepts, such as crowd sourcing, amass like-minded users into areas appealing to them, making it possible for you to find everything you want to learn in one place and to take advantage of what other like-minded users are learning. This is a win-win situation: You can go straight to all the various types of content you need, and we at developerWorks can learn what is most relevant to you and generate more targeted content related to those categories or subjects.

Our goal is to make every visit to developerWorks as educational, seamless, and productive as possible. Your input to the Pass It Along beta is what will make that possible. So log in with your developerWorks user name and password to try out the beta, and tell us what features or design changes are crucial to your learning on developerWorks, as well as what you love or hate about the beta, and we will consider your feedback in the next phase of our design planning.





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