Technology, Change, and Learning: Smiles Replacing Stress

If we want to initiate a lemming-like run from our workplaces, all we need to do is make the following announcement: “We’re going to make some huge, wonderful changes around here with a new piece of technology we just purchased.” Want to make this even better? Disseminate the announcement early Monday morning or late on a Friday afternoon—particularly just before the beginning of a three-day weekend. Then notify the staff of your Human Resources division that you’re trying to help the economy by creating new job opportunities for those willing to apply for positions recently vacated by the staff that you have chased away.

When we approach technology training face-to-face or in online environments, we need to remember that we are proposing some of the most emotionally wrenching concepts we can inject into our colleague’s lives: change (“Why me?”), technology (“I’m so done with new technology”), and learning (“I’m too busy trying to do my job to take the time to learning something new”). If we find colleagues avoiding us in the hallways or at our local coffee shop, we only have ourselves to blame.

To turn the situation around, we need to start by putting ourselves into our learners’ shoes. And classrooms. And online learning sessions. We need to remember that technology is a tool, not the focus of our attention. If we work with our learners to determine how new technology helps all of us do our jobs more effectively and enjoyably—and we had better be sure this is true before we start offering that promise to prospective learners—we’re on the road to creating enthusiasm and effective communities of learning.

If we make the technology we are introducing an integral part of our face-to-face and online learning opportunities, we show that we have embraced what we are helping to facilitate and disseminate. We also, at the same time, can see how learners are absorbing or struggling with what they are attempting to master. Empathy as a learning tool, anyone?

And if we are honest about the benefits and the problems of what we are offering to the members of our learning communities, we are helping to strengthen those communities to the benefit of all whom we are serving.

When we move into online learning, we need to remember that we are introducing an additional level of stress into the lives of those who are new to distance learning: not only do they need to struggle with the specific technology they are attempting to learn, but they face the additional challenge of learning how to learn in ways that may not initially be comfortable for them. By making ourselves available before, during, and after the formal presentations of online learning opportunities, we demonstrate our commitment to our learners and to online learning and we offer, by example, the sort of support which is essential to successful learning.

Learning, as our colleagues at Fort Hill Company have documented, is not an isolated event, set apart from the rest of our lives. Nor is it distinctive from what we often mistakenly think of as “our real job.” In a world where change is constant and in which those who do not learn are quickly left behind, we are responsible for helping our colleagues learn. We need to find ways to make the learning process enjoyable and rewarding rather than dispiriting. If we are successful, we contribute to the building and the nurturing of communities of learning, and everybody wins.

N.B.: Paul is facilitating two 90-minute online sessions—on September 16 (“Using Technology to Enhance In-Person Library Training”) and September 23, 2010 (“Using Technology for Remote Library Training”)—under the auspices of ALA TechSource. Participants can register separately for the September 16 or September 23 sessions, or can receive a discounted rate by registering for both.

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