Technology, Change, and Learning: Smiles Replacing Stress

August 25, 2010

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.


Transformative and Reflective Life-long Learning (Part 1 of 3)

January 25, 2010

Listening to Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training interview with Bamboo Project blogger Michele Martin about learning, Web 2.0 (online social networking), and a variety of other topics, I was struck by a passing reference she makes to the need for reflection in learning: “One of the things that I find from a learning perspective that is often missing is the whole notion of reflection. We’re just not really great with reflection…and social media, to some extent, can support it…”

What’s notable is not that someone is lamenting the lack of reflection in contemporary learning, but that so many of us recognize and comment on it yet somehow don’t seem able to foster it to a large degree in workplace learning and performance programs.

It’s not as if we’re unaware or it or even unsure as to how to proceed. Those of us familiar with Fort Hill Company’s efforts to create comprehensive leadership training opportunities which draw managers/supervisors and learners together before as well as after learning events take place know that there are great models to be followed and adapted. The Fort Hill Company model is also well documented in Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results; a follow-up manual (Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training & Development) written by Jefferson, Pollock, and Wick is designed to help managers/supervisors and learners better apply what is offered through face-to-face or online learning opportunities.

But the moments of what Jack Mezirow calls “transformative learning” and “critical reflection” seem few and far between in most programs we see and oversee today. Learners often have to fight to obtain release time from work—the very idea that learning is somehow disconnected from or not an integral part of work hints at how deep-rooted a problem we face here—and then often return to worksites where what they learned is not accepted, nourished, or supported. Worse yet, the time to even practice what is learned is seen as a luxury rather than an essential element of the learning process.

As Martin says in different words in her T is for Training interview, one benefit of online learning is that course participants can “engage with and reflect on the course content,” Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt note in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom (p. 129)—a book which is as fresh and timely as when it was published more than a decade ago. (An updated version was published in 2007.)  The process of making reflection a part of learning, they add, “is a vibrant, dynamic process that is typically not completed when a course ends…the first experience with this process creates a hunger for more and sets the stage for participants to become lifelong, reflective learners” (p. 130).

It all becomes personal—as learning should be—and transformative when we immerse ourselves in a combination of face-to-face and online learning experiences, as I did over the past couple of years. Regardless of whether the courses were online or onsite, the best were the ones that left me hungry for more. Made me continue reading and thinking about books like Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations and Lon Safko and David Brake’s The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success long after the courses and projects requiring them had ended. And make me appreciative that trainer-teacher-learners like Martin, Palloff, Pratt, and the others mentioned in this article are still among us to remind us what we can accomplish when we are reflective.

Next: Personal Learning Environments and Feral Learning


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