Transformative and Reflective Life-long Learning (Part 2 of 3)

January 27, 2010

Bamboo Project blogger Michele Martin’s recent lament about how little time we provide for reflection in the learning process was far from the entire story for her. In talking with Maurice Coleman in the T is for Training interview he did with her, she also returned to a theme she has often written about: the need for learners to take personal responsibility for their own continuing education and creating their own personal learning environments—or, as Stephanie Zimmerman writes in an ALA Learning post, engaging in “feral learning.”

Those who rely on their employers to direct their training-learning opportunities are, Martin maintains, missing one of the most important lessons of all: “We need to take control of our own learning…When the company is in charge of your learning, then you are always learning what they want you to learn…We need to say, ‘What is it that I want to learn? How do I want to develop?’…The people who left it up to companies: at the end of the day, they were obsolete.”

This is far from a theoretical proposal, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt suggest in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom: “The traditional educational model, based primarily on the concept of the school and the teacher in a classroom as islands, standing alone and not interconnected with society or other educational institutions, will not generate competence in a knowledge society” (p. 166).

Workplace learning and performance professionals who serve as leaders within their organizations assure me that they are as eager to provide and facilitate learning experiences as they are to encourage the development of the sort of communities of learning which grow when we direct our own continuing education.

Martin as well as Palloff and Pratt see tremendous opportunities through effective online learning and the use of Web 2.0 (online social networking) tools: “Not only are we helping to shape the creation of empowered, lifelong learners, our participation as equal members of a group of learners supports us in our own quest for lifelong learning,” Palloff and Pratt write (p. 168).

Another element of this process, they note, is that we don’t frequently enough ask whether learners are adequately prepared for or ready to engage in online learning and take advantage of the opportunities which exist for transformative and reflective life-long learning. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them along on their individual paths toward this level of creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning; De Anza College Distance Learning Center staff actually provide a great example for all of us through the “Distance Learning Questionnaire” they adopted many years ago from the PBS-Adult Learning Service (p. 154) before it ceased operating in 2005.

It’s clear that none of this is particularly new. It’s also clear that it’s an important element of training-teaching-learning which is far from universal. If we embrace the opportunities provided through creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning, we move one step closer to teaching by example and producing the sort of results which all too rarely are documented within the organizations we serve.

Next: Reflective Preparation—The De Anza College Questionnaire


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


Presenting, and Presenting Ourselves, With Web-Conferencing Tools

January 1, 2010

As web conferencing increasingly becomes a part of our communication toolbox through a variety of free and paid services, we are growing increasingly aware of how easy it is to join and participate in communities of learning for meetings and training opportunities. And it doesn’t take lots of time or money to bring ourselves up to speed: we can quickly gain an understanding of how much we benefit with a minimal amount of effort.

We are, at the same time, becoming increasingly aware that how we present ourselves—and present, ourselves—in online settings has a tremendous impact on how effective we are as trainer-teacher-learners and meeting facilitators. Three notable books, written for trainers and educators but full of information helpful to anyone conducting online meetings for any purpose, can help us through that process.

Bonnie Elbaum, Cynthia McIntyre, and Alese Smith, in Essential Elements: Prepare, Design, and Teach Your Online Course, offer what they consider to be the seventeen essential steps of preparing online learning sessions which will keep instructors and learners equally engaged. The book opens with a section on how to build a course outline. A second section moves into elements of designing a course which helps students (and others) maintain their focus and develop effective collaborations to foster learning. An extensive checklist summarizes the contents of the entire book for anyone involved in developing and delivering online learning opportunities.

Jennifer Hofmann, an e-learning consultant and president of InSync Training, LLC, combines summaries, tips, and examples to familiarize trainers and others conducting online meetings with the challenges of creating and conducting successful online sessions in The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings, and Events. The second chapter, “Facilitating in the Synchronous Classroom,” is a wonderful primer. It outlines facilitators’ roles in directing learning while helping participants communicate and collaborate online; reminds presenters and facilitators that flexibility and an ability to work well in stressful situations are key components to success in online presentations; and discusses key resources—including the use of a producer or assistant—for those engaged in online presentations.

Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom, address online communication in an academic setting and offer plenty of guidance adaptable to general web-conferencing practices. The “Learning Community in Cyberspace” section includes tips on defining and redefining community and managing the technology, and the “Building an Electronic Learning Community” section walks readers through the process of building foundations for effective online learning interactions and ways of promoting collaborative learning.

Those interested in adapting effective online presentation skills into web-conferencing will find plenty of ideas by combining what they know with what they find in print and online; through the use of strong imagery with limited amounts of text on PowerPoint slides; and through explorations of what makes ideas memorable rather than ephemeral.

With these tools and resources in hand, we are well prepared to join and further develop our web-conferencing skills in ways which strengthen the communities we so desperately seek and so deeply cherish.

For help with improving online presentation skills, please view the online training resources at Paul Signorelli & Associates or contact us at paul@paulsignorelli.com. If you would like to share your own recommendations on web-conferencing and presentation-skills resources, please join the conversation by posting a comment here.


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