Standing With Our Friends (Part 1 of 2): Communities of Learning

April 25, 2014

In learning, there is often the obvious lesson—which is rewarding—and then there is that difficult-to-anticipate moment that transcends anything we expected to experience—which makes it all the more potentially valuable and transformative. And that moment of transcendence is exactly what occurred again last Friday when I joined Maurice Coleman and other colleagues for an episode of his wonderful T is for Training podcast online.

Atlantic_LogoGoing into the latest hour-long biweekly opportunity to share ideas with those training-teaching-learning colleagues, I had no other expectation than that I would learn something useful from members of one of the best communities of learning to which I belong. And the conversation captured in the recording which now exists as an archived podcast (Episode #138) certainly delivers an interesting graze through a field with plenty of different topics.

What the audio recording doesn’t reveal, however, is the much more disturbingly moving exchange that began when a colleague used the program backchannel to post a link to “I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway,” written for The Atlantic by Doug Glanville, “a retired Major League Baseball player [who] explains how he’s trying to turn an upsetting encounter with the police into an opportunity for dialogue.”

It wasn’t the sort of topic we generally explore on T is for Training—or in many other venues I frequent—so we kept our exchanges to a set of backchannel comments through the typed chat window available as the podcast was being recorded. When the recording ended, a few of us briefly continued to explore the ugly, painful, gaping wound highlighted by Glanville’s beautifully written article; to ignore the opportunity to do so within a community of learning that has strong roots in confronting rather than ignoring our most difficult challenges would have been to further contribute to the turn-your-head-and-pretend-it-isn’t-there proclivity that plagues us through the mistaken and debilitating belief that we inhabit a “post-racial” society. And when it was time for us to virtually part and return to our other obligations, I wasn’t quite ready to set this aside, for I sensed I was far from finished with the learning opportunity my colleagues had extended through the posted link and the follow-up conversation.

There has never been a time in my life when I have not been conscious of the presence and effects of discrimination and inequality. I grew up in a Central California Valley town with geographic boundaries that mirrored the racial and economic divisions existing between the various groups which formed that still troubled community. I felt the relatively minor stings Italian-Americans felt through taunts that were nothing compared to what African-American, Latino, and the all-too-rare Jewish friends and colleagues experienced daily. I was occasionally the butt of not-so-funny jokes and racial epithets—but not in any significant way at the level those friends and colleagues were. My sense of what this meant grew during a three-year stay in Japan, where regardless of how much respect I was accorded as a teacher, I knew I would always be an outsider. Fair enough; I always had the option to return “home” when I grew tired of living in a place where I wouldn’t be accepted.

But here in our imaginary post-racial society, colleagues and close friends don’t have the luxury of going home in the way I envisioned going home. They are home, and it’s a home that never really offers the benefits of ownership that others can routinely enjoy.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

A lovely friend was kind enough to draw me viscerally into that world again a couple of months ago through a series of moving online reflections during Black History Month. As The Month came to a chronological end, I decided to ask a simple question of this friend who has indisputably been on the receiving end of terrible–yet often subtle–acts of discrimination–but refuses to succumb to bitterness: “If I had been there, what is one concrete thing I could have done to reverse what you experienced?” The response: “If/when you see subtle racism against others, call people on it. Let folks know that you see it and you do not condone, agree, or approve…It would not have changed the world, but you would have made a stand.” That’s why, I wrote at the time, this person is my friend: I ask a straightforward question, and I’m offered a positive, actionable reminder that we don’t need special days, weeks, or months to confirm that each of us can make positive action a way of life that contributes to the creation of the sort of world we want to inhabit. Now. And for the rest of our lives.

It was a thought that remained with me as the T is for Training group dispersed after the conversation last Friday, so I quickly sent an email asking what I can be doing at a simple, personal, level to prevent others from experiencing what Doug Glanville describes in that article.

The answer produced that moment of transcendence I mentioned at the beginning of this article: “My answer is to continue being you. That means being welcoming and supportive. And be willing to stand with someone who is not being treated well.”

What struck me most was not the encouragement that I was somehow, in spite of myself, managing to be somewhat on the right path to being where I want to be. What struck me was that particular, thoughtful, and emotionally jolting choice of words: “…to stand with someone…”

I find it all too easy to stand up for someone when I see something I dislike; standing up for someone (or something) requires action, produces an expectation of results, and is empowering to the person doing the standing—it’s as much about the stander as the one for whom we are attempting to stand. Standing with someone is a much more intimate, risky endeavor: it places us quite vulnerably next to someone with the understanding that the person is in control and gains more from our presence than from the mistaken belief that some sort of representation from another person is wanted or required.

Standing with someone is a life lesson well (but not yet completely) learned. It makes me a better facilitator of learning to know that I stand with rather than for other learners. It makes me a better friend to those who think I’m better than I am intellectually, emotionally, and socially. And it reinforces the oft-forgotten lesson that learning, collaboration, and community-building are based on our ability to be empathetic, set our egos aside, and value the critically important difference between standing for someone and standing with someone.

Next: Standing With Our Friends (Part 2 of 2): I Watched You Disappear


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Post-Conference Tips for Future Conference Attendees (Thinking Outside the Schedule)

July 5, 2013

Let’s be wonderfully perverse! While other colleagues continue writing thoughtful post-conference reflections about the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that concluded in Chicago a few days ago, let’s draw upon what some of us saw and did in Chicago to provide tips for anyone planning to attend any conference with colleagues anytime soon.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)Conference presenters, for example, can benefit from the myriad online reminders of how to most effectively reach and serve their audiences. Those interested in drawing their various and varied onsite and online communities of learning into seamless and tremendously rewarding interactions can participate in the Twitter backchannel at any level that appeals to them. First-time attendees will find numerous resources, including those posted online by attendees willing to share suggestions. And those arriving a day or two before the conference formally begins can indulge in a period of reflection and preparation that also provides the foundations for gaining more than even the best-planned conference can provide.

One pre-conference ritual that has been particularly rewarding for me over the past several years is an informal dinner I arrange with a handful of cherished colleagues the evening before a conference begins. As I have noted so many times over the past few years, those invitation-only dinners—without a formal agenda, and with all participants splitting the cost of the meal—provide an unparalleled opportunity to hear what our best colleagues are doing, planning to do, and recovering from doing. It is, in essence, a chance to attend a master class with the brightest and most collaborative colleagues we can attract.

Siera_logoThe 10 trainer-teacher-learners who gathered in a Thai restaurant in Chicago on the Thursday evening before the ALA Conference began were far from reticent about describing the ways they are approaching the use of social media in libraries—creatively, openly, and with a great deal of encouragement for the learners they serve, as David Lee King noted—or the learner-centric webinars they are designing and delivering, as is the case with Pat Wagner (through Siera) and Andrew Sanderbeck (through the People Connect Institute). Louise Whitaker, from the Pioneer Library System (Oklahoma), enticed me with stories about the innovations in leadership training and other training-teaching-learning initiatives she continues to spearhead to support employees in her workplace—and then continued those stories over coffee a few days later when we were able to meet again outside of the formal sessions provided by the conference organizers. And everyone else had stories to tell or resources to share, so everyone at the table ate abundantly—and we’re not just talking about the wonderful food, here.People_Connect_Institute_logo

This idea of thinking outside the formal conference schedule to enhance—and actually create—learning experiences takes us to the heart of making sure each of us gains as much as we possibly can from attending conferences. It’s the combination of judiciously planning a schedule that includes attendance at formal sessions both within and outside our own areas of expertise; making arrangements in advance to meet with those cherished colleagues we absolutely do not want to miss; and relying on the numerous unplanned encounters we will have with colleagues onsite as well as those facilitated by what I’ve come to refer to as “drive-by greetings”—introductions, from colleagues including Maurice Coleman (T is for Training) and Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), to those people they just happen to be standing  next to when we unexpectedly encounter them, and who just happen to have done work we have admired from afar for years.

One of those unexpected encounters, for me, led on the spot to an unplanned one-on-one hour-long lunch with a writer whose work I’ve very much admired—the sort of opportunity to exchange ideas that most of us would kill to have when we’re sitting in a packed room with little chance to interact at a meaningful level with a first-rate presenter. Another put me face-to-face with a colleague I’d only previously interacted with online. Numerous other outside-the-formal-curriculum meals and coffee breaks helped keep me up to date on the vibrant and ever-expanding world of advocacy and partnerships that benefit all of us and those we serve.

It’s also worth noting that a bit of planning beyond what conference attendance normally facilitates can provide additional rewarding opportunities. Contacting Chicago-based colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) before arriving onsite for the ALA Annual Conference meant that one particularly memorable evening included a dinner with non-library colleagues who are as immersed as anyone else I know in the world of workplace learning and performance (staff training). Our exchanges offered them a glimpse into the world of staff training in libraries and also helped bring me up to date on the ever-evolving language used within the ASTD community to refer to the training-teaching-learning that is at the heart of all we do.

The clear lesson for any conference attendee is that planning helps; looking for opportunities to draw upon all the resources available to us is an essential element of creating a successful conference experience; and “un-planning”—the act of setting a schedule aside when unanticipated opportunities via drive-by greetings present themselves—benefits all of us, and creates the learning experiences we find nowhere else.


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

It would appear that the learning rhizomes are spreading uncontrollably—which, for any trainer-teacher-learner, is a wonderfully positive phenomenon.

etmoocHaving been introduced recently to what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a connected learning process that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning—I now am seeing this connected learning phenomenon nearly everywhere I look. (There seem to be more learning rhizomes than the total number of Starbucks outlets or branch libraries around me.)

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

There is no denying the rapid spread of the rhizomes and my awareness of this wonderful phenomenon. Interactions with a small (but growing) number of the more than 14,000 people who are signed up for the current offering of #etmooc are already taking place through live-tweet sessions and the absolute flood of tweets under the #etmooc, @etmooc, and #etmchat hashtags, along with postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub, and responses to their YouTube posts. It requires a tremendous sense of discipline—and an acknowledgement that there is life outside of #etmooc—to keep from being overwhelmed by the information deluge produced in this course.

Those learning rhizomes, furthermore, are not just firmly rooted in the fertile ground of #etmooc itself; they are reaching far beyond the incredibly permeable walls of the course. Posting comments on a few MOOCmates’ introductory videos on YouTube apparently initiated some sort of algorithmically-triggered response from YouTube, for among my incoming email messages yesterday morning was a first-time alert from YouTube under the subject line “Just for You from YouTube: Weekly Update – February 13, 2013.” And under the subheading “We think you’d like…” was a learning link I really did like—to a video posted by Kansas State University associate professor Michael Wesch—whose work I happen to adore.

Although the “Rethinking Education” video turned out to be one posted more than a year ago, it felt completely fresh. An extension of his earlier “A Vision of Students Today” video coming out of the Mediated Cultures/Digital Ethnography projects at Kansas State University, it was right in the center of a playing field—the wicked problem of rethinking education and online learning—that I’ve been recently been exploring in conversations with colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project, with American Library Association associates Buffy Hamilton and Maurice Coleman, and many others with whom I’m increasingly rhizomatically and quite happily entangled.

Tower_and_the_CloudWatching the “Rethinking Education” video gave the rhizomes a significant growth spurt, for the numerous references in that brief yet densely-packed video sent out new learning shoots ranging from references to Wikipedia articles on commons-based peer production, education, Education 2.0, and knowledge to numerous glimpse of other resources easily accessible online. Even in his ending credits, Wesch managed to send out one final learning rhizome: a reference to the EDUCAUSE book The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. Being a huge fan of what EDUCAUSE produces, I went to the site; discovered that the book was available both in a print version for purchase and as a free PDF; and soon had a copy on my tablet. My home-based online learning experience morphed into a mobile-learning (m-learning) experience as I left home, tablet in hand, and continued learning by reading the beginning of the book while using public transportation on my way to an appointment in downtown San Francisco.

So many rhizomes, so little time! The simple act of having created a personal learning environment that, in the space of one morning, included the MOOC-inspired use of print materials, online materials accessed from a desktop computer, exchanges with colleagues from the desktop and from the mobile device (the tablet), and reading material from that same mobile device, helps any of us understand viscerally why the 2013 Higher Education edition of NMC’s Horizon Report documents tablets and MOOCs as the two technologies currently having the greatest impact on higher education—and, I would suggest, on much of what we see in training-teaching-learning.

Buffy_Hamilton--Nurturing_Lifelong_LearningMy head explodes. I need to the intellectual equivalent of mind-to-mind resuscitation. I need to breathe. So I spend that latter part of the day more or less offline in face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, then attend an evening neighborhood association meeting that includes interchanges with two recently-elected City/County supervisors. But the rhizomes are not dormant. While I’m asleep, they’re expanding. Lurking. Waiting for me to log back on this morning and discover that Buffy Hamilton has posted her stunningly beautiful PowerPoint slides from the “Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks” presentation to Ohio eTech Conference attendees yesterday. And through the act of posting that deck, she brings us and our tangled-spreading-sprawling learning rhizomes right back where we started, for she includes references drawn from our conversations about #etmooc, rhizomatic learning, and much more to inspire me to complete this latest act of digital storytelling that draws upon the #etmooc rhizomes.

N.B.: This is the eighth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


The Fourth Place Revisited: Creating an Instant Onsite-Online Social Learning Center (Part 2 of 2)

September 26, 2012

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to produce learning objects as part of a learning opportunity, but that’s exactly what an engaged group of learners (library directors from the state of Virginia) achieved last week during the final two-hour session of the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia that Maurice Coleman and I helped facilitate.

By the end of our time together Friday morning, all of us not only had collaborated to create a blended (onsite-online) social learning center that had onsite participants seamlessly engaged with several online colleagues in discussions about the future of libraries and learning and learners, but we had also used the wisdom of the group to capture and produce a viewable record of the conversations that took place via Twitter by using Storify.

How we achieved those results as a temporary community of learners drawn together and supported by Library of Virginia Continuing Education Consultant Cindy Church and her colleagues provides a wonderful example of social learning at its best and most creative. It also provides a wonderful case study of how any trainer-teacher-learner can promote and nurture what we’ve been calling the new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers that can exist onsite, online, in onsite-online combinations, and even in unexpected places, 39,000 feet above the surface of the earth, when the conditions for social learning are in place.

The creation of our onsite-online social learning center last Friday was a response to necessity: those library directors clearly needed something far different than what Maurice and I had planned to offer, so the two of us, after our Thursday afternoon sessions with them, completely threw out what we had prepared and, instead, spent Thursday evening contacting colleagues who are active and innovative users of social media tools in libraries and others settings. The results were spectacular, and improv was at the heart of much of what we accomplished.

Our new plan for Friday morning was to take the existing meeting room space in the Library of Virginia there in Richmond and transform it into a setting where social learning could occur. We decided to begin with a Twitter feed (#lvadir12, for Library of Virginia Directors’ Meeting 2012) that would connect onsite participants to Bill Cushard, Buffy Hamilton, David Lee King, and Jill Hurst-Wahl so that our online colleagues, well-versed in social media tools and learning, could explore options with the onsite participants. That Twitter  feed, aggregated via TweetDeck, was projected onto a screen in the front of the room; it was also visible to the many onsite participants who followed and contributed to it via their own mobile devices—a stunning example of how quickly we all are adapting the Bring Your Own Device movement into our workplaces and other venues.

Maurice and I also, on the spur of the moment, decided to take advantage of onsite wireless access to connect onsite participants to our online partners via a Google+ Hangout—a plan that had to be abandoned when the wireless access proved to be inadequate for what we were trying to do. Even that disappointment, however, provided a useful learning experience: it helped everyone to not only see and understand the advantages and challenges of trying to incorporate social media tools into learning, but also to see how easy it is, in the moment, to change course and use what is available to produce effective learning in a social context. As Maurice himself observed, we learn as much from our failures as from our successes.

Anyone reading the Storify transcript—it appears in reverse chronological order, so requires that we go to the final page of the document and work out way back up to the top to follow the flow of the exchanges—quickly obtains a sense of how dynamic this sort of learning can be. While there was an overall structure to the discussion, there was an equal amount of on-the-spot adjusting to themes that turned out to be important to the onsite and online learning partners. All of us were learning from each other—an achievement well-documented in that moment when we tweeted out a request for help in capturing the Twitter feed and immediately received Buffy’s suggestion that Storify would produce what we needed.

There was also a clear focus on being engaged in something more than an ephemeral discussion to be forgotten as soon as it was finished. The final segment of the conversation produced commitments by the library directors themselves as to what they would do to apply lessons learned when they returned to their libraries.

Among the offerings:

  • “We will ask our community how we can help them.”
  • “We will ask people how they want to hear from us.”
  • “We will designate staff time to learning-opportunity development.”

And in a wonderful moment of laying the foundations for the concrete results that the best learning opportunities can produce, one discussion group said “We commit that we will post on our listserv, within six weeks, one thing we have done from this session”—thereby assuring that this particular social learning center will remain in existence for at least six weeks after participants formally left the physical site to return home.

If that sounds like a surefire way to demonstrate how social learning centers can produce tangible, sustainable results, then we all will have benefitted from the creation of this particular example as we look for ways to create and nurture our own. And we’re well prepared to further explore the concept of social learning centers as a new Fourth Place (after the first three places—home, work, and social settings where members of a community informally gather) in libraries or any other setting where learners gather in Intersections to enjoy each other’s company while learning from each other.


The Fourth Place Revisited: When Social Learning Center Learners Take the Lead (Part 1 of 2)

September 26, 2012

You know you’re onto a major learning success when your learners seamlessly and playfully take the lead—which is exactly what happened late last week, halfway through the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

Cindy Church, continuing education consultant for the Library, had brought Maurice Coleman and me in to facilitate a few sessions on the future of libraries and learning. Maurice engagingly initiated our portion of the program with “A Blind Leap of Faith: Keeping Your Library Thriving in the 21st Century.” His presentation Thursday afternoon provoked plenty of positive conversation onsite; it also, in the spirit of what we were doing, reached beyond the walls of the auditorium to be viewed by more than 800 people online after SlideShare’s managers highlighted his PowerPoint slide deck on their home page.

Maurice and I picked up where his initial session ended that afternoon by moving into a presentation/facilitated discussion, “Learning to Meet the Future: Libraries Developing Communities,” that was designed to introduce the library directors to the idea that libraries are serving as a new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers. A major learning point was to be the idea that libraries often fill this need, but don’t call much attention to it, so are missing a chance to more effectively be at the center of the social learning process that effectively reaches and serves significant numbers of people in life-changing ways within their communities.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our denouement Thursday afternoon. It became clear to Maurice and to me, during our end-of-the-day wrap-up with the directors, that even if they hadn’t been familiar with the jargon of social learning and social learning centers, they were already engaged in using libraries as centers of formal and informal learning. And as if to prove how quickly they were assimilating the idea that learning is social, continual, and playful, one of them incorporated the term they had just picked up to tweet out a reminder about a gathering that was about to take place over drinks in a local hotel bar: “Social learning environment at Hilton Garden Inn 5:30.”

Since social learning often benefits tremendously from flexibility and in-the-moment course adjustments, Maurice and I were delighted to see that some of the formal discussions carried over to that social learning environment at the Hilton Garden Inn. And we were also extremely curious about two elements of what we were seeing: what connected those library directors so effectively to learning, and what we could do, overnight, to abandon what we had originally planned for the Friday session so we could more effectively meet those learners where they were and support them even more in their own work.

It didn’t take long to find the answer to the first question: directors with whom we spoke mentioned that Cindy and her colleagues in the state library (the Library of Virginia) had done quite a bit to foster a culture of learning throughout libraries statewide—again proving that if we have the right person or people in key positions, magic occurs. It’s not that we haven’t seen other colleagues in libraries express a commitment to learning—it is certainly visible here California through efforts supported by our state library, and the American Library Association’s current strategic plan goes a long way in fostering a mission statement that includes a commitment to “promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” What does not yet appear to be so common is the explicit commitment to social learning expressed and demonstrated so overtly by those Virginia library directors last week.

As for the answer to our second question—how to quickly produce an appropriate learning opportunity the following morning since what we had planned was clearly not going to be sufficient to meet this group’s needs—it came later that evening. Focusing on the idea that the library directors would benefit from hands-on experience in shaping and using a social learning center, we tossed out our original workshop plan and decided to turn the Friday morning session into an exercise of creating an impromptu blended (onsite-online) learning center that facilitated a conversation about what the directors could do upon returning home to their own libraries. All we had to do was find some online participants on the spur of the moment.

Next: Redesigning an Entire Social Learning Opportunity Overnight


ALA Annual Conference 2012: When Learners Create Learning Objects

June 26, 2012

Put a group of trainer-teacher-learners into a room, and you’ll quickly see barriers dissolve and information flow, as happened yesterday during an ALA Learning Round Table “Nuts and Bolts of Staff Training” discussion here in Anaheim at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference.

Facilitators Maurice Coleman and Sandra Smith, who serve on the Learning Round Table board of directors, facilitated a 90-minute session that informally took participants through a start-to-finish tour of problems and solutions in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. And most of the solutions came from participants themselves as experienced colleagues shared ideas and resources with those new to the profession—and those relatively new to the profession quickly learned that they had plenty to contribute through the questions that they raised and the suggestions they themselves contributed.

The session also served as a good example of facilitated and experiential learning. Participants initially identified key challenges they face in their workplace learning and performance programs. That exercise helped establish the start-to-finish overview: how to successfully manage programs with a one- or two-member training department; identify and respond to the needs of different learners (including those with diverse cultural backgrounds); choose the tech tools that allow us to manage course offerings, registration, course content, and feedback through evaluations; make learning accessible to learners; deliver effective learning opportunities; and decide how to effectively manage the evaluation process.

Attempting to tweet the responses provided a learning opportunity in and of itself: how to create a learning object from learners’ class discussions as documented through a Twitter feed in TweetChat. By capturing comments in 140-character summaries, we were able to produce the Twitter feed (available at @trainersleaders for June 25, 2012) that participants can review, and I’ve also written this article in the hope that it can alone as a useable lesson/summary of best practices cited by active trainer-teacher learners.

Several samples from the twitter feed, edited and expanded since we are not constrained by the 140-character limit in this posting, are offered here:

  • To be an effective trainer-teacher-learner, strive to play a leadership role within your organization.
  • Reach learners who are new to tech tools by using peers as instructor/facilitators rather than always relying on those seen as “techies,” e.g., members of the organization’s IT staff.
  • Connect learners with learning opportunities by making information about training sessions clear and accessible.
  • Be sure that training sessions support organizational goals and objects so learners are effectively served by the learning opportunities they accept.
  • Provide clear, concise, and measurable learning objectives so managers and learners know what to expect and so that we have the framework to conduct successful and meaningful evaluations after learners return to their worksites and begin using what they learn.
  • Recognize that learners best absorb new information in relatively brief chunks—generally no more than 10 minutes in duration, although there is quite a bit of disagreement among trainer-teacher-learners on this topic—and offer learners frequent opportunities to apply what they are learning.
  • Incorporate playfulness into learning to decrease stress (which limits a learner’s ability to absorb new information) and to make the learning experience memorable, e.g., offer “sit and play” sessions where new learners become comfortable by actually using the tech devices they are going to use in their workplace.
  • Create online sandboxes for learners—spaces where they can find tools and resources they want to try and master.
  • To be sure learners use what they learn, create clear tools and avenues for accountability.
  • Use evaluation models including Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning evaluation and Jack Phillip’s model for Return on Investment in Training and Performance Improvement Programs.

There was, of course, much more to the session than can be captured in a relatively brief summary—including the idea that some of the best learning occurring yesterday came from the realization that people from small training units are far from alone when they turn to their own communities of learning, including the ALA Learning Round Table.


Presentations on Presentations: Levels of Engagement

February 14, 2012

Given the strong belief that a fear of public speaking is the greatest fear most people have, it’s probably no surprise that we’re surrounded by presentations on presentations. Or that we can’t seem to be around our training-teaching-learning colleagues without finding ourselves engaged in conversations on the topic.

Looking at upcoming events for members of American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) chapters recently, even I was surprised to see how many, without formally coordinating their efforts, had scheduled keynote addresses on presentation skills and how to engage learners. (I’ll be attending one with ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues later this month, and just missed one at the ASTD South Florida Chapter earlier this month.)

Diving into a live online discussion with colleagues on Maurice Coleman’s latest T is for Training podcast late last week brought the topic to center stage again as we spent most of our time together talking about the challenges of writing training materials for other trainers. And during the discussion, a colleague mentioned a newly-posted and completely fascinating TED talk, by Nancy Duarte, on the structure of highly effective speeches (Steve Job’s introduction of the iPhone, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech).

All of this comes right at a time when I had the great good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jerry Weissman, one of the most highly respected presentation coaches in the corporate world, and author of several books including Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story.

You have to be good if you’re going to sell more than 100,000 copies of a book about how to be a better presenter. Jerry Weissman is good. And he gets to the heart of great presentation skills by reminding us, throughout this wonderfully engaging book, of the importance of story if we want to hold the attention of audiences at a time when attention spans are as ephemeral as yesterday’s tweets.

Whether we’re new to the art of presentation or are experienced presenter-trainer-teachers benefitting from the useful reminders Weissman provides, he carries us through the presentation cycle with lots of guidance, including warnings of how we can go wrong: not offering clear points, not offering a clear benefit to our audiences (what’s in it for them, not us), not creating a clear flow of thought and information in our work, offering more details than an audience can absorb, or creating presentations that last too long.

He also offers the structure that telling a good story provides: taking listeners from where they are (Point A) to where they need to be (Point B) in ways that focus on them rather than on us. He provides a concise survey of structures we can incorporate into presentations to make them flow and reminds us of the importance of “verbalization”—rehearsing our work out loud “just as you will on the day of your actual presentation” (p. 164) numerous times so that the story that is at the heart of all we do will flow naturally from us to those who are depending on us to make that all-important journey from Point A to Point B. Furthermore, he models the very skills he is trying to develop by incorporating presentation stories throughout his book in an effort to help us understand the process viscerally as well as intellectually.

It’s often the lines that seem to be most casually tossed off that take us most deeply to the heart of presentation professionalism. Writing about his attendance at investment banking conferences, he tells us that he is there “because they let me observe many presentations in one place, in a short time.” And if someone of his experience and reputation is attending presentations to pick up tips, it makes us ask ourselves why we aren’t equally engaged in seeing what others are doing if we’re at all serious about continually honing our own skills.

There’s no mistaking the seriousness with which Weissman expects and encourages us to approach the art of presentation: “…every presentation is a mission-critical event” (p. 168). With that as our guiding light, we should all be on our way to successful and engaging experiences for those we serve.

We have plenty of great role models out there, including Cliff Atkinson and his Beyond Bullet Points, and Garr Reynolds and his PresentationZen. And we’re all aware of the syndrome known as “Death by PowerPoint”—those dreadfully painful moments when someone fills a slide with incredibly dense blocks of illegible type—and then insists on reading every word of the text as if that somehow is going to engage us in the topic rather than make us wish we were dead.

With so many resources available, we need to remind ourselves that help is on the way. In fact, it’s all around us. If only we’re willing to grab it and run with it.


Social Learning Centers: When Fourth Place Is a Winner

March 23, 2011

The creation of social learning centers as the important fourth place in our lives took another wonderful leap forward today with a successful attempt to create a blended—onsite/online—fourth place extending from Washington DC to San Francisco.

It wasn’t flawless. And it wasn’t always pretty. But, as colleague and co-presenter Maurice Coleman noted to appreciative laughter from participants, we learn as much from failure as we learn from our successes.

For those of you who feel as if you just walked into the second act of a play in progress, let’s take one step back before making the obvious leaps forward: Ray Oldenburg, more than two decades ago, used his book The Great Good Place to define the three important places in our lives. In that pre-World Wide Web period, those places were physical (onsite) sites: home as the first place, work as the second place, and our treasured community meeting places playing the role of the third place—the great good place.

The idea for a fourth place—the community gathering place for social learning—sprouted from a rapidly planted seed in August 2010 during an episode of Maurice’s biweekly T is for Training podcast. By the end of that T is for Training conversation, we had decided that a perfect place to spread the idea was the annual Computers in Libraries conference—which we finally were able to do today.

Our experiment onsite in Washington DC was far from perfect. But by the end of the 45-minute session that Maurice, T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, and I designed, we had in many ways exceeded our goal, for we not only described the fourth place, we created an onsite-online fourth place that, with any luck, will continue to exist and expand. (Jill’s summary of the session is included on her Digitization 101 blog in a posting dated March 24, 2011.)

Maurice and Jill were onsite; I planned to deliver my portion of the presentation, via Skype, from San Francisco. We talked about how libraries as social learning spaces could be developed in existing library buildings or online. Or in outdoor settings (gardens, if gardening was the object of a learning lesson). Or even in refurbished shipping containers if an organization wanted to combine recycling with learning. We also talked about the various ways learning is delivered online these days: through formal well-planed courses and webinars as well as informally through chat, through Twitter, and through Skype.

The denouement was to be the moment when we called attention to how Skype and Twitter were being used live, during the presentation, to draw our online colleagues into the onsite learning venue at the conference. And it almost worked out that way—except that the Skype section was far diminished by an unexpectedly bad Internet connection at the conference site.

And that, surprisingly enough, was when all the planning and creativity that went into the presentation paid off, for when we realized that the Skype section wasn’t going to work, Maurice used his copy of the slides and script I had prepared and he delivered the live portion of my presentation. And while Jill was moving forward with her part of the session, I turned to the conference Twitter feed to see if anyone was actually tweeting what was happening. Which, of course, someone was. So by using Twitter to reach that audience member, I was able to determine what was happening onsite; Maurice and I established a typed-chat connection via Skype since my audio feed was less than what was acceptable to us; and Maurice used the webcam on his Netbook to allow me to see and hear the two of them in action for the remainder of the session.

The result was that we jury-rigged exactly what we had set out to do through our rehearsals—a learning space that combined onsite and online participants; a combination of live presentation, Skype, and Twitter to allow all of us to engage in a learning session; and a demonstration of how this particular fourth place might continue to exist if any of us decide to come back together via Twitter, Skype, or face to face.

There were signs, even before our time together ended, that we were on our way to having made a difference. One participant wrote, via Twitter, that he is “gonna get an empty shipping container (for free), set it up in Brooklyn Park, & invite community to make it a 4th learning space.”

For more of the conversation, please visit the overall conference Twitter record at #cil11 and look for postings during the second half of the day on March 23, 2011. Tweeters included @librarycourtney, @meerkatdon,  @mgkrause (who posted, from a different session, “This was so basic—wish I had gone to the 4th place talk to hear about tech shops!”),and @jeanjeanniec. Slide and speaker notes from the portions Jill and I prepared are also available online for those who want to explore the idea of social learning centers as fourth place.


Community, Collaboration, and Learning: Time for the Fourth Place

August 15, 2010

It appears to be time to further develop what Ray Oldenburg initiated with The Great Good Place. That wonderful and still-influential book, first written and published more than twenty years ago in a pre-World Wide Web era, suggests that our first place is our home, our second place is where we work, and our third place is the treasured community meeting place where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go. The idea of the third place has been embraced by many, and has a counterpart in “the Intersection,” which Frans Johansson describes in his own more recently published book, The Medici Effect, as a place where people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

What seems to be ripe for development now is a complementary fourth place: a community gathering place for social learning. The idea for this version of a fourth place (more about other versions in a moment) came out of a discussion two days ago with colleagues participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training podcast—which, in its own way, has become an online third/fourth place for an ever-expanding community of learners comprised of those involved and/or interested in workplace learning and performance in libraries.

The potential development of the fourth place as community gathering place for social learning is worth exploring in and of itself since it embraces all that the concept suggests and it serves as an online example of what both Oldenburg and Johansson describe in face-to-face settings. Coleman’s latest podcast began with a handful of us discussing what we would love to see discussed at the annual Computers in Libraries  conference, to be held in Washington DC in March 2011. Because T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, who serves as Assistant Professor of Practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and is involved in planning the conference, was participating in the discussion, we quickly started dreaming about topics that have been on our minds, including the idea that “Computers (and Humans) in Libraries,” with a strong emphasis on listening to what library users want from libraries, might open some doors and eyes. As if on cue, the remaining participants—Coleman, Library System of Lancaster County Training Coordinator Stephanie Zimmerman, Statewide MarylandAskUsNow! Coordinator Julie Strange, and I—were joined in our Intersection by a contributor who had not previously called in during one of the live online sessions: someone who identified himself as Rutgers University student Walter Salem.

Salem was exactly what we were seeking: a person who is not involved in training but who expressed a passion for what libraries are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. While he was commenting via the audio portion of the program, a few of us noted via the typed chat that he seemed to be describing Oldenburg’s third place, and we actually suggested that to him. At that point, he corrected us by emphasizing that what he really loved was the sense of a place where he was surrounded by learning and the potential for learning, and that’s where we started translating his thoughts into something concrete for libraries and any other onsite or online community willing to use all the tech and human tools available to us.

“Maybe we’re looking at a ‘fourth place’: the educational community meeting place where members of the community gather,” I suggested via the typed chat.

“The interesting thing is that this ‘fourth place’ can be anywhere,” Hurst-Wahl immediately typed back. “It needs to be a ‘place’ where there are resources (people, books, computers, etc.) to connect people to the knowledge that they want to acquire.”

It didn’t take long for all of us to agree that this is an idea well worth nurturing and promoting, and Coleman had, before the live discussion ended, provided the refined fourth place definition with which we are working: “a community gathering place for social learning.” And while all of us were specifically thinking of the roles libraries could play as this sort of fourth place, it’s obvious to me that there’s room for fourth places of this level in almost any onsite or online setting where learners come and go, where they seek a community of support and a chance for Intersection-level exchanges, and where the place itself serves as and inspires communities of learning.

Curiosity, of course, compels us to immediately ask whether others have already toyed with the idea of a fourth Oldenburgesque place. The answer is yes, and one of them appears to have made its online debut just a month before we had our own Intersection moment: Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other more recently published books, proposed his own version of a fourth place as a mixture of commerce and engagement. And writer-consultant Doug Fleener was actually five years ahead of us with a proposal of fourth place  as “a gathering place inside a store for customers who share a common interest in the products and services the retailer sells.”

So perhaps what we are working with are sub-sets of Oldenburg’s original third place—communities with specific interests. Or an entirely original version and description of the important places in our life. Or, perhaps with yet another nod to the brilliance of the entire Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 phenomena, we’re looking at Place 4.0, and an acknowledgment that there is room for all three proposals described here: a series which begins with Place 4.1, Place 4.2, and Place 4.3, then continues with the infinite possibilities of places that are different, yet intrinsically connected to, what Oldenburg has set in motion.

Let’s see how many interesting Places this might take us or produce.

Updates: Jill Hurst-Wahl, on August 17, 2010, has continued the conversation on her Digitization 101 blog (at http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2010/08/community-collaboration-and-learning.html).


Training, Leading, and Creativity

June 19, 2010

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert earlier this week wrote about how those who helped cause the worst financial crisis we’ve faced since the Great Depression remain “unfazed by reality” and are attempting to make it worse. They are, he suggested, creating reductions in the state and local services that are instrumental to building the economy.

He quotes a Northern California school district chief who, rather than seeking creative solutions to a terrible situation, is trying to balance a budget by laying off teachers and health aids, increasing the number of students within classrooms, decreasing the number of days students spend in school each year, and closing school libraries.

“Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other, “ Herbert writes. “For the federal government to stand by like a disinterested onlooker as this carnage plays out would be crazy.”

That’s all too familiar to those of us watching vacancies in businesses and nonprofit agencies go unfilled; watching first-rate trainer-teacher-learners losing their jobs or struggling to find work when the organizations for which they work lose their funding; and watching those who remain behind, employed and overwhelmed by increasing workloads and decreases in pay and benefits.

But we can’t afford to hunker down—we never could, and we certainly don’t have the luxury of pulling back now and waiting for things to improve before we seek creative responses to the challenges our communities are facing. The need for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance to step up to the plate and assume roles of leadership within the organizations we serve remains as strong as it has ever been. We need to position ourselves to be leaders seeking solutions rather than part of the crowd sitting so high in the bleachers that our voices cannot be heard and our actions cannot be seen.

If the companies, agencies, and groups we serve can no longer afford to hire outside instructors to meet our colleagues’ learning needs, we need to find innovative, inexpensive ways to draw from the expertise of those already within our organizations. If organizations continue to struggle to free up employees to attend training sessions with “release time”—an awful term when you think of it; it implies that learning is a perk, something less than essential to every employee’s efforts—then we need to find ways to provide learning opportunities which are stimulating, rewarding, productive, easy to deliver and attend, and offered in ways which keep our colleagues growing in ways that serve themselves as well as the organizations for which they are working.

There’s nothing magic about trying to incorporate learning opportunities into meetings which have already been scheduled for entire work groups, nor is there anything tremendously challenging about setting up optional learning opportunities during pre- and post-work hours as well as during (staggered) lunch breaks—something as simple as a series of “lessons at lunch” in which colleagues share valuable tricks and tips on how to better function in our ever-changing workplaces or view and discuss podcasts (webcasts) and other online offerings. Let’s set up LinkedIn discussion groups to allow for the sharing of learning opportunities when learners are ready to take advantage of those opportunities, not just when we are available to provide them face-to-face or in synchronous online learning sessions. Let’s use Skype and Google Chat and other innovative online resources to quickly reach those who are not geographically accessible. And let’s draw from the expertise available from organizations including the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and blogs such as ALA Learning.

Workplace learning and development remains as important as ever. We are in a position to make a difference even in the worst of times. For us to stand by as onlookers would, as Herbert said in the context of his recent column, be nothing short of crazy.

N.B.–Those attending the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington DC are invited to join Paul and colleagues Maurice Coleman, Sandra Smith, and Louise Whitaker for a discussion of “Library Trainers as Leaders” on Sunday, June 27, 2010 from 10:30 am – noon in Washington Conference Center Room 201. Paul will also be participating in the ALA Learning Round Table Training Showcase that afternoon from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in the Washington Conference Center Ballroom.


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