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.


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 2 of 4): The Near (One-Year) Horizon of MOOCs and Tablets

February 6, 2013

There’s a wonderful confluence between two technologies that held center stage in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released this week, on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research”: MOOCs (massive open online courses) and tablets.

Horizon_Report--2013While each is its own massive subject for exploration and is expected to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months,” the two are linked by how much they have already done and promise to do in breaking down barriers in a variety of fields—not the least of which is training-teaching learning. With tablets in our hands, we are immediately connected to the world of mobile learning (m-learning) and numerous online resources (e.g., search engines, libraries, educational videos, education blogs, open-source textbooks, and MOOCs themselves).  MOOCs, by definition, are a massive move toward making learning accessible, affordable, and appealing—although critics (many of whom seem not to have even participated as a learner in a MOOC) remain skeptical of their efficacy and inaccurately see them as an either-or option to more traditional learning offerings.

MOOCS are also capable of fostering extremely and justifiably divergent reactions, as we are seeing this week: while many of us were raving about how engaging the Educational Technology & Media massive online open course (#etmooc) is, others were documenting one of the most visible and embarrassing failures imaginable for a MOOC: a problematic Coursera offering on “The Fundamental of Online Education.”  There is clearly room for plenty of growth in MOOCs, and one of the most interesting challenges I see ahead for those involved in developing and promoting MOOCs is the ongoing reaction educators and learners alike have to failure and perceived failures in online learning: they seem to be far more inclined to walk away from online learning after one bad experience than they are to walking away permanently after having one (or multiple) bad experiences to face-to-face learning. When we review research studies on how well-designed face-to-face learning opportunities compare to well-designed online learning opportunities, we find that strong opposition to good online learning is unwarranted.

The latest Horizon Report helps put the development of MOOCs in perspective while also humanizing them by providing links to a variety of wonderful examples and explorations. The Games MOOC, for example, provides a glimpse into “a community site woven around a series of three courses about the use of games in education, including traditional games, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, game-based learning, and immersive environments,” the writers of the report tell us. The link to Laura Pappano’s New York Times article “The Year of the MOOC” (November 2, 2012) further introduces us to the state of MOOCs and highlights innovations.

Drawing our attention to tablet computing, the Horizon Report writers are equally engaging: “The rising popularity of tablets in higher education is partly the product of campuses across the world embracing the BYOD (bring your own device) movement. It is so easy for students to carry tablets from class to class, using them to seamlessly access their textbooks and other course materials as needed, that schools and universities are rethinking the need for computer labs, or even personal laptops. A student’s choice of apps for his or her tablet makes it easy to build a personalized learning environment, with all the resources, tools, and other materials they need on a single device, and with most tablets, the Internet is woven into almost every aspect of it” (p. 16). Specific examples of tablet computing supporting learning include the use of Samsung Galaxy tablets at Lavington Primary School, in Africa, and the Stanford University School of Medicine project which gives all entering students in iPad or PDF annotation software. There is also a link to a wonderful story about “How a Classroom of iPads Changed My approach to Learning,” written by Chris Blundell, from Redlands College.

Most encouraging of all, in these explorations of technology in learning, is the idea that while the technology is intriguing, the learners are the focus.

Next: On the Two- to Three-Year Horizon (Gaming/Gamification and Learning Analytics)


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 1 of 4): Tech and Learning Trends in Higher Education

February 5, 2013

The release this week of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research,” reminds us once again what a great resource the reports are for trainer-teacher-learners around the world.

Horizon_Report--2013With its summaries of key trends and significant challenges along with the usual explorations of six technologies reviewed in each report, it serves as a thought- (and action-) provoking resource, an up-to-date reference source, and a potential course of study for anyone willing to follow the numerous links to online resources compiled by everyone involved in its preparation and production.

It also, as if becoming an example of one of the technologies it explores, could easily serve as an unfacilitated massive open online course (MOOC) on the topic of technology in learning for any of us with the drive and self-discipline to treat each section as a module of an online course; it is, furthermore, easy to imagine someone setting up a discussion group within LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media tool for learners interested in exploring the themes and technologies; it is, in fact, not much of a stretch to also imagine the possibility of live Horizon Report learning sessions via a tweet chat or virtual office hours within Facebook or a Google+ Hangout. Even the process of preparing the reports could be a topic for study and discussion among learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects.

But let’s not go too far afield here, since the content of the report is already spurring plenty of online discussion. The technologies themselves are fascinating. Within the one year time-to-adoption horizon we find tablet computing and MOOCs. Within the two-to-three-year adoption horizon, we see gaming and gamification and learning analytics. And in the furthest horizon (four to five years away), we find 3D printing and wearable technology (think about Google’s Project Glass foray into augmented reality here). And for those who want a broader picture of what is on the horizon, there is the short list (four technologies per horizon) that NMC staff and report advisory board members developed as a step toward determining the final set of horizon technologies, along with the overall list of topics that served as the starting point for the entire process of  identifying key trends, challenges, and technologies.

nmc.logo.cmykThere are obvious themes that run through the report, and they’re not just of interest to those working in academia. The trend toward opennessopen content, open data, open resources—is at the top of the list of key trends documented in the report; it serves as a foundational element for at least a few of the others. It’s a natural step from that broad brushstroke of openness to the next important trend—the explosion of massive open online courses—and its close cousins, informal, self-directed, and collaborative learning that, in turn, lead us toward the learner-centric concept of personal learning environments. If all of this inspires you to suspect or acknowledge that huge disruptive changes are underway in the world of learning, then you’re well on the way to appreciating the level of thought the report inspires: “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” the report writers note.

Equally important are the significant challenges documented in the report. Faculty, the report suggests, aren’t acknowledging “the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession”—a challenge that I believe could also be documented in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. We’re also facing—and not dealing particularly well with—new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching; our own resistance to change; learners’ demand for personalized (and learner-centric) learning; new models of education and learning that challenge long-standing models; and the need to adopt new technologies for learning and teaching.

The beauty of this and other Horizon reports released throughout the year—others focus on K-12 education, museums, and specific regions—is that they are free, accessible, well-researched and well-written, and transparent. Anyone wanting to review and use the advisory board members’ discussions for their own learning purposes has access to them on the project wiki. And those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process are encouraged to complete the online application form.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon (Tablets and MOOCs)


NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education): Prelude

January 21, 2013

Given the magnificently overwhelming number of great learning opportunities available to trainer-teacher-learners, it’s difficult to choose one that stands out above all others. But the annual process of creating the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Higher Education report has to be right up there for anyone interested in learning, technology, creativity, and possibilities.

nmc.logo.cmykIt isn’t necessary to be a member of the report advisory board to gain much of what the process offers. Through the creative and trend-setting work of NMC staff in facilitating research via a publicly accessible wiki, the work of advisory board members is completely transparent and accessible to anyone who wants to follow the development of the report.

And it’s a process well worth following. It begins each fall with a posting, from NMC staff, of recent press clippings, videos, and other online resources to introduce some of the tech tools, trends, and challenges to be explored; the resources listed here could, by themselves, serve as a semester-long course surveying the state of technology in education and other creative endeavors. Sifting through even a relatively small number of those offerings in late 2012 provided introductions to a wonderful app called “Field Trip”; took me even further into the use of Google+ Hangouts for educational purposes than I had already gone; and led me to updates on the Google’s Project Glass initiative into augmented reality.

In spite of how much there is to absorb from that resource, it’s just a prelude to the heart of what the wiki and the Horizon Project overall provides. Jumping to the topics page leads to a list of more than 30 topics to be considered by advisory board members, and that, too, could provide the foundation for another semester-long course as visitors and advisory board members explore 3D printing, augmented reality, flipped classrooms, learning analytics, massively open online courses (MOOCs), tablet computing, telepresence, virtual assistants, wearable technology, and many other subjects that appear to be on the horizon for many of us.

Discussions among advisory board members about the tech topics are conducted within the wiki and can be read by anyone visiting the site—as are advisory board members’ discussions about key trends and critical challenges. The voting process to determine which tech tools, trends, and challenges are most likely to have the greatest impact within one-year, two- to three-year, and four- to five-year horizons produces a short list that is posted on the wiki and which remains the penultimate step before advisory board members engage in one final vote to determine what will be included in the new Higher Education report. While the final report that NMC staff writes is an invaluable resource to anyone involved in learning, that short list is also extremely important in that it calls attention to technology and trends that might otherwise be overlooked.

But even this is not enough to keep our NMC colleagues fully occupied, Celebrating ten years of Horizon Reports, staff organized an invitation-only retreat in Austin, Texas in January 2012 to reflect on what technology would mean to educational institutions in the next decade. The result , after more than two days of well-facilitated discussions among approximately 100 participants, was another learning resourced—a retreat wiki—and a communique that documented a set of megatrends.

So as I sit here in Austin the night before the second annual retreat/summit begins, I think about all that so many of us have gained from the work of the New Media Consortium—and wonder what is yet to come.


ALA Annual Conference 2012: To Tweet or Not to Tweet

June 28, 2012

Although I was more intensely engaged in the twitterverse than ever before while attending the 2012 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference this week in Anaheim, I was surprised to find that at some levels it was a far different experience that participating in the recent American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) International Conference & Exposition Twitter backchannel.

Both conferences had streams of tweets that were virtually impossible to completely follow; there was simply too much content for anyone to absorb. And I was relieved to hear an ALA colleague who was dedicated to keeping up with it finally admit, halfway through the conference, that even she was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the flow. Both conferences also had a core group of tweeters who recorded and disseminated information about what was happening in conference sessions.

But one thing that was distinctly different between the two conferences was that ASTD members who were prolific at tweeting were capturing content from a teaching-training-learning point of view—live-tweeting from sessions to share information that the rest of us could later incorporate into our own workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors—while many of the more frequent conference attendees who were tweeting in Anaheim were producing a combination of personal tips about where to find the best conference freebies; sightings of keynote speakers and other celebrities onsite for conference events; personal observations about the experience of attending a conference with more than 20,000 other people; or, at an extreme edge of the backchannel, an overtly snarky set of observations—sometimes live and from sessions where the subjects of their criticisms were in the front of a workshop room or on stage in a crowded auditorium. Fortunately for those tweeters, none of their targets seemed aware of or inclined to respond to those criticisms in the moment as happened in a situation described by Cliff Atkinson in his book The Backchannel.

Anyone inclined to think the comparison between the two groups of backchannel contributors is unfair or an apples-and-oranges sort of effort needs to remember that members of library staff are increasingly finding themselves in the role of trainer-teacher-learner as a core part of their responsibilities to those they serve, as Lori Reed and I document in Workplace Learning & Leadership. Members of library staff also need to be as up-to-date in their knowledge of tech tools as workplace learning and performance practitioners need to be—yet there were signs at the ALA conference that we’re somewhat behind others in our acceptance, use, and promotion of those tools.

When Sharon Morris and I introduced a live Twitter feed via TweetChat into our “Ignite, Interact, and Engage: Maximizing the Learning Outcome” session at the conference, for example, one of the first tweets to go out from a session participant was one of amazement (and, we hoped, happiness) that we were encouraging our learners to incorporate Twitter into that learning experience.

There were signs elsewhere at the conference that others were not at all pleased by the presence of a Twitter backchannel and the use of the mobile devices that connect so many of us and those we serve without regard to geographic barriers. One conference attendee noted, via Twitter, that someone had yelled at him for tweeting, and another attendee reported via Twitter that she was told she shouldn’t be using her iPad during a general-assembly keynote presentation.

It’s obvious that we’re still very much in a state of transition in terms of how we use and accept the use of Twitter, backchannels, and tech tools in public settings. And I firmly believe we need to develop a better sense of etiquette—perhaps along the lines of something I usually do: asking those around me if my use of a laptop or mobile device to capture session notes and share them with others via Twitter will disturb them. I’ve never had a colleague turn me down, and only had one presenter—one who was going to give a presentation on e-learning best practices in a venue far removed from the ALA conference—defer.

Discussing this with a colleague at the conference, I found myself in the strange position of actually speaking up in favor of the tweeters—strange because, five years ago, I really didn’t want a cell phone or a laptop or anything else that I perceived as a burden/distraction rather than a resource, and I had little experience with social media tools. But colleagues, friends, and outright necessity have completely reversed my thinking, and I don’t believe it’s an understatement to say that those of us involved in training-teaching-learning—workplace learning and performance practitioners, library staff members, people involved in customer service in an onsite-online world, and many others—really can’t afford to overlook these resources if we want to be competitive and effective in meeting the requirements of our work.

My colleague’s observations about the conflicts between those using Twitter and mobile devices and those distracted by or resentful of the presence and use of tech tools and resources produced an interesting exchange. Perhaps, she suggested, we could resolve the conflicts by setting aside a special area during keynote addresses and smaller workshops for those who want to tweet. Perhaps, I responded, we could set aside a special area for those who want to be free of the presence of mobile devices and tweeters. For in an onsite-online world where the majority of those we serve actually appear to be ahead of us in their acceptance and use of Twitter and mobile devices, we might as well intellectually as well as physically make a clear and visible statement about where we stand in terms of meeting them where they are and prefer to be met—as unobtrusively, civilly, and respectfully as possible.

N.B.: To hear an extended (45-minute) conversation on the topic of Twitter as a learning tool at conferences, please listen to T is for Training Episode 101, “Instant Professional Development,” hosted by Maurice Coleman on June 28, 2012.


On the Horizon Report 2012: Technology in Learning Over the Next Five Years (Part 2 of 3)

May 30, 2012

The heart of any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is its list of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.” The 2012 Higher Education edition offers us a particularly healthy heart.

As noted in the first of these three articles, the near-term (one-year) horizon includes two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. And the far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and what the report refers to as “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

It takes little imagination for any of us to see that mobile apps and tablets are technologies no longer on a distant horizon; they are becoming mainstream in the best training-teaching-learning venues just as they have become common in day-to-day life for any of us with access to tech tools. The Horizon Report Higher Education edition, as always, itself serves as a first-rate learning object by leading us to tremendous examples of these tools in use. There is, for example, the Stanford University iPhone and iPad Apps coursefreely accessible online as an example of how a learning opportunity about iPhones and iPads is delivered on the very devices it helps learners master. There is also the story about Drew University’s “Wall Street Semester” program, which provides an innovative and adaptable example of how tablets become a central tool in creatively engaging learning opportunities. There is something wonderfully circular and cohesive in how these two technologies in this horizon intersect with others such as gesture-based computing—the technology we so comfortably use on our smartphones and our tablets—and the Internet of Things.

As we move a bit further out—into the two- to three-year horizon—we see how game-based learning continues to play an increasingly important role in learning, and how learning analytics—using “the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess…progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues” (p. 22 of the report)—puts technology to use in producing significant and enviable results for learners and those who fund learning opportunities. A University at Albany research team provides a game-based learning example—one that helps learners “overcome critical decision-making biases”—and helps all of us begin dreaming about how we can adapt that model into our own training-teaching-learning endeavors. An article through EDUCAUSE, a collaborative partner with NMC on the Horizon Report Higher Education  edition, offers a concise and enticing summary of where we may be headed through our use of learning analytics tools in ways that would assist instructors as well as learners.

And then there is that relatively distant—four- to five-year—horizon where the somewhat dreamy yet completely imaginable tech tools are continuing to develop: gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things. The report notes that “an extensive review was unable to uncover many current examples in higher education of gesture-based software or devices being applied to specific learning examples” (p. 27), but a few online samples show us what we may be seeing in the not-too-distant future.  And when we move into the Internet of Things—“shorthand for network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information” (p. 30)—we’re looking at a world where simple tasks such as documenting learners’ attendance in a class or workshop and disseminating information including class schedules, announcements, and information about homework are handled technologically through tagging systems while trainer-teacher-learners spend more time on what they should be doing: engaging in learning-oriented endeavors.

Next: What the Horizon Report Process Reminds Us About Collaborative Learning


On the Horizon Report 2012: Conversation, Community, and Learning (Part 1 of 3)

May 25, 2012

It behooves us to pay attention when an online document with a limited print run becomes an integral element in creating, fostering, representing, and sustaining a dynamically innovative community of trainer-teacher-learners. Which is why I once again am spending time with the New Media Consortium (NMC) flagship Horizon Report—the Higher Education Edition—at a time when the 2012 K-12 Edition is about to be released.

NMC playfully and accurately describes itself, in an introductory video, as being about “leadership, community, technology, research, creativity, experimentation, imagination, optimism, community, imagination, and passion…We want to help our members stay at the leading edge of technology…[while engaged in] research on emerging technology”—a goal it continually fulfills by drawing in participants and hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.

The process of producing those reports—to be reviewed again more thoroughly in the third of this three-part series of articles—creates its own ever-expanding community. Through documenting what is happening at the intersection of people, technology, and learning, the report actually extends the reach of that teaching-training-learning community—an an onsite-online community that keeps people in the forefront and sees technology as a tool supporting and enhancing successful learning.

NMC’s series of annual reports, including the Higher Education edition we are exploring here and others in the works, is an inspiring as well as thought- and world-changing tool no teacher-trainer-learner can afford to ignore. And it is amply augmented through its Navigator: “Part extensive library, part global project database, and part social network, Navigator allows users to easily search through the information, insights, and research of past NMC Horizon Projects, as well as the NMC’s expert analysis and extensive catalog of sharable rich media assets,” we read on the Horizon Report website.

The 2012 Higher Education edition of the report—part of a continuing collaboration between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative–continues the tradition of identifying key trends and significant challenges faced by those involved in higher education—a process that received further attention and refinement during a Horizon Report Advisory Board retreat in January 2012. It doesn’t take much for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors to see how valuable and relevant this information is to us.

Our expectation that we will “be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever [we] want to” (p. 4 of the report) is true of anyone interested in not being left behind by the magnificent and seemingly endless changes that are occurring around every one of us in the contemporary workplace. The idea that “the world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured” (p. 4) is something we are seeing in the evolving ways we are approaching workplace learning; this is actually becoming increasingly important as today’s students quickly join us as workplace colleagues—and bring their expectations with them. The “new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning” (p. 6) is something we already are rightfully confronting and addressing in our onsite-online workplace learning offerings so that we aren’t left behind.

Furthermore, the challenges (that “individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt—or not to adopt—a given technology…”) are also far from unique to academic settings. It remains true, unfortunately, that companies struggling to compete in a competitively creative marketplace can (and often do) actually tie their own organizational hands behind their institutional backs by stifling rather than encouraging the use of social media tools in their workplace.

The focal point of each new Horizon Report edition is the listing of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (p. 6) The near-term (one-year) horizon this year includes the two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. The far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

To explore these topics through the Horizon Report is to treat ourselves to one of the most inspiring and rewarding learning experience we are likely to have this year.

Next: What the 2012 Higher Education Report Tells Us About Emerging Technologies


ASTD International Conference 2012: M-Learning, M-Conferencing, and Expanding Social Learning Centers

May 17, 2012

Let’s temporarily set aside the debates about whether mobile learning (m-learning) is up-and-coming or already here and focus on a different part of the equation: learning through m-conferencing (which, as we’ll see, provides an immersive and tremendously rewarding form of m-learning).

Attending Good to Great  and Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All author Jim Collins’s keynote address last week at the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2012 International Conference & Exposition in Denver, I was viscerally struck by how seamless our onsite-online interactions have become.

Even before Collins began speaking early Monday morning to an audience of thousands of conference attendees in one of those cavernous, impersonal auditoriums that is designed to focus attention on the stage to the exclusion of all that is occurring around us, those of us with laptops, smartphones, and tablets were using a Twitter backchannel (#ASTD2012) to begin documenting what was happening—for ourselves as well as for colleagues who couldn’t be present for the onsite presentation.

When Collins began speaking, we tweeted out the highlights as we saw them. And one obvious sign that m-learning via m-conferencing is already firmly in place—at least with ASTD members—came when we realized that we were a large enough group to overload the superb wireless connections and 3G/4G networks to which we had access. Even though the Twitter feed was somewhat slow and clunky—at times even completely frozen because so many of us were trying to tweet at the same time—we somehow managed levels of engagement unimaginable even two or three years ago. As we were tweeting out our bite-sized notes and attempting to keep up with Collins’s completely engaging presentation, we also had the much-desired learner’s reinforcement of seeing other tweets that captured thoughts we otherwise would not have noticed.

In the act of retweeting those items we ourselves initially missed, a couple of amazing things happened. Each of us was able to create a more complete record of what was happening than any of us could have done on our own without simply recording the entire event. And many of us overcame the physical limitations enforced by seating arrangements in a setting so largely overwhelming; we were able to interact with each other in the moment and much later.

By attending, tweeting, and interacting at that level, what we found and continue to find is that a community of learning otherwise impossible to develop comes to life virtually on its own. Seeing other tweeters’ comments made me aware of their presence. And through the serendipity that often comes with attendance at large conferences, I found myself unintentionally and quite gratefully making face-to-face connections with those I somewhat impersonally encountered through that blended onsite-online social learning center that Twitter, tweeting, and mobile devices combined to helped create.

Because many of us who were tweeting and retweeting became curious about those tweeters we hadn’t formally met face to face, we began asking well-connected colleagues to help us identify each other. The payoff—as is often the case when social media tools are used effectively and judiciously—was magnificent. In a couple of cases, colleagues helped identify fellow tweeters who were sitting in sessions I was attending so that face-to-face connections became possible. But in an experience that is increasingly becoming common, I also gleefully found myself at small receptions and even a small dinner where those whose tweets I had been following were also present and available to extend the overall conference conversations.

That certainly doesn’t seem like such a big deal for those who have been at large conferences or using social media tools since the beginning of time. But the fact that this sort of unexpected meeting could occur at a conference with 9,000 participants who are connected through their mobile devices is as visceral an example as we’re going to see about how much the world has changed. How the old concept of “six degrees of separation” has quickly been reduced to nearly “no degrees of separation” in our highly connected world. How accessible our means of communication and our tech tools have made us.  And how effectively this form of m-conferencing leads us right back to m-learning as we learn from each other in the moment. And beyond.

Next: Cliff Atkinson on the Backchannel


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 4 of 4): Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading

March 23, 2012

Let’s take a quantum leap in rethinking what a learning space is. Without abandoning anything that is already effectively in place, let’s think beyond the physical classroom. Past the online learning spaces we inhabit now via platforms including WebEx, Skype, and many others. Let’s think about a world where learning spaces can be almost anything that facilitates learning. And then laugh when we realize how full circle we have come.

At least one idea comes sharply into focus as we move through the rethinking process via books by John Medina, Seth Godin, Cathy Davidson, and others, including Bruce Wexler: the “places” where we learn are in a dynamic state of change, and they all benefit from being stimulating rather than static. When we look at what Michael Wesch is doing at Kansas State University and documenting on his Digital Ethnography site, we see engaged and effective learning facilitated by an engaged teacher-trainer-learner. When we turn to the YouMedia project at the Chicago Public Library, we see a learning organization blending online-onsite learning in incredibly innovative ways. When we see how colleagues are using LinkedIn discussion groups, live online conversations linked together via Twitter hashtags like #ASTDChapters or #lrnchat or #libchat, or through Google+ hangouts, we see our idea of learning spaces expand even further since each of them creates a sort of space where learning can and does occur.

When we consider how effectively wikis are being used to draw teacher-trainer-learners together asynchronously to actually produce learning objects like the annual New Media Consortium Horizon Report, we can see those wikis as learning spaces. When we see how individual blog postings on topics ranging from various learning styles to learning in libraries include extensive links and references and serve as self-contained online asynchronous lessons, we have further expanded our horizons. When we use smartphones and tablets as conduits to sites such as Smarthistory while we are standing in front of a work of art in a museum, we viscerally understand that the learning space is a blend of the museum gallery and the website and the device since they combine to provide a more comprehensive learning opportunity than would be possible without that combination. And it’s just one small additional step to move ourselves to the concept of blended learning spaces along the lines of the onsite-online social learning centers a few of us are promoting, or to see the newly created TED-Ed site as a dynamically innovative learning space.

But there’s still one obvious oversight, and it comes to our attention as we rethink what knowledge is through books like David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, which examines our move from print-based knowledge to online knowledge. Or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which suggests that using the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it difficult for us to read book-length works. Or William Crossman’s VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers, which is predicated on the author’s belief that text and written language will be obsolete by 2050. The oversight for many of us may be in not seeing that books themselves (in print as well as online) remain a form of learning space—a place where we encounter other trainer-teacher-learners, learn from them, react to the ideas being proffered, and even, at a certain level, engage with them through our reactions to their work and through the conversations they inspire. Which makes it tremendously ironic, as I have repeatedly noted, that these wonderful thinker-writers still are drawn to express themselves most eloquently within the very containers—the books—they think are being replaced by other options.

If we were to travel down a similar path of overlooking what so clearly remains before us, we, too, might look at all that is developing and lose sight of a valuable learning space: the physical learning spaces that have served us in the past and will continue to serve us well if we adapt them and expand them—and ourselves—to reflect and respond to our changing world as well as to our learning needs. And our desires.


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 2 of 3): Reflections, Reinvention, Transformation—And Watching Evolution Happen

February 7, 2012

The world of technology, education, and creativity is changing so quickly that it’s as if we are sitting in a Darwinian doorway and watching evolution happen, a colleague at the recent New Media Consortium “The Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat in Austin, TX observed.

And that pretty much sums up how it felt to be at the second day of that three-day retreat with nearly 100 very creative educators from academic institutions, museums and museum organizations, companies involved in the development and diffusion of new technology, libraries, and other game-changers in teaching-training-learning.

To try to capture the level of discourse that flows through and from a gathering like that one is like trying to fully capture a profoundly moving dream hours after waking up. Except that there was no sleeping going on there. That was a fully-engaged group of dreamers who knew that their (our) dreams document and even have the ability to shape the world in which we live, breathe, and work. A group of people who are deeply passionate about and engaged in how technology and creativity affect training-teaching-learning. And one that never for a moment seemed to lose sight of the human element of an industry driven and affected by the rapid rate of technological change.

Convened to reflect on what 10 years of Horizon reports have produced;  to consider ways of reinventing the annual flagship report on technology in higher education and its various subsidiary versions (taking specific looks at technology in museums, technology in kindergarten through 12th-grade education, and even regional variations on these themes; and to foster discussions about how those reports will continue to transform the ever-increasing world of teaching-training-learning, we began Day 2 with encouragement from NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson to stretch ourselves into an idealized future. To identify a set of big ideas capable of guiding people in the larger world for years to come. And to find ways to keep the Horizon Report relevant in a world that seems to change as quickly as sand shifts under our feet in a pounding surf.

There was talk of libraries as learning centers; the ubiquitous nature of mobility in learning at a time when the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is absolutely exploding at a global level; the need to seek a new form of literacy—“deluge literacy”—to help learners cope with the deluge of information they face on a daily basis; and discussion of a TED talk about building an architecture for participation—lubricating the wheels for collaboration—a creativity process capable of inspiring innovations and change from the ground up. And there was a poignantly compelling reminder that “global” doesn’t necessarily mean “universal.”

You could sense, moment by moment, that this was a group with dreams of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. A group focused on how technology is changing the way we learn, but also keeping technology in a position subsidiary to the human element of teaching-training-learning. And a group intensely, passionately engaged in responding to learners’ needs and looking for ways to effectively and engagingly incorporate technology into the learning process.

It’s obvious that the hundred of us there were all attending, participating, and sharing ideas in the same conference/retreat at very significant levels. And yet because of the masterful way the event was facilitated by David Sibbet, President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International, and the way face-to-face and online communication was supported (through a very active Twitter backfeed under the hashtag #nmchz; I contributed via @trainersleaders), it’s possible to assert that we all attended and participated in 100 different, highly personal, and overlapping conferences where the levels of engagement were increased by our abilities to listen, talk, take notes, exchange tweets, and read those tweets during breaks and after hours while we were all onsite together.

At one of the break-out discussion sessions, I found myself at a table with colleagues from Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Shanghai, Spain, and the U.K. During rides to and from the conference hall, I was with an Australian who works for the BBC, in Manchester. You can’t physically be in these situations and settings without viscerally understanding how small the world has become in many ways. And how inspiring and transforming it can be to even be able to spend a few minutes listening to the various perspectives an opportunity like this reveals. As we watch evolution unfold.

Next: Reflection and Inspiration in Six-Minute Bites


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