A recent week-long trip to spend time with Association for Talent Development (ATD) colleagues and other friends in the Washington, D.C. area provided yet another reminder of how seamlessly interwoven our blended (onsite-online) communities have become. Walls are permeable. Distances become negligible. And connections—and connected learning—are abundant in many parts of the world.
The “Perfect Blend: Seamlessly Serving [Chapter] Members Onsite and Online” session I designed and co-presented with New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and Larry Straining (serving as our tweet-stream manager) at the 2014 ATD Chapter Leaders Conference was designed to demonstrate how well-blended we all are becoming through training-teaching-learning. What it really did for me, at a personal level, was serve as a central example of a weeklong intensive immersion in pushing the envelope of what the combination of people and easy-to-use tech tools can produce.
What made “Perfect Blend” work for so many of us was the onsite interactions my colleagues and I had with Samantha, who participated in the session, from her home in the Chicago area, via a Google Hangout. Samantha and I had successfully engaged in this level of interaction with other ATD colleagues several times, so the gist of what she, Larry, and I were attempting to convey was that tools such as Hangouts and Twitter, when used effectively, make it possible for us to feel as if we’re physically in the same space with people who are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s telepresence without the associated high price tag. And, once again, it worked very well as we quickly jettisoned the formal presentation we had prepared and simply engaged with our colleagues face-to-face, via the Hangout, and via the Twitter stream that Larry so masterfully managed during the hour-long session. As the session came to an end, we knew that we had effectively answered a question I asked at the beginning of the hour (“how big is this room?”) with the obvious answer: our room—our learning space—is as big as our use of technology makes it—700 miles wide if we consider the distance between Chicago (where Samantha was sitting) and the Washington, D.C. area, where most of us were participating. Or a couple of thousand miles wide if we consider some of the interactions we had via Twitter with others during and after the formal session.
It was clear to everyone that, as we said during the session, we (trainer-teacher-learners) are social people who are frequently drawn together in social situations, so we’re becoming increasingly comfortable with our ability to socialize while we learn onsite and online. It’s equally clear that the technology we’re exploring allows us to create social learning spaces that are variations on the Third Place that Ray Oldenburg first described in 1989 in his book The Great Good Place. It’s very much a part of what we see through our interactions within connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc), the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), the Educational Technology & Media MOOC (#etmooc), and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln). It’s also very much a part of a world where connections overlap with connections that, in turn, overlap with other connections.
And that’s what I saw throughout the week. The conversations during the “Perfect Blend” session were interwoven with face-to-face and online exchanges in the days preceding and following that learning opportunity. Some were with ATD colleagues; others were with my #oclmooc and #ccourses colleagues. They even carried over, via the conference backchannel, into exchanges with training-teaching-learning colleagues who were completely unfamiliar with the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference, but entered the conversations a bit and interacted directly with each other without any previous face-to-face or online contact by retweeting comments from the conference and offering their own observations about the various topics we were discussing. They extended further as I had brief exchanges with learners in the “Rethinking Library Instruction: Libraries as Social Learning Centers” I’m currently facilitating for the American Library Association, and carried some of those learners’ thoughts back to my ATD Chapter Leaders Conference colleagues.
But it didn’t stop there. After the conference ended and after I had a couple of days to relax in our nation’s capital while continuing to interact with various members of my overlapping communities of learning, I saw one additional enlargement of the room: I was able to interact, from 37,000 feet above our planet, with #oclmooc colleagues in a live session that connected my cross-country flight with trainer-teacher-learners in Alberta (Canada) and several places throughout the United States.
So I return to the expansive question—how big is our room?—and see, as I shared with many of those colleagues, that the room is as big as we and our technology can make it. Cross-country. International. And even above the planet. Which makes our social learning space a wonderfully large and magnificent place to be.