Learning, Innovation, and Instagram (#IITB, Pt. 1 of 4): The Questions That Inspire Us

I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. Not because friends and colleagues told me I should be on Instagram. (They did.) Not because I feel a compelling need to become active on yet another social media platform. (I don’t.) And certainly not for course credits or a grade: there are no grades given in the course I am pursuing—just an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar resource with the support of a tremendously innovative community of learning, under the guidance of a writer-presenter-educator (George Couros) I very much admire.

It started with a question, as have so many of my favorite and most transformative learning opportunities: how can Instagram be used to innovatively foster learning? And it’s the sort of learning opportunity I very much admire. It’s engaging—the moment I posted my first offering on Instagram, I became drawn into brief exchanges with George and my other co-conspirators in learning. It’s multifaceted—an online (mostly asynchronous) book discussion group, functioning as a connectivist MOOC (massive open online course), that includes the opportunity to explore a social media tool (Instagram) as part of the larger goal of engaging in transformative conversations on a topic (innovation in learning) that is of interest to me and those I serve. It’s rhizomatic—expanding and exploding across multiple platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even blog postings like this one. And it is creative in every sense of the word, including the idea that we as learners engage in the creation of numerous examples of how Instagram can be used in learning (while learning about Instagram itself) so that, at the conclusion of this three-week book discussion/course/community-of-learning-in-action, we will have produced a fluid, amendable “textbook” that can be used by others interested in learning about Instagram in learning.

The online book discussion group/Instagram-in-learning course fostered through this “Innovate Inside the Box [#IITB] Book Study” group begins with a chapter-by-chapter set of readings from and responses to Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset, written by George and his co-author Katie Novak. We seamlessly jump from the pages of this trainer-teacher-learner must-read book into Instagram (using the hashtag #InnovateInsideTheBox and more specific chapter-by-chapter hashtags, e.g., #IITBCh1 for postings connected to our exploration of Chapter 1) to learn from posts and comments by George and Katie.

We cannot, if we want to understand how this all works, overlook the magnificent organizational skills George brings to the course. He seeds the Instagram conversations with concise, visually-consistent suggested discussion points; incorporates short videos produced with other social media tools, including TikTok, to draw us in as co-conspirators in the learning process; and obviously gave plenty of thought to creating those chapter-by-chapter hashtags so that any of us, at any time, could easily locate, contribute, and respond to content on the topic of our choice. We also benefit from the unspoken assumption that, with content exploding across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, blogs, and other social media platforms, there is no expectation that “keeping up” requires attention to all those possibilities and conversations; we choose what we can do within the time we have for the discussion/course, and happily work in what is a guilt-free learning zone.

Although I was late to joining the conversations—completing my first post on Instagram near the end of the second week of #IITB—I had been slowly reading and reflecting upon the book from the moment I received my copy. I was also using online resources to learn more about how Instagram works; how to create visually appealing posts appropriate to our goal of using Instagram for learning; and to survey some of the tools available for use in creating posts combining images and text. Attempting to complete and post a couple of contributions each day, it hasn’t taken me long to realize that the combination of text and imagery in those posts, along with reflections in the comments field of each post, are giving me a record of my learning; a quickly-growing resource library of images I can use in other projects I am currently completing; and examples I can use for the remainder of this blog post to show how the entire process is working for me—and might also work for you.

Comments accompanying the first post: Experimenting…always experimenting: the heart of training-teaching-learning. So, belatedly, I’m diving into what is meant to be a three-week innovative opportunity to explore Instagram as a tool for learning through an online Instagram-based book discussion centered on Innovate Inside the Box, by George Couros, with Katie Novak. George, upfront (on p. xxxv), reminds us that great learning opportunities, are fostered through our ability to draw upon our own creativity, our willingness to innovate to the benefit of our learners, and “the artistry of teaching”—which inspired me to go back to this photo I took of a playful work of art and think about how the successful incorporation of art into teaching-training-learning can help us hit the bull’s-eye when we are successful.

Comments accompanying the second post: In a chapter on learner-driven, evidence-informed learning, George suggests that a focus on grades (or, by extension, certificates of completion) rather than achievement reduces learning to “letters and numbers” and leaves our learners “lost in the process.” Fostering learning where “people are invested in their own goals” and where success is judged by evidence of positive transformation, on the other hand, carries learners “above and beyond goals that we set for them”—a lesson I’m re-learning as I participate in the book study group. If I were doing this for a grade or a certificate or if I were participating in a workshop on how to use Instagram, I would probably race through the learning challenges and be done with it; bringing my own commitment to lifelong learning to this innovative opportunity  to study innovation (and Instagram) and taking the time to explore what Instagram might offer me and those I serve through training-teaching-learning-doing, however, is inspiring me to spend much more time than expected preparing each of these posts—with the result that I’ll leave the study group, when the formal interactions conclude, with an understanding far deeper and more useful than anything a grade provides.

Comments accompanying the third post: In his chapter “Master Learner, Master Educator,” George addresses a theme that comes up often with my colleagues: our roles as teacher-trainer-learners are inextricably interconnected; one part of that term without the others leaves us—and those we serve—at a terrible disadvantage in terms of facilitating and taking advantage of effective, positive, learning opportunities. “If you want to be a master educator, you need to be a master learner,” he reminds us, adding, later in the chapter, the wonderful punchline: “…learning has no endpoint; it is a continuous journey with many opportunities to explore.” And the more we encourage our learners—and ourselves—to solve challenges for themselves/ourselves rather than being spoon fed information they/we will not be able to remember, the more we help them—and ourselves—grow into successful lifelong learners—a lesson I continue to see reinforced as I explore the intersection of Instagram and teaching-training-learning by struggling with the tool; experimenting to produce thoughtful, visually appealing posts; and celebrating small victories while continuing to overcome the challenges that each new post provides.

Comments accompanying the fourth post: In his chapter on creating empowered learning experiences, George contrasts engagement (“listening, reading, observing, consuming”) with empowerment (speaking, writing, interacting, creating”) and suggests that “asking better questions” leads us—and our learners—down fruitful paths in developing valuable lifelong skills. There is an acknowledgement that we cannot ignore the basics when we are working with our learners, but the basics are the starting point, not the finish line: “When students are empowered to choose how they can best demonstrate their knowledge and skills, they are able to see the relevance in learning the basics…and are less likely to check out mentally.”
It’s a reminder I appreciate as I explore basic as well as innovative possibilities Instagram provides for training-teaching-learning-doing—not because George or Katie dictate every step I must take as a learner and co-creator in their online book-study experience, but because they are the learning catalysts and I am a willing, curious, engaged, empowered co-conspirator in my own learning process.

So…I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. And I’m learning so much more. If this and subsequent posts about #InnovateInsideTheBox serve as learning opportunities for you and other readers of this blog, then the learning will continue far beyond the three-week online offering, and we will have come full circle in creating when-you-need-them learning opportunities from those in which we have participated, and to which we have contributed.

–N.B.: This is the first in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.

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