Connected Educator Month and #xplrpln: When Personal Learning Networks Collide

October 25, 2013

None of us expects what is about to happen.

A small group of us are just beginning our latest hour-long online exploration of personal learning networks (PLNs), with Twitter as our means of communication. For those on the west coast of the United States, it’s the Thursday morning version of the Wednesday night session scheduled during this third of five weeks in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. A few of us know each other from the time we spent online together earlier this year in #etmooc, the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues. A few more of us have become part of each other’s personal learning networks through our collaborations in this new personal learning network MOOC.

xplrpln_logoAnd then there’s the unexpected visitor: Coline Son Lee, one of my colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She is a cherished part of my personal learning network but not—yet—part of the PLNs of colleagues in my #xplrpln community of learning. I first become aware of her presence in the chat when she retweets one of my comments. I respond with a tweet to everyone else in the session so they will know who she is and how she found us: “Another sign of personal learning networks in action: @pmtrainer, an ASTD colleague just joined us, meaning my PLN is in action.” Jeff, our session facilitator, seizes the learning moment with his response: “Cool! Welcome! One of the benefits of discussing ‘in the open.’”

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoColine, having stumbled (virtually) into the chat by seeing my comments in her own Twitter feed, steps up to the plate by asking what topic we’re pursuing. Jeff further draws her in—I’m no longer her sole conduit to the chat and to the group—and he provides an in-the-moment example of a connected educator in action by offering a response that includes a link to the page with information about our Week 3 goals and objectives, readings, and activities. At which point we have seen another example of exactly what we are studying: in less than 15 minutes, a piece of my personal learning network has collided with those of other course participants, and the two begin to seamlessly merge to the benefit of everyone involved. And even though Coline is not able to continue on with the discussion for the entire session—she inadvertently omits the tweet chat hashtag that would make her comments visible to the rest of us—the introductions have been made; the players have the seeds for new growth in our personal learning networks; and we all have a visceral understanding of how PLNs work by evolving naturally, serendipitously as well as through our intentional actions, as all of us engage in our roles as connected educators, connected learners, and participants in Connected Educator Month activities and celebrations.

We also see and note that even though this session is primarily relying on synchronous exchanges, there are also asynchronous participants in the sense that we are drawing upon and building upon comments made by colleagues who attended the Wednesday evening session: we have access to the transcript of that earlier session, a few of us paraphrase or include quotes from the earlier session, and there’s even a brief drop in during this Thursday morning session from one of our Wednesday evening colleagues. After the session ends, we’ll continue the discussion via exchanges in our Google+ community, various tweets back and forth, and blog postings that attract responses from other members of our connected leaning community—all helping to reinforce the idea that the more we explore and the more we learn, the more we find to learn and explore.

Gladwell--David_and_GoliathMy PLN and learning experience suddenly begin moving back in time as well as forward. I recall a moment that occurs two days earlier: the moment in which author Malcolm Gladwell suggests during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this week that Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is the sort of book that raises more questions than it answers—and that’s OK, he adds. I think about the inevitable moments in the days and weeks to come when members of my personal learning networks continue to share resources on the question-raising questions with which we joyfully grappling. And I realize that Exploring Personal Learning Networks is very much the MOOC version of Gladwell’s latest book: we arrive with some basic assumptions; explore those assumptions while listening to other people’s assumptions; find that every potential answer takes us wonderfully deeper into the topic and, as a result raises additional questions; and we all leave with a greater appreciation for the nuances of what we are exploring, having learned experientially how wonderfully complex this and the rest of the world can be if we are not insistent on approaching learning as something to be initiated, completed, checked off a to-do list, then shelved or recalled fondly each time we look at a diploma or certificate of completion as if learning is ever finished.

And doesn’t all of that just leave us with the most inspiring questions, PLNs, communities of learning, and learning experiences of all?

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

Preparing a personal learning networks (PLNs) webinar and reading Jan Holmquist’s “Global Learning Networks” chapter in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction makes me realize how wonderfully expansive and rewarding our PLNs have become.

Information_Services_Today--CoverThe idea driving the creation of a personal learning network—the ever-changing informal group of people each of us personally and uniquely defines, forms, and turns to in our lifelong learning endeavors—appears to be timeless; I can’t imagine a period of our recorded or unrecorded history during which people didn’t learn from each other informally, beyond the confines of classrooms or other formal learning spaces. And yet, as Holmquist notes at the beginning of his chapter, changes in the technology we use are expanding the pool of potential PLN members from which we can draw tremendously: “The world keeps getting smaller. Technology has challenged the need for physical presence regarding how, when, and where learning, collaboration, and sharing information takes place” (p. 374).

PLNs, he continues, provide a tremendous set of benefits by offering us connections to colleagues with whom we can “interact and exchange information and resources; share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; and collect and create an informed guide to professional development opportunities and lifelong learning” (p. 377).

We don’t want or need to become too technical or academic in exploring what personal learning networks mean to us to fully appreciate how they operate and what they provide. They are flexible (because we continually modify them to meet our learning needs). They are responsive (because we define them, nurture them, and turn to them in our moments of need, not someone else’s). They can be collaborative (although there are times when we learn from members of our PLNs without directly contacting them, e.g., when we learn by reading a PLN colleague’s writing on a topic we’re exploring or drawing upon a list of resources curated by members of our PLNs). They thrive on our willingness to contribute to them rather than seeing them solely as one-way resources—something where we take but never give. They are as local or as global as we choose to make them, drawing upon colleagues we see face-to-face as well as colleagues with whom we might have only the most cursory of online interactions via social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ Communities, Scoop.it, and Storify. And as the name implies, personal learning networks are deeply and inevitably personal (both in the sense of being something that is centered on each of us, individually, and in the sense of being centered on persons)—and they change as our learning changes need, but also have a sense of continuity that reflects the continuities in our own learning interests and endeavors.

xplrpln_logoThere seems to be no definitive answer as to how small or large a PLN should be. The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that there is a point (Dunbar’s number) beyond which members of any social group lose their ability to function effectively in social relationships, and I suspect that an overly large PLN eventually becomes ineffective in that valuable resources become overlooked because they are lost in the PLN crowd. The diversity of members and the variety of interests represented by those members, on the other hand, suggests that a PLN benefits from not being overly small or exclusive. And the resources from which we draw members seems to be limited only by our own imaginations: A cursory glance at my own PLN shows that it includes people with whom I’ve learned in formal academic settings, onsite workshops, and professional associations (e.g., the New Media Consortium, the American Library Association, and the Association for Talent Development); from people I’ve met in tweet chats (e.g., through #lrnchat); and from learning facilitators and learners in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs)—including one (#xplrpln—”Exploring Personal Learning Networks”) focused on the creation and nurturing of PLNs. My PLN has also grown significantly by adding people whose published work—including work they publish on their blogs—provides learning opportunities for me. I’ve even realized that drawing upon an anthology such as Information Services Today can contribute to the development of a PLN; reading chapters written by and interacting with other contributors to the book has made me consciously include Michael Stephens and Kristin Fontichiaro, along with Jan Holmquist, in my own PLN.

If this inspires you to expand your personal learning network by adding Stephens, Fontichiaro, Holmquist, or other writers, and to expand your own ideas about where you can find additional members to strengthen your own PLN, then you’ve taken another step in recognizing how global and open our personal learning networks have become.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Learning When No One Is at the Center of the Room: Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses)

November 10, 2014

Frequent flyers, at one time or another, have the disorienting experience of having to consciously look for reminders of where we are; our minds simply can’t keep up with the frequent leaps between cities, states, and, occasionally, countries. Frequent learners engaged in co-learning (what Edward Brantmeier describes as the act of changing roles so teachers and learners become “joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and…wisdom”) within the world of connected learning may be facing a parallel challenge in at least a couple of ways; when interacting with connected-learning colleagues, we need to remind ourselves which of our wonderfully overlapping communities of learning we are currently engaging (Is this #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course? #xplrpln—the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC? #oclmooc—the Open and Connected Learning MOOC? #ccourses—the Connected Courses MOOC? Or all of the above?), and we have to remember that the line between teacher/trainer and learner is increasingly dissipating in the best of teaching-training-learning opportunities.

ccourses_logo“The Case of #etmooc”—a learning opportunity that is less than two hours away as I write these words—shows us just how all-encompassing, rewarding, and intricately interwoven co-learning can be when it is effectively supported. The one-hour webinar, which initiates a two-week-long exploration of co-learning within the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) and will be archived online for viewing, promises to be an example of how co-learning works to the benefit of everyone involved. Start with the idea that #ccourses facilitators are using the session to examine how co-learning in #etmooc contributed to the creation of a community of learning that still continues more than 18 months after that connectivist MOOC formally concluded. Continue with the fact that the learning facilitators have transformed several of us who are current #ccourses learners into co-learners by inviting us to join them in the formal discussion and recording of the session this evening. Then consider the idea that one of those #ccourses facilitators, Alec Couros, was among those who introduced so many of us to connected learning and connectivist MOOCs while deepening our appreciation of co-learning through all he and his “co-conspirators” did to bring #etmooc to fruition.

etmoocAnd that’s not all. Among the co-learners are colleagues from #etmooc, #xplrpln, and #oclmooc. But not just any colleagues. We’ll be with Jeff Merrell, an #etmooc learner who crossed the co-learning line last year by playing a key role in designing and facilitating #xplrpln. And we’ll be there with several of the #etmooc learners who, having sustained the #etmooc community since the course ended, reunited earlier this year to design and deliver #oclmooc. If it’s beginning to sound as if “The Case of #etmooc” is another homecoming party for many of us, a celebration of how co-learning in online environments fosters training-teaching-learning opportunities unlike any we could have imagined a decade or two ago, and an invitation to the ball, then #etmooc, #xplrpln, #oclmooc, and #ccourses are doing exactly what great learning opportunities should do: providing learning spaces where no one stands alone at the front or in the center of the room, where new long-lasting cohorts of learners/co-learners gather and coalesce, and where everyone with the least amount of interest is welcome. And the best is yet to come since so many of us continually engage in the overlapping roles of teacher-trainer-learner: we will, no doubt, continue to adapt our ongoing co-learning experiences in ways that invite our own learners to, sooner than later, become co-learners in our jointly-shared endeavors.

N.B.: This is the twelfth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  


#oclmooc, Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), and ATD Chapter Leaders: How Big Is the Room?  

October 17, 2014

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.

ATD_LogoThe “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.

oclmooc_logoIt 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.

ccourses_logoAnd 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.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC: The World as Our Learning Space

September 5, 2014

Diving into two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOC) this month, I am learning to pay more attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving.

Each of the MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) originally started by a group of educators in Alberta and now expanding rapidly to include trainer-teacher-learners worldwide—offers me a different learning opportunity.

ccourses_logoIn #ccourses, I’ll be among those learning from and with a group of educators I very much admire and whose work I have been following for many years. There’s Mizuko Ito, whose work as a cowriter of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design broadened my understanding of and appreciation for connected learning after I read and wrote about it in early 2013. And Michael Wesch, whose YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us about Web 2.0 entirely changed the way I taught and learned and saw the world after watching the video in 2007. And Cathy Davidson, whose book Now You See It introduced me to the concept of “unlearning” as part of the learning process and who is listed as a participant in the September 15, 2014 #ccourses kick-off event. And Alec Couros, whose work on #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) in 2013 opened my eyes to the wonderful learning opportunities inherent in well-designed connectivist MOOCs and drew me into a community of learning that continues to sustain me in my training-teaching-learning efforts. And Alan Levine, whom I first met through the New Media Consortium several years ago and whose work on creating a blog hub for #etmooc set a high standard in terms of facilitating connected learning online and continues to provide learning objects to this day—nearly 18 months after the course formally concluded. And Howard Rheingold, whose writing on “crap detection” and so much more is a continuing source of inspiration.

oclmooc_logoThe #oclmooc experience, for me, will be very different. I’ll be working, as a “co-conspirator” helping design and deliver the MOOC, with an entirely different group of educators I very much admire—colleagues from other connectivist MOOCs, including #etmooc and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln) designed and facilitated magnificently in 2013 by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott at Northwestern University. I know that the learning curve for all of us has been tremendous—moving from learners in MOOCs to learning facilitators in MOOCs in less than two years—and that the best is yet to come. We’re already honing skills we developed in #etmooc and elsewhere—using Google Hangouts for our MOOC planning sessions, scheduling tweet chats to facilitate learning, organizing a blog hub so #oclmooc learners can create and disseminate their own learning objects as an integral part of their/our learning process. And as energetic and inspired trainer-teacher-learners, we’re pushing ourselves to further explore open connected learning and educational technology with our colleagues worldwide.

So yes, I am learning to pay attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving—because I am continuing to learn viscerally, through the use of online educational technology, that the entire onsite-online world, more than ever before, is our primary learning space.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Social Networking, and Learning

April 16, 2014

“‘Social’ has come to mean more than sending a tweet or posting to Facebook,” trainer-teacher-learners and others perusing the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries are reminded near the end of the “Social Networking” section.

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014It’s an idea we understand viscerally when we serve ourselves and others by actively engaging in virtual office hours via Facebook or Google+ Hangouts; learning from and serving as active members of online communities of learning via live, facilitated tweetchats like #lrnchat or extended asynchronous explorations along the lines of the New Media Consortium’s recent Wiki-Thon; or creating content while using social media tools that make connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) like #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC) sustainable communities learning.

This is a huge leap from social-media-as-bulletin-board-for-ephemera to social-media-as-workplace-tool, and it’s one that more and more colleagues and their learners are embracing. While we still have plenty of learners who need help in making the transition from seeing the use of online social networking tools as irrelevant to their workplace and personal activities to integrating those tools into their various activities, we increasingly are seeing beginners quickly make the leap from skepticism to creative endeavors including the use of Twitter as a way of conducting virtual new-staff orientations, as school librarian Betty Turpin is doing with a group of library school students who will be completing a project at the International School of Stuttgart next month.

The writers of the State of America’s Libraries 2014 offer us a helpful view of social networking within the library context: “‘The social librarian is enmeshed in the fabric of the Internet of Things as curator, educator, filter, and beacon,’ says a post on Stephen’s Lighthouse. ‘In this complex, dynamic, and demanding environment, librarians are extending themselves and empowering library users’”—just as their colleagues working in other training-teaching-learning environments are doing.

Graphic from "Social Networking" section of the report

Graphic from “Social Networking” section of the report

They then lead us through a series of examples demonstrating how libraries are using social networking to foster innovations in social networking. There is the Pinal County (Arizona) Library District “compilation of articles and links on how libraries are using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as tools to reach out to users”—a set of resources curated on a Pinterest board. There’s the LibraryScienceList rankings of the “100 Most Social Media Friendly College and University Libraries for 2013”; even the most cursory skim of the rankings reveals creative use of social media tools in many settings, including the University of California San Francisco Library, where efforts extend to connecting leaners to sessions on building online courses with Moodle 2, becoming a better presenter, and learning about digital video editing.

And at the end of the section, we come to an extension of the “Libraries and Community Engagement” theme explored elsewhere in the report: a mention of how academic libraries are using social media to foster community-building—which, for me, is one of the most natural, brilliant, yet frequently-overlooked use of social media tools available to library staff members and others engaged in training-teaching-learning.

I continually find myself returning to the experiences I’ve had in the development of sustainable online communities of learning through MOOCs and groups including #lrnchat, and feel that there is still plenty that many of us involved in libraries could be doing to better serve and engage members of our onsite and online communities. I see what colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and, to a lesser extent, the American Library Association do to extend the learning that occurs in conferences, and remain a strong advocate of doing all we can to promote the blending of onsite and online communities in every way possible when it makes sense to do so. The confirmation that “public libraries’ use of social media is up sharply, especially among large libraries” is, therefore, encouraging news—and a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction to serve our blended 21st-century onsite-online constituency.

N.B.: Reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


Scanning the MOOC and Open Educational Resources Environment in Libraries…and Beyond

March 7, 2014

The potentially fruitful intersection of massive open online courses (MOOCs), Open Educational Resources (OERs), and libraries is nicely explored in a newly released environmental scan and assessment released under the auspices of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

Written by Carmen Kazakoff-Lane, a librarian at Brandon University (Manitoba), the report should be useful to trainer-teacher-learners within as well as outside of libraries as we all continue exploring the ways that MOOCs, Open Educational Resources, and libraries contribute to our lifelong learning environments.

ACRL_MOOCs_OERs_Scan“Libraries can and should support open education….” Kazakoff-Lane suggests in the opening paragraphs of Environmental Scan and Assessment of OERs, MOOCs and Libraries: What Effectiveness and Sustainability Means for Libraries’ Impact on Open Education, “[b]ut before libraries do so, it is useful to understand the open education movement as a whole, including some of the key challenges facing both OERs and MOOCs…”—a suggestion I believe applies equally to many outside of libraries, for the more we  viscerally understand MOOC and OERs through first-hand experience, the more likely we are to find creative ways to address the training-teaching-learning challenges we face.

OERs, she maintains, “are a natural outcome of several social trends” including open-content movements, “the evolution of a society where individuals actively share information and where many people collaboratively develop and improve knowledge,” Web 2.0 technology that supports the tradition of sharing ideas among colleagues, and increasingly “global access to education via the Internet.”

MOOCs, in a similar vein, are “an evolutionary outgrowth of two major trends,” she maintains: online learning and other innovations including flipped classrooms, and the Open Educational Resources movement itself.  

Among her suggestions to her library colleagues are to address the need “to engage with the OER movement” and explore ways that they can support learners and learning facilitators interesting in using MOOCs as part of their learning landscape. Again, those of us who also work outside of libraries have plenty to gain through similar explorations as well as through explorations of where we might create partnerships with our library colleagues—particularly those who, by working in academic libraries, are clearly in the middle of well-established learning environments.

Our library colleagues, she notes, are in a great position to “provide important intellectual property services and advice” about copyright issues related to OERs and MOOCs; facilitate use of restricted materials; and help learners make successful transitions from being information consumers to being “a community of information sharers.”

etmoocWhile there is much to admire in the report, there are also points where caveat emptor is an appropriate warning. Her assertion that MOOCs “are a largely experimental undertaking that has yet to demonstrate its effectiveness as an educational tool” suggests that she has not yet had the positive experience of participating in an effective connectivist MOOC such as #etmooc (the Educational & Technology MOOC that produced tangible learning successes and produced an ongoing community of learning) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that helped participants expand their PLNs while studying the topic).  

Her presentation overall, however, is well balanced and reminds us that in spite of criticisms about low-completion rates among those registering for MOOCs, those facilitating learning through large-scale MOOCs, are “able to educate more students in one class than he or she otherwise would in an entire career.”

As she brings the report to a close, she leaves us with a recommendation well worth considering: “Libraries can and should play a central role in either [MOOCs or Open Educational Resources], and in so doing ensure that their institutions and users are best served by a sober look at the pros and cons of different models of openness for learners, educators, institutions, and governments, not just in the immediate future, but in the long term as well.”

It’s great advice for those working with and served by libraries, and it’s great advice for anyone involved in any aspect of our continually evolving concepts of lifelong learning.


#etmooc: Singing Happy Birthday to a Course

January 22, 2014

It’s not often that I’m invited to attend a birthday party for a course—but then again, it’s not often that I find myself immersed in a learning opportunity that produces the sort of sustainable community of learning that #etmooc has.

etmoocThat wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others offered to great acclaim in early 2013—was something that many of us heard about from colleagues or simply stumbled across during our general online explorations of MOOCs last year. The results (as have been so wonderfully documented in numerous blog postings including one written by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, on the course Google+ community that continues to thrive nearly a year after the course formally ended, and in live tweet chats) inspired course colleagues Rhonda Jessen and Susan  Spellman Cann to organize and facilitate a first-anniversary online gathering of #etmooc alums via Twitter last week.

The results were predictably positive. Some of us who were drawn together through #etmooc and have remained in contact online were there, as were others who have not been as active in the post-#etmooc community—but clearly remain transformed, as teacher-trainer-learners, by what we all experienced. The full Storify transcript of the anniversary session compiled by Jesson and capturing more than 400 tweets from approximately 75 participants in that hour-long session is just the latest example of what a well-organized and wonderfully-facilitated MOOC can inspire—the transcript itself is a learning object that others can use and review if they want to bypass the meaningless exchanges about how few people “complete” a MOOC and look, instead, to see the sort of long-term learning that the best of MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—produce.

One of the many keys to the success of #etmooc as a learning experience and a sustainable community of learning is that it started as an opportunity to explore educational technology in a way that encouraged learners to become familiar with the material by using the resources being studied. If we wanted to see how blogging could be integrated into learning, we blogged and saw our work collected and made accessible through a blog hub that continues to thrive to this day as a resource with nearly 4,000 posts that would not otherwise exist for anyone interested in teaching-training-learning. If we wanted to see how Twitter could easily be incorporated into the learning process, we used Twitter as a vehicle to further our learning and, furthermore, saw those exchanges reach into other communities of learning. If we wanted to see how live interactive online sessions could draw us together and become archived learning objects, we participated in live online sessions through Blackboard Collaborate or viewed archived versions so compelling that they felt as if they were live rather than taped learning sessions.

xplrpln_logoAnother key to its success is that the learning has never stopped. In setting up the anniversary celebration—in essence, an #etmooc birthday party—Jessen and Cann encouraged all of us to continue documenting our MOOC successes by blogging about what we had learned and accomplished as a result of our participation. I look at the numerous blog postings I wrote and stand in awe of what Couros, his co-conspirators, and my MOOCmates inspired. I look at how participation in #etmooc led to participation in another connectivist MOOC–#xplrpln, the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that was a direct offshoot (from Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott  at Northwestern University) in fall of 2013. And I continue to hold far more gratitude than I can ever express for the ways these experiences have made me a better trainer-teacher-learner as I continue exploring ways to facilitate learning opportunities that benefit learners and those they serve in a variety of settings not only here in the United States but in other countries.

That’s what draws me to the work I do, and that’s what makes me believe, each time I think about the field of learning and how it connects us to each other, that it’s one of the most rewarding and transformative of endeavors any of us can undertake.

N.B.: This is part of a continuing  series of posts inspired by participation in #etmooc and other MOOCs.


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

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I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


Time Travel, Personal Learning Networks, and Rhizomatic Growth

October 17, 2013

Let’s engage in some trainer-teacher-learner time travel; let’s revel in a wonderfully and gloriously circular learning moment whose beginning and end have not yet stopped expanding—and won’t if you decide to enter into and further expand this moment as part of a connected educator network.

xplrpln_logoIt starts with a simple realization: that participating in a well-organized connectivist MOOC (massive open online course) or any other effective online learning opportunity not only puts us in real-time (synchronous) contact with those we draw into our personal learning networks, but also allows us to extend and connect online conversations with those that began days, weeks, months, or even years before the one we are currently creating, in venues we are just now discovering. It also can easily extend into days, weeks, months, or years we haven’t yet experienced.

I am, for example, writing this piece on October 17, 2013, and if you end up reading it on the same day, we’re in a fairly obvious and traditionally synchronous moment—the sort of moment we routinely experience face to face. By connecting this piece to others I’ve been reading and reacting to with colleagues in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program, and by further connecting it to interactions with colleagues via Connected Educator Month, I am in a very rewarding way extending and weaving this moment across weeks and months of conversational threads created by others. They wrote earlier. You and I respond now. They pick up the thread and run with it at some as-yet-undetermined moment. And all of us are in a figuratively synchronous way connected through a conversation and learning opportunity that flows in multiple directions, over multiple platforms, as Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) explain in an article they wrote in 2011 and which I explored with a segment of my own personal learning network colleagues in a blog post and other online venues.

etmoocWe see this in play through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC, where we are exploring and attempting to define personal learning networks by developing our personal learning networks. We are developing (or further developing) personal learning networks by drawing upon newly-created resources as well as resources that can be weeks, months, years, or even a century old. One colleague suggests that Jules Verne, the nineteenth-century novelist-poet-playwright, is part of his personal learning network in the sense that Verne’s work continues to guide him in his never-ending evolution as a learner. I am suggesting that a colleague from another MOOC is part of my #xplrpln personal learning network via a wonderful article she wrote months before the personal leaning networks MOOC was written and in progress; because her article is inspiring so many of us, she feels as if she is an active member even though personal time constraints are keeping her from posting updated material—for and in the moment. And several of us are suggesting that people who are still alive but with whom we have no one-on-one in-the-moment personal contact still are very much a part of our personal learning networks because they influence and affect our learning through the work they are producing or the examples they provide—something I experienced while participating in #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media MOOC) earlier this year.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoThat creates a wonderfully dynamic and continually evolving personal learning network—or network of networks—along with a tremendously expansive moment that remains open to further expansion through your participation. And the more we engage with #xplrpln course facilitators Merrell and Scott and course colleagues in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia synchronously and asynchronously, the more we find our own personal learning networks, personal learning environments, affinity spaces, communities of practice, and overall communities of learning overlapping in ways that once again transcend geographic and chronological borders—suggesting that in the world of training-teaching-learning, borders and barriers exist only to be erased (or, at very least, made much more permeable than we often assume they can be).

It’s an obvious extension of the concept of rhizomatic learning—a process of learning 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, as I noted after picking up the term from Dave Cormier via #etmooc. The learning rhizomes in our personal learning network now continue to move backward to capture parts of the extended conversation we hadn’t previously noted, and they move forward into the moment you are living and extending in collaboration with the rest of us. Together, we may be on the cusp of even greater collaborations. Learning experiences. And being part of contributing to a world in which connections through time, across time zones, and over geographic boundaries produce possibilities we are only beginning to imagine and bring to fruition.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


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