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.
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.
It’s not just that Davidson is an engaging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking writer; she also is a justifiably admired educator (former vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke University) who clearly puts her attention on the learners she serves. And she has plenty to teach all trainer-teacher-learners about what we’re doing right as well as what we’re failing miserably to achieve.
Now You See It walks us through that process. We travel with Davidson through studies of how gaming can effectively be used in learning. How engaging learners in the learning process by making them partners—as she did in an innovative course called “This Is Your Brain on the Internet” —recreates the learning experience to produce tremendously positive results (including a sense of empowerment so productive that the learners actually scheduled an innovative class session while Davidson was away on business, much to her delight).
There are also wonderful stories illustrating the difference in attitudes between young learners—in a failing magnet school—faced with posted written rules (“Most of the kids are too young to actually read, so I assume this sign is as much a symbol as it is a message,” she quips) and with young learners in a demographically similar school that “exemplifies the best in public education” (p. 97). The classroom in the better school offers us a lesson relevant to learners of all ages: the room “is alive with life and spaces and animals and computers and interesting things, great stuff to look at and do things with” (p. 98)—a reminder that if we’re going to create effective learning spaces, we have to make them as interesting as the lessons we are trying to provide for learners of all ages.
It’s difficult to single out specific high points in a book so full of them, but one of my favorites is the entire seventh chapter—“The Changing Worker”—which provides a series of portraits of those who are providing the sort of workplaces requiring the type of creative, attentive, inquisitive, and flexible learners we need to be preparing whether we’re working in K-12, at the college and university level, or within workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs.
And that, Davidson consistently maintains, is what we’re currently missing in our learning and our learning spaces: we are relying on 19th– and 20th-century models that were appropriate for 19th– and 20th-century workplaces even though we’re clearly in that very painful yet dynamic transition to learning that supports a 21st-century digital workplace and world: “In one generation, our world has changed radically,” she writes. “Our habits and practices have been transformed seemingly overnight. But our key institutions of school and work have not kept up. We’re often in a position of judging our new lives by old standards. We can feel loss and feel as if we are lost, failed, living in a condition of deficit” (p. 291).
Fortunately for all of us—and for the learners we serve—she offers plenty of guidance. Examples. And encouragement. Those of us who take the time to read—and reread—what she offers in Now You See It, giving it the Attention it deserves, may be able to help others past those feelings of loss and deficit and failure. And help ourselves as well.
In Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?), Godin’s newly released FREe-book (which is about the only term I can come up with to describe a book-length manifesto published free of charge online by someone whose work routinely reaches and inspires large audiences in traditional print form), he joins Medina and others in encouraging us to reconsider—and fight against—the ways our learning systems and learning spaces stifle creativity and steal learners’ dreams. And what he offers should be of interest equally to those working within formal academic settings and those involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors.
It doesn’t take him long to get to the heart of our problems and challenges: “Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars…Every year, we churn out millions of workers who are trained to do 1925-style labor” in spaces far from conducive to learning even though that has little to do with what is needed to succeed in the contemporary workplace (p. 7). We use measurement tools such as multiple choice tests—created in 1914 by a psychologist and popularized by a professor who referred to it as “a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders” before disowning it as a learning tool a few years later, according to Godin (pp. 12-13). But we continue to use it in training-teaching-learning from the moment students first enter school all the way through the time we complete formal certification programs that are supposed to be offering some sort of guarantee to employers that the certified job applicants standing before them are fully prepared to meet those employers’ needs.
The “new job of school” is “to inculcate leadership and restlessness into a new generation” (p. 18) if we’re going to meet the needs of employers, communities, and the larger global community into which we’ve so quickly been thrust, he reminds us—and I would suggest the same should be said of workplace learning and performance offerings designed to produce the employees needed for workplace success.
Getting there is going to require that we more quickly move in the direction that our most innovative and forward-thinking learning programs are taking us: group (collaborative) projects rather than a reliance on rote learning so that no child (or adult) is left behind; learners who are encouraged to dream—and to act on those dreams—rather than learning ephemerally to pass tests and receive certifications; the nurturing of the artist—whom Godin defines as a person “who brings new thinking and generosity to his work, who does human work that changes another for the better. An artist invents a new kind of insurance policy, diagnoses a disease that someone else might have missed, or envisions a future that’s not here yet” (p. 32).
We should, he maintains, “rebuild the entire system around passion instead of fear” (p. 37), and that includes focusing on learning as much outside as inside formal learning spaces by devoting time each day “to learning something new and unassigned” (p. 42) so we keep passion and drive in training-teaching-learning. We should also be encouraging “an open-book/open-note environment” instead of one where “drill and practice” is the default setting (p. 52). And one in which homework is done during the day in group settings while recorded lectures are delivered at night in online settings so that live instructor-learner time facilitates active learning and experiential learning rather than rote recitation and often unsuccessful attempts at passive absorption of material flowing from the mouth of an instructor to the often unreceptive ears of learners at the instructor’s convenience rather than at the learner’s moment of need—or passion.
School, Godin says toward the end of his manifesto, “needs not to deliver information so much as to sell kids on wanting to find it” (p. 78)—an overt reminder that learners of all ages benefit as much from getting away from us and following the leads we inspire them to follow as they do from taking in what we offer them (pursuing interesting discoveries, seeking exciting growth opportunities, and learning from those places and experiences where their learning passions lead them).
Godin begins Stop Stealing Dreams by providing the example of a public school where administrators “create a workplace culture that attracts the most talented teachers, fosters a culture of ownership, freedom and accountability, and then relentlessly transfers this passion to their students” (p. 6). The learning spaces he ends up describing are libraries “where people come together to do co-working and to coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring to bear domain knowledge and people knowledge an access to information” (p. 88)—the sort of space some of us are referring to as social learning centers or the new Fourth Place (both onsite and online).
For those of us immersed in serving learners who become dynamic members of our communities, the possibilities are inspiring.
In the process, they’re encouraging us not only to become better at reaching learners effectively, but also to rethink much of what we’re doing. And where we’re doing it.
Medina is never less than completely engaging, and his 12 rules about how the brain functions in learning are drawn from well-documented research, his own very funny observations, and his continual call for more research to help fill in the numerous gaps we still have in our knowledge: “This book is a call for research simply because we don’t know enough to be prescriptive,” he disarmingly admits (p. 4).
Among the rules he documents: exercise boosts brain power (so why are we sitting here reading this when we should be stimulating our brains through physical activities?); every brain is wired differently (a theme recently explored by many others including Norman Doidge, Bruce Wexler, and Nicholas Carr); stressed brains don’t learn well; and stimulating more of the senses simultaneously will stimulate more effective learning. He not only covers these in positive, thought-provoking ways in the book, but extends the learning—our learning—into a 45-minute video on his website to help us viscerally understand another of the brain rules: we don’t pay attention to boring things.
This is not a book for those comfortable with the status quo; in fact, Medina clearly expects us to approach his work with minds completely open to ideas that might initially strike us as ludicrous, e.g., setting up treadmills in our offices so we can stimulate our thinking by running in place while reading our email on laptops. (He doesn’t, however, comment on what the act of running on a treadmill at work—or, by extension, in an academic learning environment—says as a metaphor for much of what we do!)
Because we learn best through repetition at regularly timed intervals, he further suggests that the learning space of the future should have us engaged in “review holidays”—time off from the introduction of new information once every three or four days in formal learning settings so we would be “reviewing the facts delivered in the previous 72 to 96 hours…Students would have a chance to inspect the notes they took during the initial exposures, comparing them with what the teacher was saying in the review. This would result in a greater elaboration of the information, and it would help the teachers deliver accurate information. A formalized exercise in error-checking soon would become a regular and positive part of both the teacher and student learning experiences.” (p. 144)—and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be incorporating similar open-book/open-note reviews in workplace learning and performance endeavors to foster greater success among our learners.
In the world Medina is encouraging us to imagine (and create), we would also be encouraging learners by taking advantage of the ways multimodal presentations enhance learning—oral presentations combined with visual support combined with appropriate fragrances since fragrances that are appropriate to a learning situation provide a mental anchor for better recall.
Most of all, he concludes, we need to create spaces that inspire and sustain curiosity as opposed to the age-old model of lecture halls where learning is an instructor-centric endeavor: “I firmly believe that if children are allowed to remain curious, they will continue to deploy their natural tendencies to discover and explore until they are 101” (p. 273), he writes.
Even the places where we learn how to be better instructors need improvement, he continues: “I envision a college of education where the program is all about brain development…Students would get a Bachelor of Science in education. The future educator is infused with deep knowledge about how the human brain acquires information…This model honors our evolutionary need to explore. It creates teachers who know about brain development. And it’s a place to do the real-world research so sorely needed to figure out how, exactly the rules of the brain should be applied to our lives” (pp. 276-278), he writes.
And with Medina as our inspiration, perhaps we can help create this. To the benefit of learners everywhere.
Next: Seth Godin on “What Is School For?” (and how should it look?)
There is no going back; there is only going forward, a panelist suggested during the opening keynote event on Day Two (yesterday) of the Arizona State University ShapingEDUthree-day Winter Games conference for dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age. And, like much of what we heard, saw, and experienced yesterday, those words were, before the day was over, provoking entirely different thoughts than what the speaker had intended when he voiced them during a dynamic, thoughtful, and wide-ranging discussion of “The Future of Sports and Entertainment.”
One central element of that panel discussion was a series of reflections on how the shelter-in-placesocial distancing guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic are continuing to force major adjustments regarding how teams and fans interact, and regarding how technology is providing possibilities, short- and long-term, that weren’t much under consideration before the pandemic began—virtual interactions between players and fans, apps that extend the experiences of the games themselves, and virtual gatherings of fans who are geographically dispersed.
Where the pandemic erected barriers, creativity (and tragedy and necessity) fostered innovation. When it became impossible for fans and teams to be together onsite, many—including panelists Robert Mathews; Collaboration Strategist, AVI Systems; Rick Schantz, Head Coach, Phoenix Rising FC; Mark Feller, VP of Technology, Arizona Cardinals; Salvatore Galatioto, President of Galatioto Sports Partners; and Stephen Rusche, Sr. Director, Smart Communities, COX Communications—immediately began engaging in large-scale rethinking. Followed by innovation. Followed by success stories that are already creating a new normal. And, possibly, to be followed—in the months and years ahead of us—by a long-lasting new-and-better normal. One that combines the best of what we had with the best of what we are developing during the pandemic.
Which pretty much carries us to a theme flowing through much of what the “digital immersive experiences” of the Winter Games has offered: the idea that, in digital-age lifelong learning, we are experiencing massive shifts caused by situations many of us were too comfortable to anticipate or acknowledge, and to which we now are responding—sometimes creatively and sometimes successfully—with innovations that are well worth nurturing and preserving after the need for social distancing becomes less necessary.
“Systems shape our behavior” and “our behavior shapes systems,” Haymes observed at one point, and those words, like the sports panelist’s remark about looking forward rather than back, seemed unintentionally prescient less than a few hours later…because that’s when many of us, during a scheduled break in the Winter Games conference, became aware of and tried to make sense of the actions of the seditionists who had forced their way through the meager and ineffectual security forces in our nation’s Capitol and had temporarily disrupted our legislature’s attempt to formally count and certify the votes cast through the Electoral College.
It’s impossible to try to capture even a small portion of all the thoughts and emotions we had during that three-hour mid-day break. I am, however, left with the memory of one stunning contrast in terms of reactions I observed. Away from the Winter Games (in the sense that I was talking with my wife and absorbing news reports), I was skimming email messages and came across a notice that, because of what was happening in Washington, DC, a local San Francisco Bay Area bookseller I very much admire was cancelling an online author event that was to be held that evening—a decision with which I have no disagreement because it was the right decision for the community served by that bookseller. In contrast, moments later, I was back online with others in the ShapingEDU community at the scheduled time for the resumption of the Winter Games conference. Because I knew that this was a community that would see, in the act of moving ahead as planned rather than postponing or cancelling our interactions, a reaffirmation of all that is at the core of our community. A commitment to working together. To finding solace and encouragement by remaining together during this latest time of national tragedy. And to thinking about all we had been hearing, seeing, and doing together—looking toward and helping shape the future rather than being frozen by looking back. Considering how systems and behavior are interwoven and equally important elements in our efforts to foster positive change among ourselves, our communities, and those we serve.
In that moment during which divisiveness was on display in all its ugliness in our national capital, we couldn’t miss the irony—nor could we have been any more appreciative—of the fact that the Winter Games session we were about to attend together was centered on the theme of inclusivity. Nor could we have been more appreciative for the realization that we were about to hear about and explore possibilities for healing ourselves through that session, facilitated by Alycia Anderson, on the power of inclusivity. But most stunning of all—in the most positive of ways—was the ease with which one of our community leaders and Winter Games organizers, Samantha Becker, stepped up to the plate to introduce that session. She immediately acknowledged what was happening in the Capitol. How the situation was touching each of us in the most personal and emotional ways possible. And how, through what we do, we continue to light and carry the equivalent of an Olympic-sized torch to light the way toward the bright future to which our community is so strongly committed. It was yet another in an enormously long list of moments in which I’ve been proud to be part of the ShapingEDU community. Inspired by people like Anderson who join us in an effort to help us broaden our horizons and remember the importance of what we are doing. And (somewhat) hopeful, even in our darkest moments, that we might continue looking forward and improving our systems and our behavior in ways that lift to one step closer to living up to our highest and most cherished ideals.
You would think, after all of that (including the very moving presentation Anderson offered us in that tremendous moment of need), that we would be ready to call it a day. But no. As is a tradition within our nearly four-year-old community of dreamers-doers-drivers, we weren’t quite done with each other yet. So we moved into the final event of the day—a stunningly positive online concert featuring seven tremendously diverse musicians who not only reminded us of the importance of the arts in our lives, but demonstrated, through their adaptability, the innovative way our artists are responding to the challenges and changes caused by the pandemic. The performers very effectively dealt with Zoom-as-a-concert venue from the beginning segment (which featured a series of one-song-per-artist performances in our main virtual concert hall); into a second segment where were able to follow a few individual performers into breakout rooms that served as smaller, more intimate recital halls for short sets; and then back into the main hall for activities that culminated in a final set of one-song-per-artist performances by each musician. And it was through this very effective combination of live music online and the social connections fostered among audience members who communicated through Zoom’s typed-chat function that the session became so much more than it might otherwise have been. A musical event. A chance for the same sort of online interactions many of us have during evening events at onsite conferences. And a chance, using and observing the technology, to be immersed in and simultaneously step back from the environment to see what it was providing.
“I’ve had the honor of seeing [him] play this IRL,” one colleague observed in a comment via chat near the end of the evening. “And it’s awesome in any format.”
“I love the reference to ‘in real life,’” I immediately responded as if we were chatting across a table in a coffee house where musicians were performing, and I was thinking again of how the pandemic has inspired us to redefine what we see as “in real life.”
Is it only physical, face-to-face interactions, as some continue to assume without considering how our world is rapidly evolving? Or has “in real life” matured to the point where we can see our blending of onsite and online interactions as a magnificent opportunity to interact in almost magical, mystical ways, that have never before been possible in sports, the arts, and lifelong learning?
I look at my three-day in-real-life experiences at the Winter Games—which I’ll continue to describe in my next post, covering Day 3—and at all the small and large transformations the experiences are nurturing within me and other members of the community. And I’m inspired to continue looking forward. Trying to make sense of what I see. Hungry to make music and foster positive change at every possible level. And committed to helping shape a brilliant future in collaboration with these cherished members of our community and anyone one who wants to join us on this journey.
It’s a scary world out there right now. Pandemics, politics, and economics form their own kind of “PPE” for which we have to all gird ourselves with a different kind of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) than those who are fighting Covid. Like those heroes, we have to face our fears and slay often unseen and ephemeral monsters. And like them our greatest enemy is ourselves and the systems human societies have created. To face this enemy we need a group of diverse heroes, each with a small piece of the map forward in their possession. That is exactly what came together last week at Learning[Hu]man, a summer camp unlike any I’ve ever been to before (or was it?).
The subject of monsters and adventuring seemed to come up again and again this week. This is ironic because the first time I was exposed to Dungeons and Dragons was at a summer camp in West Texas in 1978. That was, ironically, also the first time I was confronted by the real monsters our society struggles with even today. One day a counselor intervened to stop a group of locals from the neighboring town who were harassing some teenage female campers. That counselor happened to be black. That night a long line of cars and trucks streamed into the camp to send a message. We called the sheriff. He was with them. A hundred scared teenagers spent the night in the camp mess hall. Fortunately, the counselor they were seeking had returned to Austin and the night passed without further incident.
I have been reflecting back on that night a lot lately. The last six months have felt a lot like being confined to a mess hall while a messy world swirls around outside the door and the forces of reaction make forays into the camp of civilization. Unfortunately, in our case, the monsters aren’t going home. There are too many and they live among us.
ShapingEDU has always been a community shaped by optimism. Optimism, not for technology, but for the human creativity it unleashes. This week that community resembled nothing more than an adventuring party assembling for perhaps our greatest challenges. If there was a consistent theme that emerged it was that the human challenges far outweighed the technology ones. It became clear that it was time to strap on our magic swords and dust off our spell books to slay the human prejudices that perpetuate inequities in both our society and within the very educational institutions that we have devoted our lives to.
Like every adventure party I’ve ever been a part of there was the initial meeting of the minds, usually over a beer at Lev Gonick’s (aka Mike Callahan’s) virtual tavern. New networks were formed and maps were laid out. Bryan Alexander quickly asked us to imagine what kind of monsters we might face and taught us how to challenge them. The campfires on Digital Equity, Social, and Racial Justice and Digital Education and Tribal Rights showed us some of the real monsters of inequity and access that lock out whole groups of potential wizards whose voices are stifled before they learn their first spell, depriving us of an army of creative forces. My own session took us questing and showed how we could see all kinds of stories as a form of hero’s quest and, perhaps most importantly, that others are likely to perceive those quests quite differently. Our scouting parties reimagined quests from a History class, to preparing our faculty for Covid Fall, to reimagining a Liberal Arts graduate program. You can see their work here.
One of the key things I took away from my early years with Dungeons and Dragons was an understanding of the essential nature of good systems design. As Dungeon Master (DM) it was your job to craft a system that channeled the quest. DMs forget at their peril that the system has to work for the world to make sense. On Friday night Ruben Puentedura turned us into Dungeon Masters by asking us to create systems to overcome the plague of black swans raining down upon our kingdoms. His parties were given a choice of ten alternate future university spells and then assigned a second. He then tested our systems by throwing an unexpected swan into our midst. This generated creative explosions that forced us to pull together strands from our week of preparing and training. Common strands that ran through virtually all of the responses were the strengths to be found through diversity and community augmented by the magic of our technology and imaginations. We quickly saw through how these could guide us through the whitest of waters.
At every step along the way this week it was clear that the demons that we face, collectively and individually, are distinctly human. Nature, whether in the form of disease or climate, merely acts as a catalyst for exposing the cracks in our systems, from poverty to educational access to a lack of inclusion. It’s funny how our societies resemble a bad (pre-CGI) science fiction film in which all the aliens and monsters are really humans in disguise.
Taking on these systemic and conceptual demons requires a hard look in the mirror and the ability to try on different faces. Technology provides the mirror and the masks. It can be used to hide but it can also be used as a powerful “seeing” spell. Digital technology is at its root about being able to see, whether that be in the form of crunching vast swathes of complex data in order to see patterns in the spread of disease or rethinking systemic paradigms through realistic simulations that force different lenses upon us. This week at Learning[Hu]man was fundamentally about seeing the world as it is and what it can be. It showed that as a group we have powerful magic including spells such as “Light,” “Network,” and “Show” that are critical in understanding the nature of the systemic monsters we face. At the end of the day, our community recognizes that the power of our magic is to give that magic to others.
This week we assembled a diverse group of adventuring parties, ready to ride forth and tame the systemic dragons. For in a final irony, it is clear that the systems themselves are a technology. They are dragons to be ridden, not swans to be slain. Our systems need to have a technological and conceptual “Light” spell thrown upon them to reveal them as Ourselves, to be reconstructed as only we can imagine them to be.
You certainly didn’t have to be here in Boston to have been an active participant in opening day at the NMC (New Media Consortium)2017 Summer Conference yesterday. Because so many of us have become used to, adept at, and passionate about being part of the blended (online-onsite) learning environments we help create and nurture, those of us onsite actively reached out to offsite colleagues to draw them into the presentations, conversations, explorations, and numerous moments of revelation in terms of trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology. And those to whom we reached out responded magnificently via synchronous and asynchronous contributions on Facebook, Twitter, Shindig, and other online collaborative tools. Sometimes with us, sometimes among themselves—a process that further emphasizes the diminishing assumption that onsite interactions are always central and online interactions are ancillary.
It’s far from unusual at conferences serving trainer-teacher-learner-doers to find dynamic levels of discourse flowing seamlessly between onsite and online participants. When the reason we are gathering is to learn more about technology by using it, the discourse that is fostered by creative use of resources such as Shindig only speeds up the process of disseminating that innovation and its adoption among ever-increasing numbers of people globally.
You could literally see the process taking place during International Society for Technology in Training (ISTE) CEO Richard Culatta’s keynote address during the formal opening session. Colleagues onsite were visibly engaged, and their engagement expanded via Twitter and Facebook to draw our offsite colleagues into exchanges that sometimes included backchannel conversations between those offsite colleagues—as if Culatta were with them as well as with us and inspiring some major rethinking about the world we inhabit.
The latest of those moments for me began earlier this week when Apple Distinguished Educator/Henderson Prize Winner/Future-U Founder/entrepreneur/innovator/NMC Ambassador/colleague/friend Jonathan Nalder and sat down to dinner here an hour after I arrived. Some of what we discussed during that dinner extended into another dinner two nights later with Shindig representatives, our colleague Bryan Alexander, and several others who, over the course of the evening, were sharing stories about the ed-tech developments we are exploring, fostering, and disseminating—including the use of Shindig to take advantage of collaborative learning opportunities. The moment again expanded unexpectedly yesterday morning when another colleague (Palm Beach State College Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology/NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli) and I decided to track Bryan down to see if we could watch him conduct a live Virtual Connecting session via Shindig with offsite colleagues right after Richard Culatta’s keynote address concluded. He and our Shindig colleagues didn’t just invite us in to observe the session involving Culatta and others; they introduced us to Culatta a few minutes later when he arrived to discuss his keynote address a bit with our offsite colleagues; allowed us to photograph the process in action; and even interviewed us, at the end of the session, to extend our own conversations into the online part of our global learning space.
NMC staff, administrators, board members, general members, and supporters have done a great job, over the past few years, in creating and fostering a vision of a cutting-edge community of learning centered on “lifelong learning with lifelong friends,” and I’ve never felt that vision in action more strongly than during this extended “moment” that is obviously far from finished as I write these words well after midnight between days one and two of the conference. We came. We interacted. We learned. And we will continue to do so as long as we remain committed to maintaining a strong sense of curiosity, a commitment to innovation, and a focus on serving those who rely on us to support them in their own lifelong learning efforts.
But using it as a way of helping our “From eLearning to Learning” co-conspirators (the learners shaping and participating in the day-long event at the Library) opened doors none of us even began to imagine at the moment during which we initially discussed creating and using #mpplsid16 as a way of showing how social media tools can creatively, effectively, and easily help us redefine our learning spaces.
We primed the pump to engage in some major onsite rethinking about e-learning at the beginning of “From eLearning to Learning” by showing a few photographs taken within the Library and asking “Are These eLearning Spaces?”
Within the first few minutes of my highly-interactive 45-minute keynote presentation/discussion, very few people responded to the question with a “yes.” By the time we finished that initial keynote/discussion period about what the term “e-learning” means in our learning environments, almost every hand in the room shot up in response to the same question asked while the same images were again on display—an acknowledgement that any space in which we have Internet access is potentially an e-learning space. (One lovely note I received at the end of the day built upon the conversation with a suggestion that made me smile: “Your Elearning spaces slide needs a picture of my Dodge Caravan.”)
More importantly, that rapid expansion of everyone’s vision of what the e-learning landscape currently encompasses provided an amazing demonstration of the way a well-designed learning opportunity, developed collaboratively with learners and their representatives, can transform learners (and learning facilitators) within a very short period of time.
Having suggested to our co-conspirators that they could use Twitter as a way to take notes to which they could later return, and as a way to extend the reach of our gathering far beyond the physical walls of the various rooms in which we were meeting, I turned my full attention to the onsite setting during my keynote presentation. I didn’t return to Twitter until we had our first break—the one between the keynote and the first of three periods set aside for breakout discussions. I was absolutely floored by the level of tweeting that was already occurring. Some people were responding (very positively) to what was taking place; others were observing what was happening around them. And a few were sharing content in those Twitteresque 140-character bursts that shot around the world. The result was that we were beginning to work onsite and online simultaneously, and a few of the tweets were being retweeted by others across the United States and in Europe (apparently attracted by my occasional use of the combined hashtags #learning and #innovation).
Recognizing the potential there for a stand-alone learning object that anyone could continue to draw upon as long as it remains available, I remained in my hotel room an hour longer than anticipated before heading out for dinner; I knew that if I didn’t collect and transfer those tweets into a Storify document that included light annotations to set the context for what had just occurred, I would lose the in-the-moment excitement the entire experience had generated. It was available to anyone that wanted to seek it out less than four hours after “From eLearning to Learning” had adjourned. It also has become part of an overall “From eLearning to Learning” suite of freely accessible resources for anyone interested in trying a similar experiment within their own learning environment; links are included at the bottom of this post.
I was part of the first-rate Mount Prospect Public Library Staff Inservice Day planning team that designed and facilitated the process. I was the keynote presenter-facilitator, and trained the staff facilitators who led the breakout sessions. I know Twitter, I use Twitter, and I adore what is good about Twitter. But even I remain stunned by the depth of learning and the nuances contained within that particular Storify item. It has plenty of playful exchanges. It has tweets acknowledging the conversational nature of the “From eLearning to Learning” Twitter feed. It has lovely, poignant tweets about personal learning experiences—including one about how the Library director posted her first tweet as a result of what she was experiencing that day. It had some wonderful comments about how much staff enjoyed and learned from the event, and how enthusiastically they are looking forward to building upon what we built together in the best of all possible experiential-learning (hands-on) approaches—something fun, engaging, meaningful, replicable, and actionable.
But what stands out to me most as I continue rereading it, skimming it for previously-missed gems, discussing it with friends and colleagues, and learning from what all of us at Mount Prospect Public Library created out of our individual and communal learning experiences within that very attractive and dynamic community of learning, is how much it captures the wonderful results flowing from onsite-online (blended) learning opportunities that are learner-centric, goal-driven, and designed to produce results.
Next: After “From eLearning to Learning (Continuing the Training-Teaching-Learning-Doing Process)”
NB: This is the fourth of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Co-conspirators” is a term I’ve loved ever since I first heard it used by colleagues in the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (#etmooc) in 2013. Within its training-teaching-learning-doing context, it implies a sense of richly nuanced and deeply rewarding collaboration between learning facilitators and learners unlike any other I’ve experienced in our onsite and online (blended) learning environments.
So, when I was invited in essence to become a co-conspirator (we, as a group, weren’t yet using that term) with Staff Inservice Day committee members at Mount Prospect Public Library eight months ago, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. The result was that I became part of another magnificent community of learning that has just produced a stunningly beautiful and tremendously inspiring example of all that can go right in planning and facilitating an e-learning experience—even one very-much grounded within an onsite setting.
What all of us (Library Staff Inservice Day planning committee members, as planners-learners-participants; I, as the consultant-presenter helping them shape an event that supported learning goals contained in the Library strategic plan; the learners themselves; and a few people offsite who occasionally joined us on the day of the event through a very active Twitter feed) produced looks as if it will have exactly the long-term positive impact all of us were hoping to produce for and with the library, its staff, and the members of the community it serves.
Everything about “From eLearning to Learning,” a day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work, ultimately was drawn from and became an example of the extensive e-learning environment we currently inhabit—far more, as I reminded them, than the usual module-out-of-a-box and final multiple-choice exam to mark the conclusion of a learning experience.
In our setting, there is no beginning and there is no discernible end. “From eLearning to Learning” continues a process begun long before I became involved, and the day-long “event” simply prepares them to continue their learning/e-learning process well into the foreseeable future.
This Mount Prospect Public Library “Discovery Zone” sign became an iconic image for “From eLearning to Learning”
Even the initial steps for this onsite-online exploration were grounded in e-learning. I was, for example, initially contacted by a member of the Staff Inservice Day committee who had initially met me through her participation as a learner in a four-week online “Rethinking Social Media” course I have designed and that I continue to facilitate for the American Library Association. Without that shared experience in an innovative online learning environment, my Mount Prospect colleague and I might not have made this particular connection and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be part of one of the most innovative and rewarding learning experiences I have ever helped design and facilitate.
Because the obvious distance between San Francisco and Mount Prospect (which is approximately 20 miles northwest of Chicago) is so great, all of us quickly agreed that the planning process itself would take place within a blended environment comprised of conference calls by phone and asynchronous interactions that ultimately produced our planning document and a facilitator’s guide to be used by the staff members who would foster discussion during break-out sessions we arranged throughout the day.
In a significant way, we were, as trainer-teacher-learner-doers, adapting a Flipped Classroom model approach to our meetings: at almost every stage of the process, we completed initial work on our own, had information to review before meeting by phone, and productively used our “classroom” time (the conference calls) to produce something concrete, and then repeated the process up to the day of the actual event.
What was clear from the beginning of our “conspiratating” was that we were committed to producing something that was far more than a one-day diversion that would soon be forgotten. Drawing upon the principles from the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results and remaining committed to producing something that was in alignment with the Library’s current strategic plan, we worked together to shape something that would be as much a process as an event. The learners/co-conspirators within the library knew well in advance what we were planning; they even provided tremendously useful information via a SurveyMonkey survey to be sure that we would be providing them what they needed (and, in that part of the process, probably became aware of how SurveyMonkey itself could be part of their efforts to effectively shape their overall e-learning landscape).
Participants in the mini unconference, held during the lunch break
Those of us on the planning committee initially created a broad subject-specific agenda. We fine-tuned it over the course of several months to be sure it would lead to fruitful discussions and positive transformation for everyone involved. We continually looked for ways to innovatively provide experiential learning opportunities the learners could immediately adapt and apply within their own workspaces. One idea, for example (a mini unconference during the lunch hour) came relatively late within the planning process; it ultimately produced ideas (including a proposal for a library-wide e-learning think tank) that participants seem eager to explore and create. And a final, unexpectedly rewarding idea—to incorporate Twitter into the event so our co-conspirators in the learning process would viscerally understand how Twitter has become an effective and dynamic part of our learning landscape—was added to the picture during the onsite meeting less than a day before “From eLearning to Learning” took place.
Next: Planning for Success
NB: This is the first of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at email@example.com.
We used to have wonderful, clearly-defined words like “library,” “librarian,” “classroom,” and “teacher.” And some of you may still have crystal-clear visions of what those words mean. But reading two very thoughtful pieces today makes me wonder, once again, whether our nomenclature is failing to reflect the evolving world of educational technology and learning resources in which we work, play, and live—the world so well-explored and documented by New Media ConsortiumHorizon Project reports.
“It’s worth noting,” he continues, “that these writers weren’t saying the print collection is dead, but rather that the very concept of a librarian-built, prediction-based collection, in whatever format, is moribund. Furthermore, none of them seemed to be particularly upset about this; on the contrary, they generally mentioned it more or less in passing and as if it were a self-evident reality and nothing to get worked up about.”
Library Media Lab, University of Texas at Austin
Let’s be clear about one thing at this point: neither writer is suggesting that libraries are dead or in danger of extinction. Their writing is very much grounded in documenting the positive, exciting evolution of libraries, librarianship, and learning. Buffy implicitly sees what so many of us are seeing: physical changes within libraries that reflect the increasingly strong roles libraries are playing in lifelong learning (including providing onsite and online formal and informal learning opportunities for the increasingly extended communities they serve). Rick’s article focuses more on how the mindset of the young librarians he is discussing affects the organizations in which they work—a mindset that means the change has already occurred in some libraries and will continue to expand as these young librarians replace more and more of their predecessors who had different visions of what the words “library” and “librarianship” implied.
And to carry this more explicitly to my question about when a library becomes interchangeable with other learning spaces, let’s acknowledge something I’ve maintained for several years now: librarians increasingly are trainer-teacher-learners (or, to use more common terminology, “learning facilitators”). But not all trainer-teacher-learners are librarians—a distinction that, up to now, has provided us with a way to clearly differentiate between the two groups. But as more libraries evolve to include those wide-open spaces that Buffy so wonderfully documents through the photographs in her article, and as more libraries take an entirely different approach to what a collection is, and as more first-rate trainer-teacher-learners become better at information management and the sort of educational technology that is increasingly common to libraries and other learning spaces, will we see library spaces (onsite as well as online) remain easily differentiated from other learning spaces, or are we beginning to see a merging of learning and librarianship that will bring us all closer together and provide exciting new opportunities for everyone willing to collaborate in this potential endeavor?
Very much an admirer of R. David Lankes’ work (including Expect Moreand The Atlas of New Librarianship), I have always been intrigued by his suggestion that “a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library” (Atlas, p. 16); he also has some wonderfully nuanced thoughts on the nature of collections within libraries. His ideas help us, at least in part, to define libraries by the presence of librarians; by extension, they also help us recognize how much we define classrooms by the presence of teachers/instructors/trainers. But the equation frays a little at the edges when we see increasing numbers of great librarians doing what other great trainer-teacher-learners do, in ways that don’t clearly differentiate them from those other trainer-teacher-learners. It frays much further when we see the library spaces in which they weave their magic becoming increasingly similar to non-library learning spaces (and vice versa) , as some of those spaces documented via Buffy’s photographs confirm.
These are learning spaces with lots of open space as opposed to spaces dominated by print collections. These are learning spaces that are learner-centric—spaces featuring moveable furniture and moveable (including bring-your-own-device) technology that can quickly be reset to meet varying learning needs that can come up even within a single learning session. These are spaces where short-term as well as lifelong learning is supported. And, increasingly, these are spaces that look the same in a variety of settings—Buffy includes photographs of a corporate learning center—something we clearly have not yet addressed with the language we use to describe our libraries and other learning spaces, and something that, as we address it, may lead us to even more exciting learning possibilities and collaborations than we’ve have ever seen or imagined.