NMC 2017: Expanding the Ever-growing Conversations in Our Global Learning Spaces

June 14, 2017

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.

NMC17--LogoIt’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.

Also apparent to those of us attentive to this was the way what used to be seen as discrete, separated moments are becoming intriguingly expanded “moments” that that can continue for days, weeks, months, or event years through the use of the online tools that continue to evolve to our benefit.

nmc17--Richard_Culatta_and_Bryan_Alexander--2017-0614[1]

Richard Culatta(l) and Bryan Alexander at NMC17

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.

Advertisements

Naming Opportunities: Reflections on Library and Non-library Learning Spaces

November 17, 2015

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 Consortium Horizon Project reports.

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

Reading—and equally importantly, looking at the great set of photographs included in—Buffy Hamilton’s “A Visit to Discovery High School: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Learner Experiences” on her “Unquiet Librarian” blog this evening initially made me think about many of the fabulously creative learning spaces I’ve been lucky enough to visit, photograph, and describe in presentations this year. I see them in libraries. I see them in academic settings. I see them in corporate buildings and “training centers” where management, staff, and learners are committed to (as the Association for Talent Development so aptly puts it) creating “a world that works better.” And seeing them so explicitly displayed in Buffy’s article makes me see how similar those spaces are becoming—and have become. Which raises a question I posted in response to Buffy’s thoughts:

When does a library become interchangeable with other learning spaces rather than being unique?

The knee-jerk reaction to that question, for many of us, is “when it no longer has books.” But that ignores the changing—and very-much changed—nature of libraries and, in particular, library collections, as Rick Anderson writes in “The Death of the Collection and the Necessity of Library-Publisher Collaboration: Young Librarians on the Future of Libraries,” which he posted earlier today on the “Scholarly Kitchen” blog. Among the many very thoughtful points he makes is that a review of a group of young librarians’ work strongly suggests that “…the library collection, as traditionally understood, is dead.

“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

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?

Altas_New_Librarianship--CoverVery much an admirer of R. David Lankes’ work (including Expect More and 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.


KIPA 2015: Conferences, Collaboration, Innovation, and Extending Learning Spaces  

March 12, 2015

One of the benefits of participating in a very small conference—in this case, one that had no more than 30 colleagues onsite—is that the lines between presenters/learning facilitators and learners quickly blurs to the advantage of all involved.

KIPA_LogoThe 2015 Knowledge & Information Professional Association (KIPA) Conference, held in Denton, Texas, last week was, from the beginning, planned as a small gathering, with approximately 50 people registered to attend. Unexpected snow and icy roads in the days before the conference began cut the attendance substantially, reducing the number of onsite attendees to approximately 30. Because nearly every one of those attendees was, at some point, scheduled to facilitate a learning session alone or with a co-presenter, there was no way to be present without gaining a dynamic view of what many of our onsite colleagues are producing; it was also a wonderful opportunity to quickly observe a variety of presentation styles juxtaposed against each other—a great learning opportunity for any trainer-teacher-learner.

Presentations were scheduled throughout the first of the two days of activities, with two 45-minute opening plenary sessions in the morning followed by two concurrent mid-morning sets of break-out sessions featuring up to four different 30-minute presentations. A lunch break was followed by another two plenary sessions and a second concurrent pair of break-out sessions.

What this ultimately meant is that those of us facilitating the plenary sessions had plenty of opportunities to be on the other side of the learning landscape by switching from presenter to audience member/learner in those shorter break-out sessions led by the same people who were our co-learners at some point during the day.

The result was magnificent—a fantastic experience in which it was impossible to not become familiar, at some level, with the work many of our knowledge management and information-professional colleagues are producing in the field of knowledge management, librarianship, and a variety of other inter-related endeavors.

Using Storify to capture conference tweets extends the learning space

Using Storify to capture conference tweets extends the learning space

 

As we became more acquainted with each other throughout the day, we were able to consciously and overtly make connections between the various discussion threads inspired by content within each session. By the time I led colleagues through a discussion about creative approaches to onsite and online learning spaces early that afternoon, for example, I was able, on the spot, to build upon what we had already heard, build upon experiences others brought to the topic, and engage in several spirited exchanges which helped all of us deepen our extensive understanding of and appreciation for the way our learning spaces are evolving and expanding every time we use them. I also helped extend the learning space itself by tweeting throughout the day; those interactions on Twitter added an additional 10 co-learners at varying levels of engagement from elsewhere in the U.S. and other countries—providing yet another example of how our “learning spaces” quickly expand beyond our initial expectations when we invite others to the party. That expansion, in fact, is still continuing nearly a week later as I see new retweets from people who were not able to be at the onsite portion of our extended onsite-online learning space.

KIPA President Joe Colannino, via his session exploring how collaboration and innovation are producing interesting (and potentially world-changing) results in the Seattle-based ClearSign technology company where he works, unintentionally expanded the learning-space conversation a bit by taking us to company website and a video on “The Future of Fire.” It was a great reminder of how accessible offsite resources are to us in our onsite-online learning spaces, and how engaging a learning opportunity becomes when we draw those resources into our rooms.

Kimberly Moore, a University of North Texas adjunct faculty member and head librarian at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Forth Worth, led us through one additional unintentional extension of the learning-space exploration by using a course website (rather than a PowerPoint slide deck) to talk about how her young students learn about Web 2.0 by working on and with online spaces. Her website includes an infographic designed to help us see that our digital natives are “technologically savvy but not [digitally] literate,” and incorporating that infographic into her presentation was another reminder that our learning-space resources are as expansive as our imaginations are.

Colannino, toward the end of his presentation, talked about how research and development in corporations is all about finding opportunities and then finding innovative people to take advantage of those opportunities. Being with those innovative colleagues at KIPA 2015 and seeing how effective it was to have my session built around plenty of interactions and an image-laden (rather than text-heavy) PowerPoint slide deck followed by Colannino’s session with a different style of deck that included the video, and then followed by Moore’s session built around a website that became part of our learning space shows just how much fun trainer-teacher-learners—and those we serve—can have when we all bring our best ideas and resources to the learning table.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 2 of 6): Learning Spaces, Blended  Learning, & Other Key Trends  

February 19, 2015

If you’re noticing increasing amounts of attention given to collaboration, blended learning, and efforts to redesign learning spaces in training-teaching-learning, you’re not alone. And if you are new to or remain curious about these topics, you’ll find plenty to stimulate your interest in the “Key Trends” section of the newly-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverHorizon Project reports, for more than a decade, have been guiding us through what is changing and what remains consistent in our learning landscape; the flagship Higher Education Edition, which currently is accompanied by K-12, Library and Museum editions, consistently helps us identify and become familiar with key trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in higher education”—and, I continue to maintain, in many other parts of our overall lifelong-learning landscape.

Reading through the latest Key Trends section confirms, among other ideas, that collaboration is a common thread weaving the trends into a cohesive tapestry of ed-tech developments. We see, through the report, that key trends (in addition to an increasing use of blended learning and significant amounts of attention given to redesigning learning spaces) include advancing cultures of change and innovation; increasing cross-institution collaboration; a growing focus on measuring learning; and the proliferation of open educational resources—OERs. And the 2015 Higher Education Edition includes plenty of examples to help us see how we can adapt, in our own learning environments, what our more adventurous colleagues are already doing.

Looking first at the long-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for five or more years”—we encounter examples of how learning organizations are advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasingly fostering cross-institution collaboration. We are, according to the Horizon Project team (New Media Consortium staff, along with the volunteers who serve on the report’s panel of experts), seeing an increasing awareness among “higher education thought leaders” that agile startup models and the lean startup movement  are stimulating positive change and “promoting a culture of innovation” in learning (p. 8). “It has become the responsibility of universities to foster environments that accelerate learning and creativity,” report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada bluntly tell us—an assertion that I consistently apply to workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well. Among the examples provided are the University of Florida’s Innovation Academy, where students work innovatively in a variety of dynamic learning spaces to “learn more about creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, and leadership,” and the University of Colorado, Denver’s ten-week Online Skills Mastery training program “designed to prepare you for teaching with digital tools, with a focus on great digital pedagogy” and culminating with a project in which participants actually produce a learning module—experiential learning at its best. (Modules are available online for those of us interested in further exploring what the program offers.) And for one of the many examples of how learning organizations are engaging in productive collaborations, we can follow the report link to “7 Ways Higher Ed Institutions Are Increasingly Joining Forces” from EducationDive.com—yet another resource well worth pursuing.

As we move into the mid-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for three to five years”—we turn our attention to the growing focus on measuring learning (think learning analytics) and the proliferation of open educational resources. With the growing focus on measuring learning, we are reminded, “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success” (p. 12); among the numerous first-rate resources cited in the 2015 Higher Education Edition are the “Code of Practice for Learning Analytics” prepared by Niall Sclater for Jisc, and records from the Asilomar Conference (here in California) that was designed to “inform the ethical use of data and technology in learning research” through development of six principals (“respect for the rights of learners, beneficence, justice, openness, the humanity of learning, and continuous consideration”). Turning to the trend toward increasing use of open educational resources, we see how they represent “a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software, and any other means of conveying knowledge” (p. 14). Among the open textbook projects receiving attention here are Rice University’s OpenStax College and College Open Textbooks; massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the North-West OER Network also receive much-justified attention for their ongoing collaborative and open approaches to learning.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe Key Trends section of the report concludes with the two intriguing and fruitful short-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education [and elsewhere] for the next one to two years”: increasing use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces. “[B]lended learning—the combination of online and face-to-face instruction—is a model currently being explored by many higher educational institutions” (p. 17) and some of us who work in other learning environments, as we’re reminded through a link to a blended-learning case study (written by Carrie Schulz, Jessica Vargas, and Anna Lohaus) from Rollins University. And changes in pedagogical approaches themselves are driving the need to re-examine and redesign our learning spaces: “A student-centered approach to education has taken root, prompting many higher education professionals to rethink how learning spaces should be configured,” the report co-authors confirm (p. 18). If, for example, we are interested in having the learner at the center of the learning process, we’re going to have to rework the numerous lecture halls that continue to place the focus on learning facilitators. The FLEXspace interactive OER database and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory are among the wonderful resources cited for those of us interested in diving much more deeply into the world of learning-space redesign, and Tom Haymes’ Idea Spaces presentation provides additional food for thought while also serving as an example of how we can create online content in a way that creates its own type of learning space—the website itself.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Challenges


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

March 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 3 of 4): Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It

March 15, 2012

After devouring developmental molecular biologist John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School and author-presenter-entrepreneur Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?), we’re almost left with no other choice than to continue our rethinking by turning our capital-A Attention to Cathy Davidson’s Now You See it: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

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.

Her goal, she tells us right up front, is to provide “a positive, practical, and even hopeful story about attention in our digital age” by exposing us to “ research in brain science, education, and workplace psychology to find the best ways to learn and change in challenging times” (p. 6). And she delivers. Convincingly.

Starting with a summary of an experiment that shows how much we miss around us by focusing too closely on certain details because we have learned to block out the overwhelming amount of stimulation that routinely comes our way, Davidson suggests that our learning process needs to include at least three steps: learning, unlearning, and relearning—and the sort of collaboration that allows us to rely on others to help us see what we otherwise would miss.

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.

Next: Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 2 of 4): Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams

March 9, 2012

If you think developmental molecular biologist John Medina’s ideas for rethinking leaning and learning spaces in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School require a bit of an open mind, wait until you see what author-presenter-entrepreneur Seth Godin is (re)thinking.

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.

Next: Cathy Davidson and “Now You See It”


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 1 of 4): John Medina’s Brain Rules

March 8, 2012

Although the brain often seems to be the most overlooked tool in trainer-teacher-learners’ toolkits, great writers like developmental molecular biologist John Medina are doing a lot to move us past that oversight through books like Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.

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?)


Information Services Today: Hyperlinked Libraries, Makerspaces, & Learning in a Collaborative World

April 17, 2015

Trainer-teacher-learners reading Michael Stephens’ “Hyperlinked Libraries” and Kristin Fontichiaro’s “Creation Culture and Makerspaces” chapters in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction will find inspiring reminders of how learning organizations are evolving to meet community needs.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIn fact, if we substitute the term “learning organization” for the word “library” in a set of observations Stephens offers at the top of the Hyperlinked Library page on his Tame the Web site, we have another first-rate manifesto for trainer-teacher-learners working within libraries as well as for those working in other settings: “The Library Plays. The Library Learns. The Library Tells Stories. The Library is Transparent. The Library is Participatory. The Library harnesses user-generated content. The Library makes Connections.” Stephens, furthermore, has provided a bridge from hyperlinked libraries to a concept of hyperlinked learning that carries us into themes trainer-teacher-learners are exploring worldwide; it encompasses learning models and tools including massive open online courses (MOOCs), a combination of formal and informal learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, mobile learning (m-learning), connected learning; reflective learning, production-centered learning, personal learning networks, and flexible learning spaces.

Hyperlinked_Library_SiteHis description of hyperlinked libraries in Information Services Today offers us a straightforward point of departure: “Hyperlinked library services are born from the constant, positive, and purposeful adaptation to change that is based on thoughtful planning and grounded in the mission of libraries. Information professionals embracing the hyperlinked model practice careful trend spotting and apply the tenets of librarianship along with an informed understanding of emerging technologies’ societal and cultural impact. Information professionals communicate with patrons and potential users via open and transparent conversations using a wide variety of technologies across many platforms. The hyperlinked library model flourishes in both physical and virtual spaces by offering collections, activities, trainings, and events that actively transform spectators into participants. In participatory culture, everyone is in the business of advancing knowledge and increasing skill levels. The community is integrated into the structure of change and improvement” (p. 185).

Hyperlinked learning includes elements of much of what colleagues and I explore and document through our participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project: how we are incorporating technology into the learning process; how tech tools support and expand the collaborative opportunities we have within learning organizations and the communities they serve; and what we should and can do to keep our skill levels where they need to be to meet the needs of the organizations and learners we serve.

When we turn our attention to makerspaces within the framework of  hyperlinked learning, we easily see how makerspaces fit into our experiential (learn-by-doing) learning landscape and how much less vibrant that landscape would be without the creative, collaborative nature of what those spaces produce. They provide a huge and much-needed leap from lecture-based learning—where success is measured by quizzes and other ineffectual measures of long-term learning—into a world of learning that supports the development of the collaborative and creative skills so many people promote as workplace essentials. They are engaging. Dynamic. And transformational. And they build upon some long-established traditions.

Fontichiaro_Makerspaces“Information organizations have a long tradition of supporting a community’s intellectual and personal interests through rich collections available for checkout and through interactive activities online and in the physical space,” Fontichiaro explains in the conclusion to her makerspace chapter. “By unifying the how collections of the information organization with the let’s-do energy of the community, information organizations can create maker learning communities and opportunities that delight, motivate, and inspire communities” (p. 198).

We don’t need to make this overly complex. It really comes down to some simple concepts:

  • Our approaches to learning and to designing/redesigning the spaces in which we learn, while grounded in well-established patterns and practices, offer intriguing possibilities for dynamic change at least partially made possible by the rapid rate of change in the technology we have.
  • Learning is not something with defined beginning and ending points; when supported effectively, it’s a fascinating, rewarding, meandering, lifelong endeavor comprised of informal as well as formal elements carrying us between a variety of learning organizations including academic institutions, workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs, museums, libraries and other information organizations, conferences, and onsite as well as online communities of learning.
  • We don’t have to subscribe solely to a single element of hyperlinked learning or what learning spaces—including makerspaces—contain. Remaining open to an evolving set of options serves us and our learners well.
  • The tools available to support training-teaching-learning are continuing to evolve in intriguing ways, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our learners to explore those tools as time allows so we can most effectively support the varied, lifelong learning needs successful participation in our workplaces and our communities requires.

We have, as so many of us have repeatedly observed, come to expect that learning will occur when and where we need it. Our greatest challenge is to find ways to embrace and meet that need through effective collaborations—without becoming overwhelmed by options.

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


From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 5 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 19, 2016

The learning event has ended; the learning process continues. And, when all is said and done, one of the many important ways by which any of us can and will measure the success or failure emanating from Mount Prospect Public Library’s 2016 Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” (the day-long exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work) will be through the transformations it actually does or does not manage to produce for those involved and for those they/we serve.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12As mentioned in earlier sections of this case study of how a day-long exploration of e-learning can lead to more productive, effective, and creative use of e-learning within an overall learning landscape, we already know positive, potentially far-reaching transformations were occurring. Co-conspirators (the onsite participants in this training-teaching-learning-doing opportunity) clearly expanded their definitions and understanding of the state of contemporary e-learning and the possibilities it provides in workplace settings. Some of them posted their first tweets as part of the process of gaining a richer, more nuanced vision of how Twitter and other social media tools can be engagingly integrated into onsite as well as online learning opportunities to the benefit of everyone involved. Many of them contributed ideas face-to-face and online to expand the use of e-learning among staff members and among library users near and far. And some of them used Twitter to talk about what they hope and intend to do as a result of what they experienced.

As a co-learner as well as planning team member and presenter/facilitator in “From eLearning to Learning,” I know even I left feeling unexpectedly and significantly transformed by my involvement. I’m sure there is a wonderfully academic term to describe what I felt as the day came to an end and during the hours of reflection and conversation I’ve had with colleagues since leaving Mount Prospect, but I keep coming back to something far more basic and visceral: it blew my emotional pipes out! I was stunned. Elated. Inspired. And, at times, close to tears. Because everything was so…much…more…wonderfully and overwhelming intense and inspiring than even I expected it to be; I already carry a deep sense of gratitude to the staff members who invited me into the process and to those magnificent staff members who pushed the learning envelope so far during our onsite and online time together that day.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesAmong the continued-learning opportunities I already have pursued is the opportunity to expand upon and adapt in my own way a learning approach I saw Tom Haymes, a fabulous New Media Consortium (NMC) colleague, use during his own “Idea Spaces” presentation at an NMC conference a couple of years ago. His onsite Idea Spaces presentation and discussion gave all of us plenty of room to learn from him in the moment, to learn from each other in the same moment, to reflect upon what we were hearing and learning, and to see the “event” as part of a process.

More significantly, Tom created a beautifully expansive learning opportunity that helped me see how onsite and online learning could seamlessly be interwoven. His slide deck was posted and available on an Idea Spaces website (which, as I glance back at it in writing this part of the “From eLearning to Learning” case study, has expanded tremendously and magnificently since I last visited it.) The site itself was and remains a stand-alone expansion of what he was sharing with us; it was and is, at the same time, an integral part of the onsite experience. It includes a variety of resources for those of us interested in pursuing the topic in our own way. On our own time. Whenever we want to continue the training-teaching-learning-doing process. And, with that in mind, it occurred to me that what all of us designed for the onsite “From eLearning to Learning” experience easily translates into a modified version of what Tom modeled through his use of WordPress as a platform for the onsite version.

Tom (and many others) have used WordPress as a virtual course meeting place. I’ve used my own website “Previous Presentations” page as a central virtual meeting place for ongoing use and exploration of the material we all developed through the planning process and our onsite participation, and have added links to  the content to the “Presentations/Courses” page of this WordPress Building Creative Bridges blog, which serves as a secondary website/learning resource to expand the reach of what I do and document. I’ve also made minor modification to the slide deck I posted so there are references to the other current components of the suite (including the Storify document). The Storify document ends with a note providing a link to the PowerPoint deck with extensive speaker notes. This five-part case study on my blog is becoming an integral part of the suite by including links to other components at the bottom of each of these articles, and there are references to it sprinkled among the other resources and promoted via my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. And I’m looking at fine-tuning and providing access to additional resources that came out of the planning and day-of-the-event interactions so anyone interested will have a road map they can follow in the same way that Tom’s Idea Spaces continues to serve as a virtual road map and very real, tremendous source of inspiration nearly two years after I participated in the onsite version.

Mt_Prospect_LogoSo, there we have it: the current state of e-learning and a view toward pulling it into the overall world of learning rather than being something all-too-often mistakenly seen as inferior to other types of learning. We learn onsite while incorporating online learning opportunities that produce potentially long-lasting, useful resources openly shared with anyone who might benefit from them. We learn online synchronously and/or asynchronously so that learning occurs at our moment of need, when we are ready and primed for it, rather than being where we were a decade or two ago—largely dependent on the availability of teachers and trainers who stood in the front of a room and lectured at us. In the contemporary learning environment onsite and online, there often is no front of the room. The room is the entire world, the learners are fabulous, often self-motivated, inquisitive and collaborative co-conspirators in the learning process, and in the best of situations we are able synchronously or asynchronously to enter the room and work with our co-conspirators to produce positive effects that ripple out into our extended community of work, service, and play.

I look back at the annotated, lightly-edited Twitter transcript on Storify and smile as I reread a few of my favorites among the many wonderful tweets that came out of our time together:

  • “Whenever @paulsignorelli says ‘co-conspirator’ can’t help but thnk of mvie ‘The Conspirator’ abt plot to assassinate Lincoln #mpplsid16”
  • “Transformation today; we now recognize #elearning spaces; they’re everwhere! #mpplsid16”
  • “So important to stay excited about elearning long after today #mpplside16”
  • “What can we do to commit to #elearning after today? Make the time for the things we want to learn about! #mpplsid16”
  • “I just got elearned #firsttweet #mpplsid16”

And as I reread and reflect upon the content and the entire experience–and feel in a very real sense that the moment has not yet ended—I respond synchronously and asynchronously, both humbly and with a tremendous sense of elation and in the spirit of moving from elearning to learning, to that learner who just “got elearned”: “I learned.”

NB: This is the fifth 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 paul@paulsignorelli.com.


%d bloggers like this: