Learning With Our Learners: Online Master Class

August 15, 2014

The thrill of watching instructors and learners interact in a master class setting—where the master works as a coach, one-on-one, with a highly-developed learner while others observe the process—has struck me as one of the most intimate and rewarding levels of interaction possible between learners and learning facilitators ever since I first observed master classes many years ago at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Learning vicariously from world-renowned musicians as they coached extremely talented music students who performed highly-rehearsed pieces created a combination of excitement, tension, and inclusion for everyone. In the best of circumstances, the master class had a transformative effective on everyone present.

When there is real chemistry between the master and the learner, it’s a beautifully dynamic process to observe. And when arrogance creeps in—as when a learner plays a piece, then the master plays a passage from the same piece and attempts to stimulate conversation by asking, “Why does that sound so much better when I play it than when you do?”—we receive a much-needed reminder that hubris has no place in the learning process (other than to provide examples of what we should never do with our own learners).

SEFLIN_LogoWorking as much online as I do face-to-face these days, I’ve always wondered how an online master class might be designed and delivered. And thanks to colleagues in the Southeast Florida Library Network (SEFLIN), I had a chance to try it out earlier today by conducting an online master class for learners in the four-part “Mastering Online Facilitation” series I have designed and am facilitating for SEFLIN and its Florida-based learners (July 30 – August 22, 2014).

It was even more exciting and rewarding than I had hoped it would be.

Synchronous_Trainers_Survival_Guide

Wonderful resource for online facilitators

The set-up was as simple as we could possibly make it. Interested learners, who have been exploring various parts of the design and delivery process for facilitating webinars and online meetings, were invited to submit a brief PowerPoint slide deck that they would use as the basis for a five- to 10-minute live, online presentation, or exercise in facilitating meetings. The very small group of us participating in the experiment arrived online 15 minutes before the master class was scheduled to formally begin; that gave us time to engage in a brief tech check so that the sole learner scheduled to present could familiarize herself with the various tools within the platform (Adobe Connect) that we were using. That pre-session time provided something far too few of us remember to incorporate into our learning-facilitation space: time for the learner to become familiar with the learning environment before the formal learning experience begins. More importantly, it left us with a brief period of time to further develop the rapport that creates a supportive learning sandbox and eliminates as many distractions as possible so that the real focus is on learning (not the technology behind the learning—that’s a different part of the lesson).

At the scheduled time, we started recording the session so the learner would be able to focus on her presentation and know that she would be able to review the entire session later. As is the case with any successful master class, this one worked well because the learner already had significant, well-developed skills (from the face-to-face presentation and facilitation work she does). It was also helpful that she was using a presentation comprised of content she had already successfully used onsite (i.e., it was well-rehearsed), so she could almost completely focus on how to provide content engagingly in an online environment.

When she was finished, I couldn’t help but blurt out the first thought that came to mind after being drawn into what amounted to an introductory segment to a longer presentation: “Keep going.” (To keep up our comparison to musical master classes, we could refer to her master class performance as the performance of a prelude to a much longer piece of music.)

It took her only a few seconds to realize the not-so-subtle compliment behind the words: she had hit a home run on her first online outing.

Presentation Zen

Great tips for incorporating dynamic visuals into presentations

We then circled back on the presentation at a few levels. I first asked her how she felt about her presentation, and the two of us serving as her audience assured her that her perceptions of being halting and a bit off kilter were far from what we as audience members had experienced. I then walked her through her seven-slide presentation, slide by slide, to comment on what struck me as being strong about the slides and her verbal presentation—stopping at the end of each slide to ask her if she had any additional questions or observations. Our final pass through the slide deck was to discuss possible variations to what she had designed (e.g., using more visual elements and smaller amounts of text, finding creative and subtle ways to highlight parts of text so members of her own audience would be immediately drawn to specific elements on a slide at the moment she was verbally addressing those elements).

What was probably most rewarding for all of us was that the lines between alleged master and wonderful learner, in this case, were extremely permeable. We learned as much from her presentation and her questions as she learned from our reactions (and I learned even more when I went back to the recording myself to see how I could improve my own skills at facilitating master classes); we were not telling her how she should have designed and presented her information, we offered variations on her theme and left it to her to decide what she believed will best work for her own learners when she takes that presentation back to them; and we all understood that for every moment we spend in and benefit from occupying the master’s seat onsite or online, we benefit so much more by sharing all the learning that has shaped us—and will continue to shape us—in our own lifelong-learning efforts.


Learning Magic in Moments of Improvisation (Learning With Our Learners)

May 9, 2014

It’s far more than sleight of hand, this act of learning alongside our learners. It’s as delightfully magical for the way it occurs at the most unexpected moments as it is for how it rapidly produces small and large shifts in our own training-teaching-learning approach. And the stimulation that accompanies that level of collaboration in the learning process is one of the most consistently rewarding aspects of formal and informal learning opportunities we are likely to encounter, I was reminded again yesterday morning.

Oldenburg--Great_Good_PlaceI didn’t even, when the moment of magical learning began, know I was walking into a classroom; I thought I was actually walking into a neighborhood café—the sort of Ray Oldenburgian third placeThe Great Good Place—where we meet friends, interact, and walk away the better for having set aside the time for exactly that sort of encounter. But that morning quickly and unexpectedly turned into a far deeper and richer learning experience that a friend and I had expected to produce.

It began when I spotted the friend and sat at the restaurant counter to join her for a cup of coffee while she was eating breakfast. Commenting on how nice it had been to see her engaged in journaling as joined her, I inadvertently opened a door to a wonderful conversation about how she wished she had more time to write and how, more importantly, she wished she could find a way to combine her love of writing with work that produced an income.

“Want to play a game?” I asked. “It takes about two minutes and is a great learning exercise I know that helps people find what’s eluding them.”

Not wanting to skew the results or lead her in any specific direction other than helping her identify the sort of work that might combine her varied interests, I didn’t tell her that this simple exercise I had leaned in a creative writing class many years before had served me well in helping learners achieve a variety of goals including creating branding/marketing slogans for their personal businesses; crafting mission statements for their organizations; and even finding a name for a volunteer-driven community-based project that was so perfect that participants were still discovering lovely nuances in the name a couple of years after they shaped it. I also didn’t tell her that I used a two-minute time limit for the exercise because experience showed that most people and groups were winding down after 90 seconds and that two minutes was generally all it took to complete the most important element of what we were doing together.

Hearing her agree to accept the challenge, I told her to use her journal—I have generally used blank pieces of paper when working with individuals and paper on flipcharts or large whiteboards in classroom settings when working with groups—and take no more than two minutes to write down every word—no editing allowed—that came to mind when asked to think about the question “What makes me happy?” (When working on the mission statements, I’ve asked those learning the technique by using it to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about their organization; when working with those crafting marketing slogans, I’ve asked them to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about what concrete results they wanted to help their clients produce; when I worked with colleagues in the volunteer project, I asked them to think of every word that came to mind when they thought about the site on which the project was to be completed.)

Fountain_pens--2013-02-05I knew magic was about to occur when my friend/learner actually began jotting words down into her notebook even before I had a chance to start the timer on her smartphone. And it continued to take shape when I realized that, after 90 seconds, she not only was still writing as quickly as her hand and pen could place ink onto paper (with no slowdown in sight), but was also writing from left to right and top to bottom on the page rather than doing what every other learner had done before—simply throwing words helter-skelter all over a page or flipchart or whiteboard so the words could be grouped thematically later.

As the two-minute mark approached, I recognized I had my own unanticipated moment of leaning to address: stop the exercise as planned or respond to her obvious engagement and complete immersion in what she was doing by ignoring the timer and seeing where additional time would take us. After she finally raised her head five minutes and fifteen seconds into her wonderful stream-of-consciousness flow and asked if her two minutes were up, we both had a good laugh before beginning the process of reviewing what she wrote to see if she could spot meaningful connections between those apparently disjointed words and phrases. And as she read back what she had produced, I felt another moment of leaning magic unfolding: not only had she written down numerous nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but she had actually jotted down words reflecting what she was thinking as she wrote comments along the lines of “oh, this isn’t working” and “oh wait there it is.” Not only had she produced the most richly complex record of a learner’s thoughts I had ever seen in response to this simple exercise, but she had reminded me of something no trainer-teacher-learner can afford to ever forget: set the rules, then break them as soon as they become a hindrance to the learner’s learning process.

When we were finished with the review, she told me how helpful the exercise had been in identifying things she knew innately but hadn’t consciously acknowledged, and confirmed that she had learned enough to strike out on her own by returning to the results, running the same sort of exercise using individual words that resonated strongly with her from round one, and creating the sort of pithy summary of what would most appeal to her so she could try to match that statement with work that would reward her far more than what she currently does. And I, in turned, told her that the simple act of running that exercise with her and watching all that she produced had revitalized and freshened a tool I had long enjoyed—and now magically, unexpectedly, and inspirationally, would use with even more enthusiasm for learners who would never know how much that she as learner-teacher had contributed to their learning process—and a wonderfully adaptable tool to help them on their journey.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners Revisited: Tweetorientations

March 14, 2014

Less than a year ago, Betty Turpin (librarian at the International School of Stuttgart) was completing a four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I had designed and was facilitating for ALA Editions. Now she is introducing me to innovative uses of the social media tools we explored with her course colleagues.

Betty Turpin

Betty Turpin

Twitter is at the center of a story that should be tremendously inspiring and useful to any trainer-teacher-learner. Betty is maintaining a wonderful Twitter feed (look particularly as the series of tweets that began appearing on February 13, 2014) to help prepare students for participation in a dynamic study-abroad program and project designed to produce concrete results: “planning, managing, and implementing an entirely new school library, and assessing a sustainable automation system in a fully-contained setting” while earning full credit for two courses (“Managing Library Automation Projects” and “Seminar in Information Resources and Services for Special Clienteles”), a promotional flyer confirms. Betty’s use of Twitter also made me aware of what she is doing; we used Twitter for an initial interview about her efforts before moving the conversation into email; and I suspect we’ll both continue using Twitter to post updates as she continues orientation-by-Twitter—an idea I suspect many of us will eagerly look to apply into our own training-teaching-learning efforts.

Her summary via email shows us what has developed:

UNT_Logo“The University of North Texas [UNT], your alma mater as well as mine, has a study abroad program for graduate library students. I participated as a student four years ago in Kyiv, Ukraine. Last year I tagged along to a school in Moscow, Russia, for my own professional development. I graduated from UNT in 2012, but as you might imagine, professional development for English-speaking librarians overseas is a bit hard to come by. This year, I am the sponsoring librarian and the students are coming to work for me at my school in Stuttgart, Germany.  I’ve also arranged for the students to start-up a library at a new international school in Karlovy Vary, CZ.  The school will open its doors with its first students in August, 2014. The library and opening day collection will be put into place by UNT’s Dr. [Barbara] Schultz-Jones, Professor Debby Jennings, and their team of 20 graduate librarians.

“Dr. Schultz-Jones has been running this program for ten years, more or less…When the team started getting themselves organized for this year’s trip, I decided to use a social media platform to help pass on some of the information they might either need or want for their trip.”

International_School_of_Stuttgart_LogoTwitter became Betty’s tool of choice because she saw it as a way to build excitement; as a resource that could be easily managed on a day-to-day basis; and as a conduit to concisely provide valuable tidbits orienting the learners to the International School of Stuttgart, the city and its culture, and general library issues they will need to understand before they dive into their project of creating that new school library in the Czech Republic, she explained.

“Students get overwhelmed thinking abt. an overseas visit. Bits of info at a time work better, hence tweets,” she added via Twitter.

The feed she maintains is charmingly effective. It begins with an invitation to engagement (“Welcome, UNT Student Librarians! Pls follow me. We’ll tweet info., photos, and exciting news from Germany until you are HERE! Tchüß!”); continues with introductions to wonderful resources, including the school’s website and to the Visible Thinking site, to prepare them for the work they are about to begin; and includes tweets designed to facilitate online interactions among the learners themselves. Understanding the value of imagery, she is particularly good at incorporating colorful photographs into those tweets, showing everything from playful images of the people the learners will meet at the school to a picture of one of the chairs available to them. This is a level of orientation so far removed from the deadly-dull introductory information dumps so prevalent in student and workplace learning today that it almost begs to have its own training-teaching-learning nomenclature: Tweetorientations, anyone?

And there’s more: her feed, in addition to nurturing a community of learning, also has the potential to easily be organized into a newly-formatted reusable learning object—perhaps part of a larger custom-designed orientation manual or virtual textbook that could include tips and observations from the learners themselves—if she ultimately decides to collect the entire series into a Storify document or a PDF to be accessed by the UNT students or anyone else interested in Stuttgart and the International School.

For now (as Betty notes), she has a very small number of followers on Twitter. But I suspect that will change when our training-teaching-learning colleagues realize how effectively she is using Twitter. And what a great example she is setting for the rest of us.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 4 of 4): Out of the Course and Into the World

February 10, 2013

It hasn’t taken long for participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions to begin documenting our collective successes.

Social_Media_BasicsOne learner, in his final course posting, noted that he “had the opportunity to use Google hangouts as part of a reference interaction at work recently. An online student was having trouble finding resources for an assignment…and we used hangouts to work through some of the difficulties.”

Another learner, wanting to explore Google+ Hangouts further, arranged a session with five other course participants and quickly found the tool taking a back seat to a very engaging discussion in which they shared ideas and learned from each other in a way that made them feel as if they were sitting together rather than separated by tremendous geographic distances.

Several documented the fact that they had set up various social media accounts for the libraries they serve. At least a few have initiated live tweet sessions and begun discussing work-related issues in the private Facebook group we established so that our community of learning—which now includes participants from both offerings of the course—can continue to grow and flourish. And a few others were inspired to go beyond the course content and explore other tools, including Pinterest.

Engaging in a rudimentary version of learning analytics produces an interesting snapshot of how the course functions—and provides some positive responses to those who contend that online learning can’t possibly rival the face-to-face experience. Starting with a core group of 32 registered learners, we had five who never engaged at any significant level, and only four more who weren’t actively participating by the time the course ended. There was the usual spike of activity during the first of the four weeks of the course, with nearly 1,800 views of posts within the formal class forums that week; that had leveled off and remained steady at approximately seven hundred views during the final few weeks. Actual postings, however, were fairly consistent throughout the run of the course, with between 100 and 150 individual comments posted on course forums each week—which doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens of postings made via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ as we explored each of those platforms.

Most interesting to me, since I was expecting a steady decrease in discussion-forum postings, is that the largest number of individual discussions actually occurred during the final week, when learners were not only posting brief descriptions of their final projects, but also engaging in brief summaries of how their perceptions (and misperceptions) about social media tools had changed.

But it’s really not the numbers that tell the story here; it’s the observations the learners offered regarding how their perceptions had changed in positive ways and how they walked away from this brief, very concentrated experience with social media much more likely to use the tools than they had been before they took the course.

As I’ve said in response to many of their comments, this is the real icing on our learning cake. Because learning is about positive transformation, the fact that they are documenting increased use of social media tools and finding ways to use those tools to the benefit of those they serve in libraries throughout the United States and a few other countries means that our time together is offering rewards to the organizations they serve. They are also now engaged in a community of learning that was created during the initial offering of the course in 2012, has grown as a result of the latest four-week offering, and stands a good chance of growing even more as these participants use their online discussion groups to stay in touch, exchange resources, and explore issues of interest and importance to them in the months and years to come.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 3 of 4): Office Hours in a Google+ Hangout

January 31, 2013

Having twice used a private Facebook group as the platform for virtual office hours over the past couple of weeks, participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions went for broke this morning: we used a Google+ Hangout for our latest office hour.

While it was far from perfect, it proved to be a spectacular learning experience for those who wanted the opportunity to create another learning sandbox in a course that has promoted experimentation as a way of becoming comfortable with a few of the numerous social media tools available to us.

Social_Media_BasicsThe experiment—not originally built into the course, but completely in character with the approach we’ve been taking together—was inspired during our second Facebook office hour last week. We had begun discussing how different people were using Google+ Hangouts creatively, and I responded to a question by describing how Samantha Adams Becker (from the New Media Consortium) and I had used Hangouts as the vehicle for blended cross-country presentations on technology in learning. (I was onsite in the San Francisco Bay Area with American Society for Training & Development—ASTD–colleagues, and Samantha came in from her home in New Orleans via the Hangouts.) I also led the virtual office hour participants to the YouTube video of John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks via Google+ Hangouts. It was at that moment that one of the participants expressed an interest in conducting our next virtual office hour via a Hangout, and the request picked up momentum through the learners’ own actions.

When I saw that one of the course participants was running with the idea of connecting with a few other learners via a Hangout—an option suggested as a final course activity—I contacted her to ask whether she would like to combine that effort with the proposed office hour and actually facilitate the session herself. She immediately accepted, sent out the invitations both on Google+ and in the class forum (in Moodle), and began preparing for the session. Although I was there to support her during the brief planning stages and while the Hangout was in progress, it really was a learner-driven session with all the ups and downs we expected through that effort.

She and I worked together in advance to craft a rough outline of how the session would proceed, and agreed that part of the success would come from not overly structuring the conversation. She and others exchanged information ahead of time via Google+ and the class forum. She even set up a pre-session sandbox for anyone who wanted to play with the technology before the office hour officially began.

When we logged on at the appointed time, she and the others were fantastic in addressing challenges. The initial Hangout was a bit slow, and screens froze a couple of times, so we decided that she should log out and then come right back in to see if the connection would stabilize. Although the rest of us were able to continue in that original Hangout, she somehow found herself locked out of it, so immediately contacted me, via a separate chat, to see if the entire group could move into a new Hangout. The transition was relatively quick, and we were all in the new, much more successful Hangout, within 10 minutes of the original start time—a great learning experience for those interested in seeing how easy it could be to resolve problems within a new learning environment like a Google+ Hangout.

As was the case with our initial Facebook virtual office hour, we spent another few minutes playing around with the technical side of the event since this was meant to be a learning experience, not a professionally-produced program: helping participants unmute their microphones, establishing an understanding of how to effectively use the chat function, and even finding a way to allow one struggling participant to view the session through a live feed via YouTube. By the time we were a quarter of the way through our hour-long session, we had moved away from discussions of how to operate within a Hangout and were already discussing topics germane to the work we were doing in “Social Media Basics.”

None of us expects to win any awards for production values or content from that first experiment, but we all walked away with something far more important: the memory of an engaging online session that made everyone feel as if we had finally “met” in the course because we had that virtual face-to-face experience, and lots of ideas about how the experience could quickly be replicated in our own workspaces to the benefit of those we serve.

And if that isn’t at the heart of successful learning in our onsite-online world, then I’m not quite sure what is.

N.B.: Heartfelt thanks to the staff of the New Media Consortium for introducing me to John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks through the work Advisory Board members did on the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education Edition.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 2 of 4): Office Hours in Facebook

January 17, 2013

The concept of office hours in an online course took an interesting twist this morning as several participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions joined me in our course Facebook discussion group for a spirited hour-long exchange.

Social_Media_BasicsOur experimental session was predicated on the idea that, within the safety of a private Facebook group, we could hold a live online office hour which would simultaneously let us explore current course challenges while also seeing how one of the social media tools we are exploring can be useful to us long after the course ends.

It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams—with plenty of unexpected challenges coming up along the way.

I initially suggested that, to facilitate discussion while also producing a reviewable transcript, we establish a discussion posting within the group, and that everyone participate by responding within that thread by hitting Comment. The plan was that any course participant wanting to review the discussion later could simply read the comments in the order they were posted within that private Facebook group setting.

We quickly found ourselves split a bit when one of the learners responded using the chat function. At that point, we had two simultaneous and not-at-all synchronized discussions going, so we moved everything into the chat for the remainder of the online office hour. After making it past the not-unexpected questions about how to monitor and respond to a chat feed that seemed to be traveling very close to the speed of light, the learners seem to adjust to the pace.

The magic moment of learning came when we stopped focusing on the tool and became immersed in a variety of topics about Facebook and social media in general. The current learners started driving the conversation as I stepped back, and they were further encouraged by the presence of a learner from a previous offering of the course since that returning member of our course learning community was able not only to provide useful resources, but also offer the perspective of someone who less than half a year ago had been learning what they are currently learning, and has now integrated the use of social media tools into the work she does.

When she offered to—and actually did—post a link to a copy of the social media policy developed at her library, there wasn’t a learner in the group who didn’t see that we were far beyond the stereotypical view of Facebook as little more than a place for friends and acquaintances  to post ephemera. This was a social media tool with practical application to each learner’s workplace; they seemed to be finding it easy to master through their use of it in that virtual office hour space; and they saw that the exchanges with one of their course predecessors provided a great example of how social media tools extend their contact with valuable colleagues who might otherwise not be accessible to them.

The story wouldn’t be complete, however, without a frank admission that there was still a bit of learning for me to complete. Since we hadn’t ended up with the accessible transcript I wanted for participants and for others who are enrolled in the course but couldn’t attend the live version, I spent a little time trying to find a way to create that accessible record for them. There were several interesting options documented on various online sites, but they seemed too complicated for learners in a social media basics course, so I looked for a simple way that would require little more than familiarity with the basic tools available within the discussion group itself. The obvious choice was to click on the Messages option in the left-hand column of a Facebook page, and then look for the chat. Trial and error showed that a couple of additional steps were necessary:

  • Once I had clicked on Messages and moved into my Inbox, I used the Search box near the upper left-hand corner of that page to locate one of the chat participants. This, unfortunately, only produced part of the chat transcript—turns out she had only been present for the final 10 minutes of the discussion, so that’s what was archived from that search.
  • Identifying one of the participants who had been present from start to finish, I repeated the search by using that learner’s name. That produced a copy of the entire archived document, ready to be read and preserved.
  • To produce the transcript in a way that could be shared with all course participants, I highlighted the entire text contained within the chat transcript, copied it, pasted it into a Word document, and saved it as a PDF. That version, shared only with course participants, became a course learning object that the learners themselves helped create, and will serve as a resource for them as long as they care to use it—as soon as I post it within our official course bulletin board (outside of Facebook, within Moodle).

The final icing on this particular learning cake is that I’m documenting our experiment in this blog posting so the learners themselves can see how activities in one social media platform extend into another in ways that keep the conversation—and the learning—going far beyond what occurred in any one social media interaction, and can draw a larger group into our ever-expanding community of learners.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 1 of 4)

January 13, 2013

Teaching any “basics” course face to face or online can be one of the best ways to (willingly) be pushed into advanced exploration of a topic, as I’ve been reminded this week.

Social_Media_BasicsDiving into the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I’m working with a wonderful group of adults who are beginning to set up and learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts effectively. But it’s not just about sending tweets and posting updates: their entry-level work with social media tools is inspiring them to engage in advanced-level exploration about what it means to go from having a slight or non-existent presence in the world of social media to becoming adept users of those tools professionally and personally. And, as expected, the work they are doing, the questions they are asking, and the resources they are discovering and sharing with their course colleagues make me as engaged a learner as any of them are.

The two-way learning began early in the course when they began exploring some of the extras within Moodle, which is the open source platform used by ALA Editions for online delivery of its courses. The best surprise for me—at least up to this point—came when someone explored the basic tools available and found a way to include a photograph of herself in one of the postings to a course forum. Since that simple act of reaching out socially via a friendly headshot of herself provided a first-rate example of the spirit of social media use, I went back into the course tools to learn how to duplicate what she had done. By responding with a note (visible to all course participants) that included an informal snapshot of myself, I called other learners’ attention to what was possible in our course postings and was happy to see others adopting the same practice so that a bit of social cohesion was already developing even before we jumped out onto the Web to use any of the social media tools.

Even more encouraging was how quickly many of the learners began jumping back and forth from the safety of that private course forum to the much more open and public venue of Twitter as they worked through the first assignment of starting (or updating) a Twitter account. Some were able to quickly create and post first-rate Twitter profiles, start following a combination of course colleagues and other outside resources that will be of use and interest to them in their day-to-day work, and send their first tweets. A couple, uncomfortable about having their tweets seen by complete strangers, discovered and explored the use of accounts that keep tweets private and visible only to an approved group of followers.

One of the most interesting learning opportunities for all of us came from those who were struggling with that same idea about how openly social and accessible to be in a social media setting. They set up their accounts, admitted they felt uncomfortable posting content that strangers could see, and wrote about feeling equally uncomfortable reading content that sometimes is far more personal than what they want to encounter from people they haven’t met. So we brought that level of discourse back into the course forum and provided a discussion thread that allows all course participants to exchange thoughts about the benefits and disadvantages to operating so transparently within a social media context. It will be interesting to see if/when someone in the course becomes confident and comfortable enough to begin tweeting out that sort of question to explore the issue with experienced Twitter users they haven’t yet encountered.

A key element of what we’re doing together is that we’re engaging in deeply important and richly challenging exchanges online as effectively as we would if we were face to face—with the understanding that ultimately there will be no one-size-fits-all answer. We’re pushing the tools themselves into the background and using them to have the sort of discussions that foster effective collaborations via those tools. (With any luck, this posting here on Building Creative Bridges will become part of the overall conversation and another example of how we can extend discussions across a variety of platforms.) And the learners—my learning colleagues in every sense of that term—are quickly seeing that I’m happy to facilitate the discussions and bring additional useful resources to the conversations, but that I’m not going to serve as the sort of social media advocate who insists that everyone has to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and the many other options available to us.

We all appear to be comfortable with the idea that we adopt a social media tool at the moment we see that tool meeting a need we haven’t filled elsewhere, and that trying to force someone to learn and use something before they’re ready is the worst and least successful way to foster effective learning—probably the most important lesson to be learned and relearned by any trainer-teacher-learner.


The Fourth Place Revisited: When Social Learning Center Learners Take the Lead (Part 1 of 2)

September 26, 2012

You know you’re onto a major learning success when your learners seamlessly and playfully take the lead—which is exactly what happened late last week, halfway through the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

Cindy Church, continuing education consultant for the Library, had brought Maurice Coleman and me in to facilitate a few sessions on the future of libraries and learning. Maurice engagingly initiated our portion of the program with “A Blind Leap of Faith: Keeping Your Library Thriving in the 21st Century.” His presentation Thursday afternoon provoked plenty of positive conversation onsite; it also, in the spirit of what we were doing, reached beyond the walls of the auditorium to be viewed by more than 800 people online after SlideShare’s managers highlighted his PowerPoint slide deck on their home page.

Maurice and I picked up where his initial session ended that afternoon by moving into a presentation/facilitated discussion, “Learning to Meet the Future: Libraries Developing Communities,” that was designed to introduce the library directors to the idea that libraries are serving as a new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers. A major learning point was to be the idea that libraries often fill this need, but don’t call much attention to it, so are missing a chance to more effectively be at the center of the social learning process that effectively reaches and serves significant numbers of people in life-changing ways within their communities.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our denouement Thursday afternoon. It became clear to Maurice and to me, during our end-of-the-day wrap-up with the directors, that even if they hadn’t been familiar with the jargon of social learning and social learning centers, they were already engaged in using libraries as centers of formal and informal learning. And as if to prove how quickly they were assimilating the idea that learning is social, continual, and playful, one of them incorporated the term they had just picked up to tweet out a reminder about a gathering that was about to take place over drinks in a local hotel bar: “Social learning environment at Hilton Garden Inn 5:30.”

Since social learning often benefits tremendously from flexibility and in-the-moment course adjustments, Maurice and I were delighted to see that some of the formal discussions carried over to that social learning environment at the Hilton Garden Inn. And we were also extremely curious about two elements of what we were seeing: what connected those library directors so effectively to learning, and what we could do, overnight, to abandon what we had originally planned for the Friday session so we could more effectively meet those learners where they were and support them even more in their own work.

It didn’t take long to find the answer to the first question: directors with whom we spoke mentioned that Cindy and her colleagues in the state library (the Library of Virginia) had done quite a bit to foster a culture of learning throughout libraries statewide—again proving that if we have the right person or people in key positions, magic occurs. It’s not that we haven’t seen other colleagues in libraries express a commitment to learning—it is certainly visible here California through efforts supported by our state library, and the American Library Association’s current strategic plan goes a long way in fostering a mission statement that includes a commitment to “promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” What does not yet appear to be so common is the explicit commitment to social learning expressed and demonstrated so overtly by those Virginia library directors last week.

As for the answer to our second question—how to quickly produce an appropriate learning opportunity the following morning since what we had planned was clearly not going to be sufficient to meet this group’s needs—it came later that evening. Focusing on the idea that the library directors would benefit from hands-on experience in shaping and using a social learning center, we tossed out our original workshop plan and decided to turn the Friday morning session into an exercise of creating an impromptu blended (onsite-online) learning center that facilitated a conversation about what the directors could do upon returning home to their own libraries. All we had to do was find some online participants on the spur of the moment.

Next: Redesigning an Entire Social Learning Opportunity Overnight


ATD ICE 2019: The Learning Room

May 21, 2019

When you attend a conference as well-organized and inspiring as ATD ICE 2019 (the Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition, here in Washington, DC), you quickly realize that every conference space is a learning space. To meet the highly varied interests of the more than 10,000 trainer-teacher-learner-doers present from all over the world, conference organizers offer more than 300 sessions over a four-day period—sometimes nearly three dozen simultaneously. To create our own learning opportunities, many of us also take advantage of the chance encounters we have in the conference exhibition hall, in the onsite ATD bookstore, in the membership and other special lounges, and other spaces to learn, in the moment, from cherished colleagues.

And then there is the Speaker Ready Room—the space reserved for those of us who have been lucky enough to have been chosen as session facilitators. It’s a relatively small, comfortable, well-lit, nicely set-up semi-private sacred space where we drop in as time allows to sit; review, rehearse, and fine-tune our presentations; and simply chat with our colleagues.

The first time I walked through the doors of an ICE Speaker Ready Room (a few years ago), I actually stopped, photographed the entryway, and tweeted out an honest admission before proceeding to an open seat at one of the round tables: It doesn’t matter how many times you serve as a presenter in learning and other venues; when you walk through that particular door at an ATD conference, it’s a special moment.

It’s an invitation to share space and time and ideas with my peers—colleagues whose work I read, watch, and admire. It’s wonderful to engage in conversation with them on the topics that drive our passions. Something on artificial intelligence and its potential effects on the job market here, something on creative ways to effectively evaluate how much our learners are retaining from the courses and workshops we provide over there, and something on personalized learning a bit further over on that side of the room. And it’s absolutely inspiring to recognize that all of us are here because our own commitment to learnng is never going to be completely satiated—and that if we’re not grabbing every possible opportunity to learn from each other, we’re ignoring one of our most valuable resources.

The combination of collegiality and professionalism that permeates that space fosters all-too-rare opportunities for us to learn from each other—if we’re smart enough to listen as much as we speak. Hearing colleagues talk about their latest work in our dynamic training-teaching-learning environment leaves me inspired and full of ideas that I can share with others as soon as I leave the conference. I hear the latest about the books they are writing or have recently completed through ATD Press, such as Paul Smith’s Learning While Working: Structuring Your On-the-job Training; Sardék Love and Anne Bruce’s Speak for a Living: An Insider’s Guide to a Building a Professional Speaking Career; and Jamie Millard and Frank Satterthwaite’s Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager. her publishing houses. I hear about the work they are doing through podcasts such as Halelly Azulay’s The TalentGrow Show.

And, at the end of the day, every one of us walks away better than we were before we gathered in that sacred space. More aware of resources we can share. More informed about topics we should understand if we want to better serve our learners. And bolstered by the reminder that, through ATD and other professional associations that support the work we do by bringing us together, we are part of a wonderful community of learning that contributes to the creation of a world that, as ATD has said for years, works better.

N.B. —1) Thanks, Jim Smith, Jr., for suggesting that I write this piece after our conversation in the Speaker Ready Room. 2) Paul co-facilitated the session “Implementing Machine Learning and AI in Learning—Global Cases and Best Practices” at ATD ICE Sunday, May 19, 2019, with Koko Nakahara and Evert Pruis. He is also currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019.

–21 May 2019


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Flexing Our Social Media Muscles

September 29, 2017

Trying to skim approximately 3,000 tweets in an hour is a ridiculously daunting challenge. One that I clearly was not up to meeting. But I gave it my best shot last night during the first of six weekly hour-long tweetchats scheduled as part of #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Season 3. The result was exhilarating. Frustrating. Eye-opening (and eye-straining). Inspiring. Taxing. And ultimately, well-worth documenting and sharing as a tweetchat-on-steroids variation of a much earlier (pre-#IMOOC) #lrnchat experience I joking referred to as “Macho Tweet Chatting.”

I’ve come to love the tweetchat format in training-teaching-learning-doing for all it inspires and provides. When sessions are well-facilitated (as the #IMMOOC session was), the online 140-character-per-tweet conversations (currently morphing into 280-character bursts) are extremely stimulating and well worth revisiting through online transcripts when their organizers archive them, as our #lrnchat colleagues do. Or when someone takes the time to create a transcript using Storify, as I occasionally do.

Seeing the original online snow-flurry-of-tweets-at-the-speed-of-light translated into the much-more digestible transcript format creates room for review. Reflection. And extended moments of inspired thinking. Sharing. And additional collaboration. The transcript provides a vessel to more effectively navigate the numerous rapids in the fast-flowing river of interconnected thoughts springing from a community engaged in what it does best: learning collaboratively. One notable result is immersion in a learning object (the transcript) created by the learners themselves/ourselves through the learning act of participating in the tweetchat. It makes the learning process expansive and grounded in a well-organized learner-driven process: we prepare for the tweetchat by reading something or watching a video; then  we learn through the live tweetchat exchanges; then we create the learning object that immediately becomes part of the body of work available to us and to subsequent learners. And, in the best of all worlds, the live conversation continues asynchronously through additional tweets, through blog posts like this one, through our extended conversations on Facebook, and in numerous other ways limited only by the imaginations and willingness of the ever-expanding circle of participants or community of learners over a period of hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to continue learning together. It’s a concept meticulously described by Pekka Ihanainen and John Moravec in their paper about “Pointillist time”—what they refer to as “a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts”—and one I’ve been exploring in a wonderfully Pointillist time frame ever since I came across it while participating in another connectivist MOOC (#etmooc) four years ago.

There’s no denying this can be a messy process—one that requires a great deal of patience with ambiguity and a willingness to react innovatively to whatever comes our way. Even though there is a clearly-identified starting point (the tweetchat), the conversation soon extends rhizomatically through numerous very-loosely-connected platforms (as I mentioned earlier). This is clearly learning at an extremely high level, for highly-motivated learners who find pleasure in the struggle to innovatively respond to a constant stream of new challenges that have the potential to produce transformative results.

It becomes easier and more pleasurable, as I was reminded last night, with consistent practice—the same sort of practice an athlete or ballerina dancer engages in to develop muscles. (I felt, at the beginning of the session, as if my tweetchat muscles had become a bit flabby for lack of recent use.) And it helps to have learning facilitators who support us by offering guidance before, during, and after the formal learning event occurs. Most importantly, this level of learning and engagement in contemporary learning opportunities helps us become comfortable with the idea that the intentionally overblown and completely unrealistic challenge I posed at the beginning of this article (skimming 3,000 tweets in one hour) is part of a larger learning process—the process of realizing that in our dynamic, messy, rhizomatic onsite-online (blended) learning environments, success comes with accepting the fact that we don’t need to eat everything put before us on our learning plates. We have to willingly accept those portions we know we can digest within any given (Pointillist) moment, and ask for a virtual doggy bag to take the rest home with us for later consumption.

N.B. — This is the second in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


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