LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit (Pt. 2 of 2): Writing on the Walls

December 10, 2015

Designing or redesigning learning spaces is an increasingly common endeavor; knowing how to use those spaces effectively is an entirely different challenge that often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

LearniT!_LogoSo when I had an opportunity (earlier this week at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco) to observe and learn from someone who clearly revels in using every inch of a learning space to the benefit of the learners she serves, I faced the wonderful challenge of trying to absorb the learning content she was offering while also trying to pay close attention to how she accomplished what she was so effectively accomplishing.

Walking into each of the four one-hour sessions led by LearniT! Vice President of Professional Development Jennifer Albrecht on the topic of exploring and developing an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning) was a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream. The sessions were highly interactive. Well organized. Learner-centric. And they were clearly designed to inspire participants to apply what was learned as quickly as possible after the sessions ended.

Obviously grounded in LearniT!’s “8 Step Model for Learning,” the sessions (without ever feeling forced or formulaic) encouraged self discovery (brief self-assessments were a deftly-handled element of the learning experiences); provided concise explanations of ideas—and the value of the ideas—to be explored; included brief breakout sessions to foster a social-learning approach; included class discussions; offered moments for us to consider how what we were learning could quickly be applied in our worksites; had moments for individual learners to complete exercises to foster greater use of what was being learned; encouraged participants to engage in small groups (two or three people per group) to further learn by sharing their thoughts on specific elements of the course content); and left us thinking about what would and could come out of the time we spent together.

The framework, as many of us recognize, is not particularly revolutionary; it actually provides the foundation for some of the best learning experiences we are encountering onsite, online, and in blended (onsite/online) learning environments. But what made Albrecht’s sessions dynamic from the moment we entered her/our learning spaces was the way she so effectively and with minimal effort transformed our perceptions of the space in subtle yet important ways.

Jennifer Albrecht

Jennifer Albrecht

One fairly straightforward example was the manner in which she rapidly went back and forth from having a formal front of the room to having a room full of interactive centers. Her standard approach, whenever she wanted learners to engage in an exercise in groups of two or three people, was to give us eight seconds to form those groups. It always worked: within an eight-second period, the learning focus had shifted from a teacher-to-learner model to a learner-to-learner model where the front of the room was wherever a group of learners were interacting. The transformation was so effective and so complete that most learners didn’t seem to notice that she occasionally, briefly stepped outside of the room while the learning continued because learners had taken control of their own learning process.

What was most striking to me, however, was a sudden, completely unexpected shift in my own perceptions of how the room-as-learning-space was functioning. It started with her use of the whiteboards that seem to cover entire left-to-right spaces in many of LearniT!’s classrooms. If Albrecht had simply done what so many of us do—used those spaces to write notes and draft simple illustrations of points she was making—we would have had good, productive learning sessions. If she had simply done what her other colleagues did—used the center part of that white board as a screen upon which she could project text-laden PowerPoint slides—we still would ultimately have had good, productive sessions. But by creating visually appealing slides with strong imagery projected onto and extending seamlessly across the central section of a wall-length white board (instead of onto a stand-alone screen), she subliminally created the same feeling of engagement and immersion we have when we’re watching a movie in a well-designed theater—a feeling also fostered through her use of the whiteboard as a screen for showing brief videos. Those videos and the high-quality, visually-appealing images from her slide deck made them feel as if they were part of the entire room; they were large enough to draw us into them completely as they flowed across a space with no visible boundaries differentiating it from other parts of that entire front wall.

It was only at the point when she began writing on that extended whiteboard, using a space unoccupied by one of the beautiful images she was projecting, that I realized how much my perceptions of the room had changed without my having noticed the change: “Oh my God, she’s using a marker to write on that expensive screen,” I thought in horror until I quickly refocused my attention to take in the fact that the screen was the whiteboard and the whiteboard was the screen. In the same very important way, I also realized that Albrecht had made the entire space an integral part of that learning opportunity, and the learning process was supported and augmented by her use of that space.

As is the case with many well-designed and well-facilitated learning experiences, hers were lively because there was never a moment when the learning started to feel forced or routine. She employed a variety of resources and techniques to convey information. Content within the superbly designed and graphically-stimulating PowerPoint slides, for example, were used in ways that connected them to the in-class use of simple workbooks: the content on the screen/whiteboard and the content within those workbooks seemed to melt into one cohesive resource. Her judicious use of the short videos to bring otherwise unavailable experts into the room to make key points provided a variety of viewpoints during what was essentially a one-facilitator session. Sprinkling citations to additional resources throughout her presentation and our discussions repeatedly and subliminally reminded us that our learning was a process as well as an event and that we could continue learning long after we left the room—something I took advantage of by using my tablet to place reserves on a few books through my local public library while I was still participating in the session.

None of this is difficult to replicate. All of it requires a commitment to learner-centric creative approaches to learning and to learners—probably one of the most rewarding lessons I could have once again encountered by attending the Technology Adoption Summit and learning from a master learning facilitator.

N.B.: This is the second of two sets of reflections inspired by the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit; the first set remains accessible elsewhere on this blog. 



LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit (Pt. 1 of 2): I Wanna Try That

December 9, 2015

Anyone who still feels that learning to use new technology has to be a frustrating, mind-numbing experience should have been at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco yesterday.

LearniT!_LogoIt was a wonderful example of how a company’s interest in promoting its product—in this case, numerous first-rate learner-centric onsite and online learning opportunities for those in need of technical and desktop training as well as professional development opportunities—can occasionally and easily be combined with a meaningful, very productive day of learning at no cost to participants. And for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, it was an inspiring opportunity to see colleagues at the top of their game displaying easy-to-replicate effective methods for engaging our learners.

The structure of the free daylong summit itself is well worth noting as an example of how an event reflects the learning approaches it showcases. It began with an informal half-hour slot during which participants could get to know each other one-on-one or in small groups before diving into the learning sessions scheduled throughout the day; the fact that company CEO Damon Lembi, several members of his staff, and several LearniT! instructors were accessible but not at all the center of attention at that point reflected what was obvious during each of the learning sessions I attended: this is a company where learners and learning facilitators work effectively together by creating small, temporary, and supportive communities of learning while they/we are together.

It also included tremendous displays of hospitality and a commitment to creating a social-learning environment in that summit organizers had plenty of food and beverages—including sandwiches, pizza, and salads at lunchtime; coffee and cookies during a mid-afternoon break; and wine, soft drinks, cheese, and cold cuts during an early-evening reception just before the final set of sessions began.

Also well-worth emulating was the way the schedule offered a varied but far from overwhelming set of choices. Each one-hour slot included three different learning opportunities. Participants could attend as few or as many sessions as they cared to attend throughout the day. Some sessions were clearly meant to serve as stand-alone learning opportunities; others offered a clear learning track, as was the case with a series of four interrelated sessions exploring an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning)—but even that learning track was developed flexibly enough to accommodate those who wanted to attend the entire series as well as those who may have only been interested in one or two of the offerings. (This approach to letting learners determine how many—and which—modules of a series of learning opportunities they want to pursue is one of the many reasons I had LearniT! as a training partner when I was in charge of the San Francisco Public Library staff training program many years ago.)

windows-10-logo-redThe levels of flexibility visible and inherent within the LearniT! approach to the summit (and to its day-to-day operations) played out to the benefit of the company and participants in magnificent ways. While there was not a lot of repetition among the session offerings, at least one—an introduction to Windows 10—was scheduled in two different time slots to accommodate what was anticipated to be a spillover crowd for the initial session and to also accommodate participants who might have opted to arrive later in the day rather than attending the entire daylong event. More impressively, summit organizers realized early in the day that they were facing an overflow crowd for another one-time session, so immediately located a second instructor to lead a simultaneous offering in that same time slot—then notified everyone by making announcements in the classrooms and sending a follow-up email to all registered participants.

When we turn to the heart of what the summit accomplished, we find ourselves focusing on how the various instructors worked to make the subject matter meaningful to those of us in the learner seats. Sean Bugler, for example, enthusiastically covered an amazing array of elements during his 45-minute introduction to Windows 10. His love for the product was infectious even for those of us most cranky about having to go through yet another upgrade and having to learn a new way of doing things we would have been quite happy to continue doing with our current tech tools if the inevitable upgrading of software weren’t forcing us to sift through another set of changes. And his highly-developed ability to quickly, concisely respond to learners’ questions in easy-to-understand terms was something any trainer-teacher-learner could have benefitted from observing. Even before I left Bugler’s session, I was already thinking—and saying out loud—the words I love hearing from any learner: I wanna try that. And thanks to Sean and our colleagues at LearniT!, I know I will.

Next: A Summit Learning Facilitator, an Agile Approach, and Writing on the Walls  

When Words Fail Us (Revisited): T is for Training, Augmented Reality, and Mobile Learning

December 11, 2015

Hearing T is for Training host Maurice Coleman unexpectedly and creatively expand the definition of augmented reality during a discussion on the show earlier today made me realize, once again, how inadequately our language and nomenclature represents our quickly- and ever-evolving training-teaching-learning world.

T_is_for_Training_LogoAs Maurice, Jill Hurst-Wahl, and I were talking about the intersection of lifelong learning and individual learning events, I was describing the wonderful experiences I had as a trainer-teacher-learner attending the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco earlier this week. What I was describing to Maurice and Jill was how LearniT! Vice President of Professional Development Jennifer Albrecht had, in her sessions, very creatively used every inch of the learning space and had, in providing a steady stream of additional resources, inspired me to pull out my tablet a couple of times, log into our local library’s online catalog, and place reserves on those books so I could continue my learning after leaving the classroom. And that’s when Maurice made the connection: by expanding the classroom, in the moment, by connecting it virtually to the library, I was augmenting the experience in a significant way that further extended the learning as well as the learning space.


Most of us familiar and intrigued with current definitions of augmented reality would, up to that moment, have envisioned the term as referring to overlays on a computer, or mobile-device, or wearable technology screen that provide additional information about an environment we’re visiting or studying. But I think Maurice was spot on with his observation: using my tablet to augment Jennifer’s list of resources by accessing them through a library catalog is no less significant than what we have, up to this moment, pictured when discussing and exploring the concept. And I could just as easily have augmented that particular learning reality by using the same tablet to find ebook versions of those works and downloading them immediately.

Engaging in this augmentation of a definition of augmented reality made me realize how inadequately the term itself reflects the levels of augmentation we already are taking for granted. It also made me return to other situations where commonly-used terms no longer adequately suggest the nuances of what those terms suggest.

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

The term mobile learning, for example, suggests the (often-wretched) formal-learning modules that allow us to continue our learning asynchronously on mobile devices rather than having to be in a physical classroom or other learning space. But many of us have come to acknowledge that those formal-learning modules are only a small part of a much larger mobile-learning landscape that includes a wide range of possibilities. Mobile learning can include just-in-time learning that is no more challenging than using a mobile device to find an online article, video (e.g., a TED talk), or other resource that quickly fills the learning gap. It can include participation in a Google Hangout via mobile devices. It can include exchanges between onsite and online colleagues reacting to learning opportunities in conference settings. It can include an informal exchange of information between us as learners and a colleague, mentor, or other learning facilitator who teaches us something via a mobile phone or tablet at the moment when we need that level of “mobile learning”; and given that informal learning provides a huge part of workplace learning, we clearly are underestimating the reach and significance of mobile learning if all the term conjures up for us is the image of formal learning modules viewed on a mobile device.

In the same way, the words “libraries” and “classrooms” are beginning to overlap and expand in interesting ways as libraries feature stimulating state-of-the-art learning spaces that are at times indistinguishable from other state-of-the-art learning spaces. The words “librarian” and “teacher” and “learning facilitator” are also beginning to represent interesting and nuanced variations on professions with increasingly overlapping functions and goals.

This is not meant to suggest that our training-teaching-learning nomenclature is completely obsolete. Quite to the contrary, it connects us to very deep roots from which incredibly dynamic branches are developing. And one of our many challenges is to not only observe and acknowledge the growth of those branches, but to help shape them in small and large ways—just as Maurice did, in the moment, during our latest T is for Training conversation.

N.B.: An archived recording of today’s episode of T is for Training remains available online through the T is for Training site. 

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