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?)


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.


From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 4 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 19, 2016

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12The unexpectedly explosive and transformational decision to try using Twitter to incorporate positive onsite-online e-learning experiences into 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) was almost an afterthought. It came up and was quickly adopted during a final planning meeting the day before the event, as I mentioned in the third of these five “case study” postings.

It’s not as if Twitter as part of our e-learning landscape is unfamiliar to trainer-teacher-learner-doers; we use it extensively in learning opportunities ranging from conference backchannel discussions to tweet chats along the lines of what #lrtnchat, #etmooc, and many others do. I often, through the “Rethinking Social Media” course I designed and facilitate for ALA Editions, call attention to the intriguing, cutting-edge work Rey Junco has done with Twitter and other social media tools in academic settings. And I’ve been lucky enough to experience high-end, dynamically-facilitated blended environments through participation in events creatively crafted by the New Media Consortium and other organizations.

But using it as a way of helping our “From eLearning to Learning” co-conspirators (the learners shaping and participating in the day-long event at the Library) opened doors none of us even began to imagine at the moment during which we initially discussed creating and using #mpplsid16 as a way of showing how social media tools can creatively, effectively, and easily help us redefine our learning spaces.

We primed the pump to engage in some major onsite rethinking about e-learning at the beginning of “From eLearning to Learning” by showing a few photographs taken within the Library and asking “Are These eLearning Spaces?”

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

Within the first few minutes of my highly-interactive 45-minute keynote presentation/discussion, very few people responded to the question with a “yes.” By the time we finished that initial keynote/discussion period about what the term “e-learning” means in our learning environments, almost every hand in the room shot up in response to the same question asked while the same images were again on display—an acknowledgement that any space in which we have Internet access is potentially an e-learning space. (One lovely note I received at the end of the day built upon the conversation with a suggestion that made me smile: “Your Elearning spaces slide needs a picture of my Dodge Caravan.”)

More importantly, that rapid expansion of everyone’s vision of what the e-learning landscape currently encompasses provided an amazing demonstration of the way a well-designed learning opportunity, developed collaboratively with learners and their representatives, can transform learners (and learning facilitators) within a very short period of time.

TwitterHaving suggested to our co-conspirators that they could use Twitter as a way to take notes to which they could later return, and as a way to extend the reach of our gathering far beyond the physical walls of the various rooms in which we were meeting, I turned my full attention to the onsite setting during my keynote presentation. I didn’t return to Twitter until we had our first break—the one between the keynote and the first of three periods set aside for breakout discussions. I was absolutely floored by the level of tweeting that was already occurring. Some people were responding (very positively) to what was taking place; others were observing what was happening around them. And a few were sharing content in those Twitteresque 140-character bursts that shot around the world. The result was that we were beginning to work onsite and online simultaneously, and a few of the tweets were being retweeted by others across the United States and in Europe (apparently attracted by my occasional use of the combined hashtags #learning and #innovation).

Seizing the opportunity during the break, I retweeted a few of the more thoughtful tweets and responded to a few of the tweeters—which, of course, set the tone for an extended onsite-online expaned-e-learning-environment conversation that was still continuing as I rode a commuter train from Mount Prospect into Chicago early that evening.

Recognizing the potential there for a stand-alone learning object that anyone could continue to draw upon as long as it remains available, I remained in my hotel room an hour longer than anticipated before heading out for dinner; I knew that if I didn’t collect and transfer those tweets into a Storify document that included light annotations to set the context for what had just occurred, I would lose the in-the-moment excitement the entire experience had generated. It was available to anyone that wanted to seek it out less than four hours after “From eLearning to Learning” had adjourned. It also has become part of an overall “From eLearning to Learning” suite of freely accessible resources for anyone interested in trying a similar experiment within their own learning environment; links are included at the bottom of this post.

Mt_Prospect_LogoI was part of the first-rate Mount Prospect Public Library Staff Inservice Day planning team that designed and facilitated the process. I was the keynote presenter-facilitator, and trained the staff facilitators who led the breakout sessions. I know Twitter, I use Twitter, and I adore what is good about Twitter. But even I remain stunned by the depth of learning and the nuances contained within that particular Storify item. It has plenty of playful exchanges. It has tweets acknowledging the conversational nature of the “From eLearning to Learning” Twitter feed. It has lovely, poignant tweets about personal learning experiences—including one about how the Library director posted her first tweet as a result of what she was experiencing that day. It had some wonderful comments about how much staff enjoyed and learned from the event, and how enthusiastically they are looking forward to building upon what we built together in the best of all possible experiential-learning (hands-on) approaches—something fun, engaging, meaningful, replicable, and actionable.

But what stands out to me most as I continue rereading it, skimming it for previously-missed gems, discussing it with friends and colleagues, and learning from what all of us at Mount Prospect Public Library created out of our individual and communal learning experiences within that very attractive and dynamic community of learning, is how much it captures the wonderful results flowing from onsite-online (blended) learning opportunities that are learner-centric, goal-driven, and designed to produce results.

Next: After “From eLearning to Learning (Continuing the Training-Teaching-Learning-Doing Process)” 

NB: This is the fourth of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.


From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 1 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 17, 2016

“Co-conspirators” is a term I’ve loved ever since I first heard it used by colleagues in the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (#etmooc) in 2013. Within its training-teaching-learning-doing context, it implies a sense of richly nuanced and deeply rewarding collaboration between learning facilitators and learners unlike any other I’ve experienced in our onsite and online (blended) learning environments.

Mt_Prospect_LogoSo, when I was invited in essence to become a co-conspirator (we, as a group, weren’t yet using that term) with Staff Inservice Day committee members at Mount Prospect Public Library eight months ago, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. The result was that I became part of another magnificent community of learning that has just produced a stunningly beautiful and tremendously inspiring example of all that can go right in planning and facilitating an e-learning experience—even one very-much grounded within an onsite setting.

What all of us (Library Staff Inservice Day planning committee members, as planners-learners-participants; I, as the consultant-presenter helping them shape an event that supported learning goals contained in the Library strategic plan; the learners themselves; and a few people offsite who occasionally joined us on the day of the event through a very active Twitter feed) produced looks as if it will have exactly the long-term positive impact all of us were hoping to produce for and with the library, its staff, and the members of the community it serves.

Everything about “From eLearning to Learning,” a day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work, ultimately was drawn from and became an example of the extensive e-learning environment we currently inhabit—far more, as I reminded them, than the usual module-out-of-a-box and final multiple-choice exam to mark the conclusion of a learning experience.

In our setting, there is no beginning and there is no discernible end. “From eLearning to Learning” continues a process begun long before I became involved, and the day-long “event” simply prepares them to continue their learning/e-learning process well into the foreseeable future.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12

This Mount Prospect Public Library “Discovery Zone” sign became an iconic image for “From eLearning to Learning”

Even the initial steps for this onsite-online exploration were grounded in e-learning. I was, for example, initially contacted by a member of the Staff Inservice Day committee who had initially met me through her participation as a learner in a four-week online “Rethinking Social Media” course I have designed and that I continue to facilitate for the American Library Association. Without that shared experience in an innovative online learning environment, my Mount Prospect colleague and I might not have made this particular connection and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be part of one of the most innovative and rewarding learning experiences I have ever helped design and facilitate.

Because the obvious distance between San Francisco and Mount Prospect (which is approximately 20 miles northwest of Chicago) is so great, all of us quickly agreed that the planning process itself would take place within a blended environment comprised of conference calls by phone and asynchronous interactions that ultimately produced our planning document and a facilitator’s guide to be used by the staff members who would foster discussion during break-out sessions we arranged throughout the day.

In a significant way, we were, as trainer-teacher-learner-doers, adapting a Flipped Classroom model approach to our meetings: at almost every stage of the process, we completed initial work on our own, had information to review before meeting by phone, and productively used our “classroom” time (the conference calls) to produce something concrete, and then repeated the process up to the day of the actual event.

What was clear from the beginning of our “conspiratating” was that we were committed to producing something that was far more than a one-day diversion that would soon be forgotten. Drawing upon the principles from the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results and remaining committed to producing something that was in alignment with the Library’s current strategic plan, we worked together to shape something that would be as much a process as an event. The learners/co-conspirators within the library knew well in advance what we were planning; they even provided tremendously useful information via a SurveyMonkey survey to be sure that we would be providing them what they needed (and, in that part of the process, probably became aware of how SurveyMonkey itself could be part of their efforts to effectively shape their overall e-learning landscape).

Participants in the mini unconference, held during the lunch break

Participants in the mini unconference, held during the lunch break

Those of us on the planning committee initially created a broad subject-specific agenda. We fine-tuned it over the course of several months to be sure it would lead to fruitful discussions and positive transformation for everyone involved. We continually looked for ways to innovatively provide experiential learning opportunities the learners could immediately adapt and apply within their own workspaces. One idea, for example (a mini unconference during the lunch hour) came relatively late within the planning process; it ultimately produced ideas (including a proposal for a library-wide e-learning think tank) that participants seem eager to explore and create. And a final, unexpectedly rewarding idea—to incorporate Twitter into the event so our co-conspirators in the learning process would viscerally understand how Twitter has become an effective and dynamic part of our learning landscape—was added to the picture during the onsite meeting less than a day before “From eLearning to Learning” took place.

Next: Planning for Success

NB: This is the first of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.


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.


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference, Day 1: On Homecomings, Digital Literacy, and Lifelong Learning

August 7, 2015

For trainer-teacher-learners with backgrounds in journalism—and I suspect there are plenty of us—attending the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference (held here in San Francisco this year) is a bit of a homecoming.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]It’s not just the joy of being around more than 2,000 thoughtful, innovative colleagues from all over the world as we explore trends, challenges, and developments in journalism and mass communication; it’s an opportunity to see how our training-teaching-learning colleagues in a vitally important part of our contemporary world are continuing to hone their own skills while fostering the next generation(s) of professionals who will shape the face of the industry and the world it serves.

As is the case with any ambitiously-designed conference, the number of sessions to explore is overwhelming and hints at the importance of incorporating at least a couple of digital-literacy skills into the experience of treating conferences as part of our lifelong-learning experiences: the skill of sifting through torrents of information (in this case, to initially identify what is most likely to contribute to our own lifelong-learning needs), and an ability to use digital resources to enhance our learning. These skills, I might add, are clearly essential not just to the journalism and mass communications colleagues whose company I’m currently enjoying, but to any of us involved in the constantly-evolving world of training-teaching-learning.

The sifting, in this case, takes place at a variety of levels. Access to the online schedule before arriving onsite at the conference gave us an opportunity to make preliminary decisions regarding which sessions would most likely meet our learning needs. Receiving the printed copy of the 270-page conference book onsite allows us to fine-tune those choices a bit more. Following the Twitter feed from the conference draws our attention to colleagues’ recommendations for opportunities we might otherwise have missed. And hallway conversations add the icing to the conference cake by giving us opportunities to meet presenters whose sessions might otherwise not have made it onto our must-attend lists.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicUsing digital resources to enhance our learning not only while we’re here but long after the conference formally concludes is something equally worth noting and exploring. The simple act of tweeting highlights from sessions we attend pays off at several levels: we produce a set of online notes to which we later can return to continue our learning; we see onsite colleagues’ tweets from those sessions and others we are not physically able to join, thereby increasing the breadth and scope of our conference/learning experience; we occasionally engage online with colleagues who couldn’t be here physically but feel less “left behind” because of our online exchanges; and the natural inclination to occasionally, while a session is underway, go online to find a site that further explains what is being discussed means we are extending the reach of these physical learning spaces well into the virtual world to create an onsite-online classroom that is limited only by our imaginations and access to the Internet.

This plays out nicely, as I saw during a “State of the Industry” panel discussion—the first session I was able to attend at the conference—yesterday afternoon. At the heart of the learning experience was a first-rate set of panelists: panel moderator Bob Papper, Director, RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) /Hofstra University Annual [Industry] Survey; Teri Hayt, Executive Director, American Society of News Editors (ASNE); David Smydra, Executive Producer, Google Play Newstand; and Robert Hernandez, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg. Adding to the experience was our ability, while tweeting highlights of the session, to see tweets from colleagues in other sessions where subject matter occasionally complemented what we were absorbing—which provided an opportunity, at a limited level, to actually create a much larger virtual learning space than any of us might have anticipated. Another element—common to what I experience while attending conferences these days—was the opportunity to extend that virtual classroom to include online resources that could provide additional background to unfamiliar topics the panelists were presenting.

Connected_China--FathomThe online-resources-as-extension-of-learning-space opportunity was particularly rewarding when Smydra introduced us to the concept of Structured Journalism—something he described as being “what digital media wants journalism to be” in that it makes the various bits and pieces of data (in various media) collected by journalists and the numerous resources going into news stories more accessible and reusable than they otherwise might be. While he was valiantly attempting to describe this somewhat complex concept in a brief period of time by providing visually-appealing examples (e.g., the Thomson Reuters Connected China project), I continued to listen to him and glance at his slides while also doing a quick online search to see whether he had any online resources providing a more in-depth exploration of the topic. And there, among the gems, was the article “Structured journalism offers readers a different kind of story experience,” written by Chava Gourarie for the Columbia Journalism Review and including quotes form Smydra, including this one that captures the concept beautifully: “It not only produces incredible stories but creates this reservoir of material that reporters and readers can call upon for future stories.”

AEJMC_2015--logoIt was at that moment that I realized I was experiencing a key learning moment described by so many of our best training-teaching-learning colleagues: that moment of learning that builds upon what we previously learned. As a blogger (as opposed to the broader role of writing articles and co-writing a book), I’ve come to appreciate the obvious and unique art form online writing offers: the ability to develop a cohesive piece of work that, through hyperlinks, allows readers to read start-to-finish or take as many detours as they care to take—and if I also make the piece more visually stimulating by embedding photographs or images of videos that include live links, I’ve further taken advantage of what this particular art form offers me and those who read my work. Smydra’s comments inspired an instantaneous building-upon-previous-learning leap from what I have been seeing in blogging to what I was beginning to see in Structured Journalism: a form that includes writing, imagery, video work, and more combined as unique, innovative, creative mash-ups providing another cohesive form of work/writing/journalism—with the added benefit of producing additional unique elements/source material that could be repurposed elsewhere.

As I continue thinking about what Smydra and his colleagues provided through their presentations, I continue taking advantage of the numerous streams of information and other resources that make conferences so richly rewarding as part of our lifelong learning landscape. There are the tweets. The conversations over a meal during an opening-night reception last night. The Storify recap of conference highlights from sessions yesterday. The bookmarked websites I accessed to write this piece as well as the websites to which I haven’t yet had time to return. My own stream of conference-related tweets (August 6 – 9, 2015) through my @trainersleaders Twitter account. And links to PowerPoint slide decks and other resources allowing us to draw upon our digital-literacy skills to continue the learning that is proving so rewarding in this and expanded moments of learning. All of which makes me suspect that Structured Journalism is already claiming a place in my training-teaching-learning-writing world.

N.B. – This report from the AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference is also the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Digital Literacy, Onsite-Online Learning, & No Colleague Left Behind

August 6, 2015

Helping colleagues learn how to create blended onsite-online learning spaces by actually creating blended onsite-online learning spaces is an exercise we are far from exhausting, as I saw once again while facilitating a session at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco a month ago.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicBeing able to foster this sort of blended interaction seems to me to be another critically-important digital-literacy skill along the lines of what colleagues are exploring in our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course; is not at all difficult or costly to do if we creatively use tech tools readily available to many of us; and actually becomes a fun and engaging way for many of us to extend the size of the learning spaces we typically inhabit, we again saw during that “Blend It” session sponsored by ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA).

The concept, which I’ve explored with colleagues in a variety of settings, is straightforward: using little more than a laptop with a webcam, a projector and screen, and some form of audio system (either a small, portable set of speakers or a connection to an existing sound system within the onsite space that serves as the anchor for our efforts), we create real-time multiple levels of communication between learners/colleagues in a physical setting and colleagues who join us via their own online access points anywhere in the world. This quickly transforms those offsite learners/colleagues from being part of a “left behind” group to being active participants in a learning space that can be thousands of miles wide if those colleagues come from a variety of countries.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoWhat makes this personally rewarding for all involved is that we continue to learn through experimentation. The earliest effort I was lucky enough to help design and facilitate used Skype as the tool uniting an offsite presenter with approximately 200 colleagues here in San Francisco for a dynamic and tremendously rewarding exchange. The experiments continued a few years later when two colleagues and I used Skype and Twitter to connect onsite and online participants in a wide-ranging conversation about how we could incorporate these tools and these blended spaces into effective learning spaces. New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and I continue to push this particular learning envelop via Google Hangouts in a variety of settings, so I was ready, at the ALA Annual Conference this year, to carry it a step further by adding a “bring your own device” element to the conversation.

After introducing onsite participants to the concepts we were exploring, Harford County Public Library tech trainer Maurice Coleman and I demonstrated the concept by having Maurice step outside the room, use his own smartphone to join a Google Hangout I had started with my own laptop and was projecting onto a large screen that everyone in the room could see, and carry on a brief conversation that those in the room could join by addressing questions to him via the microphone that was embedded in the laptop.

LITA_LogoThe magic moment came when he physically returned to the room—it’s worth noting that by remaining visible and audible via that smartphone, he had never really left the room or the conversation—and we offered onsite participants a challenge: quickly identify someone you know could not be here at the conference, try to reach them using your own mobile device, and bring them into the room now via a Google Hangout. It was learning at its best: those unfamiliar with Hangouts helped others try to set up individual sessions; those familiar with Hangouts tried to initiate their own. And those who were successful let the rest of us know that had eliminated another member of the “left behind” corps through that virtual contact.

ala_leftbehindAt its peak, we had nearly a dozen individual hangouts happening simultaneously, and those in the room completely made the learning space their own: some explained to their friends what they were doing and what others were accomplishing; a few kept those sessions live for the remainder of the time we had together. And one particularly creative learner left her seat and gave her offsite colleague a virtual tour of the room by walking around and introducing our offsite colleague to others who were onsite.

It may have been gimmicky. It may have been far from pretty. But it was an exploration of digital literacy and educational technology at work in a way that provided a visceral example of how far we literally have come together. How easy it is for us to foster those levels of training, teaching, learning, and collaboration when we’re not afraid to risk failure in seeking small and large successes. And how easy it is to have fun while creating memorable, meaningful learning experiences that will continue spreading long after that formal session ended.

N.B. – This is the fourth (and final) in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


%d bloggers like this: