ALA Annual Conference 2012: Addressing the Couch in the Middle of the Room

June 25, 2012

A colleague entering the room where Sharon Morris and I were facilitating the ALA Learning Round Table’s “Ignite, Interact, and Engage: Maximizing the Learning Outcome” session yesterday here in Anaheim at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference admits to being momentarily confused.

“I didn’t remember ordering a couch,” she said when she joined the session in progress.

And I have to admit that we didn’t, either—at least not directly. For when we started the session, it had the typical session room set-up. Round tables surrounded by chairs. Lectern with microphone. A couple of tables with chairs for presenters and panelists. A projector throwing PowerPoint slides onto a large screen in one corner of the room. And the usual drab/neutral walls.

But we quickly changed all that by projecting a Twitter feed onto the screen via TweetChat during parts of the session and beginning the workshop with a wonderful presentation/learning technique I acquired from writer-trainer-consultant Peter Block’s presentation at the 2008 ASTD International Conference & Exposition in San Diego: we encouraged “Engage” participants to take two minutes at the beginning of the session to reset the room in any way that would create a space conducive to their own leaning experience. The we added to Block’s exercise by inviting them to use simple supplies we had provided—clay, construction paper, colored clay, and a few other items—to decorate the room in a way that served the same purpose. And even I, after running variations of this particular learning exercise, was astonished when a few participants carried “resetting the room” to a wonderful extreme I’d never before encountered: they stepped outside, snagged a small couch from a corridor, and brought it into the room for themselves.

As we moved through the session, we left plenty of time for learners to practice what Sharon and I were sharing with them about various styles of presentation: lecturing/telling, storytelling/sharing knowledge, inquiring/reflecting, experiencing—lots of that with this group—and creating/developing something as we did by developing a comfortably appropriate learning space for the duration of the session. We also brought blended (onsite-online) learning into the picture by explaining how many trainer-teacher-learners are using Twitter and other social media tools to connect on learners within a learning space—a fourth place, or social learning center—with learners not physically present, yet capable of engaging in what is being accomplished.

Attendees clearly absorbed and responded to ideas about incorporating an opening exercise and improvisation into learning. When someone mentioned how we often avoid the most difficult and obvious of challenges—in essence, ignoring the elephant in the middle of the room—we even suggested that we had a perfect moment to change our own clichés by agreeing to “address the couch in the middle of the room.” And then we used Twitter to share, with other conference attendees, the idea that we need to begin addressing the couch in the middle of the room.

As we brought that very lively session to a conclusion, we reminded each other of the need to carry learning back to workplace settings where what was learned is actually used rather than lost—not wanting to be among that 70 percent of learners who never even try applying what they’ve learned. And you probably know what happened next: when we asked how participants would apply what they had learned, everyone stood up and engaged in a very spirited chanting of what had become the session mantra—“We won’t be part of the 70 percent.”

Late in the afternoon, I finally had time to go back to the Twitter feed (#ala12soclearn, for ALA 2012 Annual Conference Social Learning; parts of it remain available as posts on June 24, 2012 at @trainersleaders). It was very encouraging to see how effectively the session participants had engaged with the material and with each other. And I had a confirmation that we still have a long way to go in Library Land in terms of how we incorporate Twitter and other social media tools into our daily work this morning: a conference attendee used the Twitter conference backchannel (#ala12) to note that someone had shouted at him for using Twitter at the conference. I hope that he and others will join us in whatever post-session conversation continues at #ala12soclearn. And that we’ll all remain ignited and engaged as we return to our workplace learning and performance (staff training) spaces.

N.B.: The PowerPoint slides and speaker notes for the presentation are available on SlideShare.


On the Horizon Report 2012: Conversation, Community, and Learning (Part 1 of 3)

May 25, 2012

It behooves us to pay attention when an online document with a limited print run becomes an integral element in creating, fostering, representing, and sustaining a dynamically innovative community of trainer-teacher-learners. Which is why I once again am spending time with the New Media Consortium (NMC) flagship Horizon Report—the Higher Education Edition—at a time when the 2012 K-12 Edition is about to be released.

NMC playfully and accurately describes itself, in an introductory video, as being about “leadership, community, technology, research, creativity, experimentation, imagination, optimism, community, imagination, and passion…We want to help our members stay at the leading edge of technology…[while engaged in] research on emerging technology”—a goal it continually fulfills by drawing in participants and hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.

The process of producing those reports—to be reviewed again more thoroughly in the third of this three-part series of articles—creates its own ever-expanding community. Through documenting what is happening at the intersection of people, technology, and learning, the report actually extends the reach of that teaching-training-learning community—an an onsite-online community that keeps people in the forefront and sees technology as a tool supporting and enhancing successful learning.

NMC’s series of annual reports, including the Higher Education edition we are exploring here and others in the works, is an inspiring as well as thought- and world-changing tool no teacher-trainer-learner can afford to ignore. And it is amply augmented through its Navigator: “Part extensive library, part global project database, and part social network, Navigator allows users to easily search through the information, insights, and research of past NMC Horizon Projects, as well as the NMC’s expert analysis and extensive catalog of sharable rich media assets,” we read on the Horizon Report website.

The 2012 Higher Education edition of the report—part of a continuing collaboration between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative–continues the tradition of identifying key trends and significant challenges faced by those involved in higher education—a process that received further attention and refinement during a Horizon Report Advisory Board retreat in January 2012. It doesn’t take much for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors to see how valuable and relevant this information is to us.

Our expectation that we will “be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever [we] want to” (p. 4 of the report) is true of anyone interested in not being left behind by the magnificent and seemingly endless changes that are occurring around every one of us in the contemporary workplace. The idea that “the world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured” (p. 4) is something we are seeing in the evolving ways we are approaching workplace learning; this is actually becoming increasingly important as today’s students quickly join us as workplace colleagues—and bring their expectations with them. The “new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning” (p. 6) is something we already are rightfully confronting and addressing in our onsite-online workplace learning offerings so that we aren’t left behind.

Furthermore, the challenges (that “individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt—or not to adopt—a given technology…”) are also far from unique to academic settings. It remains true, unfortunately, that companies struggling to compete in a competitively creative marketplace can (and often do) actually tie their own organizational hands behind their institutional backs by stifling rather than encouraging the use of social media tools in their workplace.

The focal point of each new Horizon Report edition is the listing of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (p. 6) The near-term (one-year) horizon this year includes the two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. The far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

To explore these topics through the Horizon Report is to treat ourselves to one of the most inspiring and rewarding learning experience we are likely to have this year.

Next: What the 2012 Higher Education Report Tells Us About Emerging Technologies


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”


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