Training, Learning, and Collaborating on the Other Side of the Horizon

December 18, 2010

Trainers and other perpetual learners are information junkies. We thrive on what we learn and share. We revel in those moments when boundaries dissolve and we embrace a seamless role of trainer-teacher-learner rather than simply delivering a lesson and hoping that participants in a learning opportunity will remember something that we said.

We, like those whose learning we facilitate, have our cherished sources of information: friends; colleagues; printed newspapers, books, magazines, and their online counterparts; our favorite librarian; and/or the waiter, waitress, or supermarket checkout clerk who calls our attention to what we might not otherwise notice given the demands that information overload puts on us and all we encounter.

There are also the reports without which we would feel diminished. One of those, for me, is the New Media Consortium (NMC) annual Horizon Report, an engaging free online document designed to “chart the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry,” as Consortium representatives explain on their website.

To read the main and subsidiary reports inspires thought and action. Writing about the reports has become an annual ritual for me ever since I attended a live Horizon Report presentation in 2008. And to cross over to the other side of the Horizon this year by serving on the 2011 Horizon Report Advisory Board and helping shape the next report—which, of course, I can hardly wait to read when it is released in February 2011—has been an exercise in collaboration which has changed the way I work.

At the heart of the Horizon report process is the wiki that provides a virtual meeting place where Advisory Board members from several different countries asynchronously contribute to the development of the report. The lesson here for all of us as trainer-teacher-learners is at least twofold: a) as participants immersing ourselves in using a tech tool as contributors rather than solely as readers, we educated ourselves and became comfortable with exactly the sort of tech change we were documenting for others, and b) we would not have been nearly as successful as we were without guidance—in this case, from New Media Consortium Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson and his NMC colleagues, who themselves served as trainer-teacher-mentors throughout the brief and intense period of work.

Larry and other NMC staff, throughout the two-month process, guided us with concise, welcoming, supportive email messages; online tutorials; and instructions on how to approach and complete each step of the process—and then they turned us loose to learn, work, and collaborate. The pleasures of exploring new technology with other Advisory Board members via the wiki never seemed to end, and the serendipitous discovery early in the process that an ALA Learning blog colleague—Lauren Pressley—was among my Advisory Board collaborators once again reminded me how small the world has become through the use of shared online tools.

Workplace collaboration, in this case, went far beyond the structure of the staff and Advisory Board’s contributions to the wiki: the entire process was visible, via that wiki, to anyone who wanted to follow it. When the original list of more than 30 technologies we were exploring was winnowed down to a short list, that information was posted publicly for anyone to view—which means that part of the process was to provide a magnificent resource for anyone interested in exploring the topics on their own. The process, furthermore, has produced a list of online press clippings that is an additional resource for anyone wanting to explore the tech topics that were under discussion during the Advisory Board’s online time together.

For anyone who is still wondering why more and more people are exploring wikis as a first-rate collaboration tool and how they provide effective ways for all of us to work together, the entire Horizon Report process is a complete course within itself. And, like any first-rate learning experience, it leaves us with an expanded toolkit that changes the way we work once we have become engaged.

Ultimately, it leads us to another level of building communities of learning.

N.B.: For more resources about collaboration and building communities, please see “Communities and Collaboration in an Onsite-Online World: An Annotated Bibliography.”


Transformative and Reflective Life-long Learning (Part 2 of 3)

January 27, 2010

Bamboo Project blogger Michele Martin’s recent lament about how little time we provide for reflection in the learning process was far from the entire story for her. In talking with Maurice Coleman in the T is for Training interview he did with her, she also returned to a theme she has often written about: the need for learners to take personal responsibility for their own continuing education and creating their own personal learning environments—or, as Stephanie Zimmerman writes in an ALA Learning post, engaging in “feral learning.”

Those who rely on their employers to direct their training-learning opportunities are, Martin maintains, missing one of the most important lessons of all: “We need to take control of our own learning…When the company is in charge of your learning, then you are always learning what they want you to learn…We need to say, ‘What is it that I want to learn? How do I want to develop?’…The people who left it up to companies: at the end of the day, they were obsolete.”

This is far from a theoretical proposal, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt suggest in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom: “The traditional educational model, based primarily on the concept of the school and the teacher in a classroom as islands, standing alone and not interconnected with society or other educational institutions, will not generate competence in a knowledge society” (p. 166).

Workplace learning and performance professionals who serve as leaders within their organizations assure me that they are as eager to provide and facilitate learning experiences as they are to encourage the development of the sort of communities of learning which grow when we direct our own continuing education.

Martin as well as Palloff and Pratt see tremendous opportunities through effective online learning and the use of Web 2.0 (online social networking) tools: “Not only are we helping to shape the creation of empowered, lifelong learners, our participation as equal members of a group of learners supports us in our own quest for lifelong learning,” Palloff and Pratt write (p. 168).

Another element of this process, they note, is that we don’t frequently enough ask whether learners are adequately prepared for or ready to engage in online learning and take advantage of the opportunities which exist for transformative and reflective life-long learning. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them along on their individual paths toward this level of creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning; De Anza College Distance Learning Center staff actually provide a great example for all of us through the “Distance Learning Questionnaire” they adopted many years ago from the PBS-Adult Learning Service (p. 154) before it ceased operating in 2005.

It’s clear that none of this is particularly new. It’s also clear that it’s an important element of training-teaching-learning which is far from universal. If we embrace the opportunities provided through creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning, we move one step closer to teaching by example and producing the sort of results which all too rarely are documented within the organizations we serve.

Next: Reflective Preparation—The De Anza College Questionnaire


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