The most simple of innovations continue to open the world to us, as I was reminded again today while traveling across the country from my desk in San Francisco. Within a three-hour period, I participated in a wonderful online conversation with colleagues who are involved in and passionate about library workplace learning and performance programs; exchanged learning resources online with a Chicago-based colleague from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD); and unexpectedly found myself drawn in live through a virtual back door to the American Library Association (ALA) midwinter meeting in Boston—an event I had hoped to physically attend before other matters intervened.
The conversation with library colleagues (now archived online) was through the latest T is for Training episode hosted by Maurice Coleman, Technical Trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library. On the agenda was a discussion about how those involved in workplace learning and performance programs achieve—or struggle to achieve—a balance between work and life away from work. We also talked about how we create our own space for learning opportunities. One of the threads that ran through both conversations was the idea that the more we could integrate our work with the rest of our lives, the better off we seemed to be—as long as we could, at the same time, disengage ourselves from work on a regular basis. Viewing everything we do as a learning opportunity, for example, means that even when engaged in personal learning endeavors, we are continuing to develop skills which are also useful in our workplace endeavors.
As the session came to an end, a colleague who is attending the ALA midwinter meeting in Boston contacted me via Google Chat. She was listening to two people whom I admire very much and rarely see outside the opportunities offered by ALA gatherings, so she decided to relay a little of what was happening—while it was happening. The immediacy of the exchanges certainly was no replacement for actually being there, but it did prove to be a much more satisfying substitute than I would have believed possible. As I’ve written elsewhere, attending conferences serves as an incredibly powerful tool in building and maintaining communities, and even this brief online virtual moment of attendance contributed to that process for me.
Shortly after we ended the online chat, I returned to responding to email messages. Among them was one from my Chicago-based ASTD colleague, who had written to provide an update on some online resources we were both exploring. Noting that there was some overlap between various online discussion groups we have joined or are in the process of joining, we found ourselves musing, through a quick exchange of follow-up email notes, about how difficult it is to achieve a balance between using the various online tools available to all of us and not being overwhelmed in the process.
“All this technology is supposed to help us, right?!” she asked.
“Yes,” I agreed, “if it doesn’t kill us first.”
It didn’t kill me yesterday. It hasn’t killed me today. And I certainly don’t intend to let it kill me tomorrow. Above all, I’m grateful for the way it keeps all of us interacting within our various learning communities, and I’m delighted for the lessons that I’m acquiring through those cherished interactions.