Char Booth: Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, and a USER at the Center of the Process

March 30, 2011

Doctors have medical school and residencies. Attorneys have law school. And trainers have…well, those involved in workplace learning and performance often have little more than a nudge from a supervisor or a colleague and the command to go show someone how to do something that they should have known yesterday.

Char Booth—a writer, teacher, trainer, librarian, and colleague whom I very much admire—documented a small piece of this too-familiar picture through a survey she completed: “…only about a third of those who regularly teach and train in libraries completed education-related coursework during their MLS [Master of Library Science] studies, only 16 percent of which was required. Strikingly, over two-thirds of these instruction librarians felt that their LIS education underprepared them to teach…”

“Many library educators,” she continued, “are involved in instruction on a part-time basis and therefore lack the immersive challenge that allows other educators to develop skills quickly and keep current and engaged”—a situation that applies to a far larger group than those providing training for library staff or library users, as a phone call from a non-library colleague who is about to face her own first group of learners without any formal training in how to help others learn reminded me this afternoon.

Booth has done more than simply document a problem affecting trainers, teachers, and learners. By writing Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators, she has created a first-rate resource for those new to training, teaching, and learning. The book is an engaging, concise, and welcome guide to creating engaging learning experiences for learners of all ages, and it’s a tremendous gift not only to those inexperienced trainers and teachers who are about to work with their first groups of learners, but also to anyone wanting a first-rate survey of key instructional design techniques and learning styles.

Furthermore, Booth introduces her own variation on the familiar ADDIE—Analysis, Development Design, Implementation, and Evaluation—model through her four-step USER—Understand, Structure, Engage, and Reflect—model that, through its name, continually reminds us who we are working to reach through formal and informal learning opportunities.

Among the real gems in Booth’s work is the fourth chapter, “A Crash Course in Learning Theory.” An introductory paragraph at the beginning of the chapter helps ground us in our field of play: “The first major modern school of educational thought—behaviorism—investigated animal responses to different kinds of stimuli…which inspired the common practice of providing positive reinforcement for correct answers. A second school of thought—cognitivism—explores the capacities of human memory, which inspires teaching and design techniques that reflect the brain’s information processing abilities. The most recent school—constructivism—explores the effects of individual perception and the social environment, which have led to more collaborative and self-directed learning strategies” (p. 36). And she circles back to the theme at the beginning of the next chapter with a critically important reminder that leaves us grounded rather than confused: “It is not necessarily desirable to choose one theoretical model over another” (p. 50).

She leads us through the “ten transformational trends in educational technology” surveyed by Curtis Bonk, author of The World Is Open: “web searching in the world of e-books, e-learning and blended learning, availability of open-source and free software, leveraged resources and open courseware, learning object repositories and portals, learner participation in open information communities, electronic collaboration, alternate-reality learning, real-time mobility and portability, and networks of personalized learning” (p. 72). And she follows that with an introduction to Robert Gagné’sseries of principles that link all design models”: “Design is more about improving learning than improving teaching…Learning is a process influenced by many factors…The design approach can be tailored to fit different learning scenarios…Design is iterative—it informs itself in an ongoing cycle…Design is a process consisting of steps and substeps…Different learning goals call for different instructional approaches…” (p. 86).

As she moves into an explanation of her newly developed USER model, she leads us to a helpful structure designed to produce effective learning: “In the USER method, goals focus you on your instructional role; objectives organize content into activities and content units; and outcomes describe how participants are substantively different because of the knowledge they have gained,” she writes (p.118).

Booth’s approach never loses sight of the fact that we are well served both by having formal learning models from which we can draw and also by remembering that not every learning opportunity requires that we engage in every step of an instructional design assessment, development, delivery, and evaluation process. “More than anything, it should remind you to teach simply, reflectively, and with the learner at the center,” she reminds us (p. 94).  The overall message she delivers is that “reflective and design-minded teaching leads to effective, learner-centered instruction. Librarians are redefining our value in a changing information paradigm, and it is essential that we perceive the role of education in this process” (p. 151)—a goal that any teacher-trainer-learner is likely to embrace.


Sarah Houghton-Jan: Tech Training That Works for Anyone

August 12, 2010

Sarah Houghton-Jan, whose work as Digital Futures Manager for the San José Public Library and as author of the Librarian in Black blog has earned her justifiably large amounts of attention and praise, has produced a dream book that is well suited for audiences far beyond its stated target.

Technology Training in Libraries sparkles with Houghton-Jan’s well deserved reputation for jargon-free, plain-talking, and humorously honest help for readers: “…having staff members who are not adequately trained in technology trying to support library users is like having a cardboard egg carton holding up an SUV,” she suggests (p. 5) in a statement that could easily be applied to workers in many other organizations. She also provides at least a partial answer to a question I heard a few years ago: what can corporate knowledge management and training professionals learn from library and information science professionals, and vice versa? Plenty, if we read Technology Training in Libraries and don’t limit ourselves by applying the information solely to those who work in libraries.

Early on, for example, Houghton-Jan provides a list of “essential technology training topics in libraries” and other potential training topics—nearly all of which could just as easily be adapted within a nonprofit or commercial organization looking to develop a cutting-edge workforce (pp. 6-7). Employees in libraries are clearly not the only ones who need to master technology terminology; understand how to effectively use email, web browsers, and online search skills to the benefit of the customers they serve; and be able to avoid ergonomic problems caused by improper set-up of employees’ (and customers’) work stations. And the writer’s list of areas of future growth—cloud computing, surface computing, open source software development among them—are equally applicable and important to workplace learning and performance programs and knowledge managers in nearly any professional setting today.

She also focuses on and acknowledges common-sense elements that are often overlooked, including the importance of providing learner-centric training: “Ask yourself—how would attendees have a better learning experience?” (p. 9).

The remainder of the book is equally useful and well organized as she devotes pithy chapters to planning, implementing, marketing, establishing best practices for, and evaluating the delivery of effective technology training. She doesn’t skimp on the basics: she includes plenty of tips for how to develop a list of skills to be addressed through training (pp. 13-20); a suggested list of “five key elements to keep in mind” when deciding what to include in training (customer demand, organizational goals, immediate return on investment, training effectiveness, and consequences of not providing training—pp. 34-35); and suggestions on how to establish peer training and train the trainer programs (pp. 65-70).

Online training resources receive generous attention throughout the book, particularly on pages 80–86, and there’s even a brief description (p. 83) of an innovation in online delivery that I still remember fondly—the use of Skype as a delivery tool for a segment of the 2007 offering of the annual Future of Libraries conference sponsored by a local San Francisco Bay Area training consortium now known as the Pacific Library Partnership Staff Development Committee. That Skype session was described online at the time both by Houghton-Jan and her Skype co-presenter, Char Booth.

The extensive recommended resources listings and bibliography at the end of the book, furthermore, are icing on a well baked cake, leaving readers with plenty of useful resources—including several used as links in this summary of her work. Those in search of dessert as well as a substantial main course will find both in Technology Training in Libraries, and we all owe Houghton-Jan and her publisher a round of applause for making the information available in such a concise fashion (103 pages of text, followed by the additional resources already mentioned).


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 1 of 2)

February 13, 2010

Being the pseudo-troglodyte that I am, I have not joined Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking services that friends and colleagues enjoy on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’ve found LinkedIn, Ning, and a few other tools to be tremendously effective for what I value: using online tools as tools rather than letting them demand minutes and hours I simply cannot spare.

Google, this week, shifted my thinking a bit by pushing a new free and easy-to-use add-on into my Gmail account: Google Buzz. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the theme of microblogging a la Twitter and LinkedIn updates by allowing participants to connect to each other very easily through the posting of short messages back and forth over a shared network.

What really drew me to experiment with Buzz over the first few days of its existence was the realization that I could view—or not view—Buzz entries as time and desire allowed. Friends who use Twitter tell me that if I don’t want to check for updates frequently and respond rapidly, there’s really no point in using Twitter; Buzz, on the other hand, approaches me as I love being approached: it’s available, but not demanding.

Twitter, on its own website, bills itself as “a real-time information network powered by people all over the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now…[w]hether it’s breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favorite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend.” The result is that users post an overwhelming amount of personal information which can quickly drown readers in minutiae.

Facebook clearly provides a playfully social gathering place for people looking for the online equivalent of the “third place” away from home and work that Ray Oldenburg described so well in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community more than 20 years ago. With the online Facebook community comes an expectation that responses from community members will be swift and plentiful.

LinkedIn offers a relatively unobtrusive business- and career-oriented variation on the theme, serving as a way to “find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” Controlling the flow of incoming information is easy to manage, which is one of its most attractive features for me.

And now we reach Buzz, which attempts to provide a way to “start conversations about the things you find interesting,” according to the introductory video posted by Google. It’s already clear that much of the information overload seen through other microblogging tools is possible, and it’s equally clear that its success as a valuable information source depends on how we all use it.

While it’s far too soon to know how it will play out, I have to admit that I’ve already been delighted with a few of the results. While several people are posting exactly the sort of personal ephemeral updates which keep me away from Twitter and Facebook, a few are exploring the possibilities of sharing useful resources along the lines of meeting notices and professional print and online resources we might otherwise overlook.

UC Berkeley E-Learning Librarian Char Booth, for example, posted a link providing information on her forthcoming book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators right at a time when I had been exploring and writing about the need for more reflection in learning. Writer-instructor-librarian Meredith Farkas initiated an exchange soliciting recommendations for “a really good book (or books) with concrete suggestions for engaging library instruction activities.” And ALA Learning colleague and co-writer Lori Reed posted a link to “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic, a fascinating article with interesting repercussions for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning.

So I’ve been Buzzed. And I’ve already absorbed that wonderful article from The Atlantic. And am now ready to Buzz others with thoughts about what that article suggests to the trainer-teacher-learners among us.

Next: What the Atlantic Article Suggests for Trainer-Teacher-Learners


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