Rethinking Digital Literacy: Collaboration, Experience, and Riding Digital Waves

July 27, 2015

There is no denying that playing and working in a variety of digital environments can sometimes feel akin to trying to drink out of a fire hose. There is also no denying that there’s another way to approach digital/online interactions: as if they produce magnificent waves well worth riding to a warm and welcoming shore—which pretty much describes the experiences I had riding rather than drowning in digital interactions last week as our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy” continued.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicWhile the learners I am supporting—and have, as an extension of what I have learned elsewhere, begun referring to as my “co-conspirators” —spent the second of four weeks trying to define and determine ways to foster digital literacy among those we serve, I continued engaging in my own efforts to see where a blend of onsite and online interactions involving a wide range of friends and colleagues might take me—a tremendously satisfying exercise that culminated in a richly rewarding conversation with T is for Training colleagues at the end of the week.

Plenty of disparate elements had to come together for that particular wave to carry us all to shore, and they seemed to coalesce around a very specific digital-literacy skill: an ability to collaborate across numerous platforms and environments. The experience began early in the week as a local (San Francisco Bay Area) colleague (Clark Quinn), with whom I tend to interact more frequently online than face to face, was confirming lunch plans with me. Taking advantage of an hour-long trip via public transportation to reach Clark, I read several recent posts on his blog, where he consistently and engagingly addresses training-teaching-learning issues of interest to those of us working with adult learners in workplace learning and performance (staff training) settings. The punch line to one of his most recent posts—“…it’s not about content [in learning]. It’s about experience [in learning]. Are you designing experience?”—led to an intriguing conversation over lunch as I carried that online resource and inspiration into our face-to-face environment.

T_is_for_Training_LogoBut it didn’t stop there: I sensed there was plenty more to explore, and suspected a perfect venue drawing upon our digital literacy skill of collaborating within digital environments was back in the online sandbox I share with colleagues through Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training conversation/podcast—a program designed for those of us involved in library training-teaching-learning efforts. When Maurice and our T colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl agreed that Clark’s post and the question regarding content vs. experience would be a great topic for discussion, I notified Clark to see if he wanted to join us; he and I also continued the conversation briefly via exchanges in the weekly #lrnchat tweet chat (with an entirely different set of colleagues discussing tech trends) the night before the T is for Training was scheduled to take place.

Initially indicating he wouldn’t be available, Clark ultimately was able to join the conversation a few minutes after that episode of T began, and the results were every bit as stimulating as any of us might have hoped. A core group of the T “usual suspects” quickly welcomed Clark and interacted in ways that brought his non-library learning and development expertise to the forefront of the conversation; Clark, in turn, dove into the conversation in ways that helped him better understand how designing experiences in library training-teaching-learning efforts paralleled as well as differed from what he has seen elsewhere.

etmoocBy the end of the hour-long exchange, many things were obvious. The cross-pollination that occurs through interactions among members of various online communities—particularly the kind of online connected-learning communities with which I’m familiar—can bring benefits to everyone involved. This variation on hyperlinked learning—comprised of playing, learning, telling stories, transparency, participation, harnessing user-generated content (in this case, Clark’s blog post), and making connections, as Michael Stephens has suggested—benefits tremendously from our willingness to carry a variety of approaches into our continually evolving and ever-increasing tech tools. This combination of cross-pollination and hyperlinked learning produces notable results, small and large: T, for example, may have picked up a new usual suspect (if Clark is able to join us for additional conversations); Clark may be continuing the conversation in an upcoming Learnlet post to carry it to a larger audience; I’m certainly continuing this set of explorations further via my own blog and a tweet chat I’ll join later this week with #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media massive open online course) colleagues; and I will carry it back to the learners/co-conspirators in Rethinking Digital Literacy in the hope they can use it with their own colleagues in a number of different countries.

Ultimately, this level of collaboration, designing learning experiences, and riding rather than drowning under waves of digital interactions and resources creates exactly the sort of learning experience I pictured when I read Clark’s blog post. More importantly, it supports our efforts to hone that very important digital-literacy skill of collaboration that, at its essence, supports the way we live, play, and work positively, creatively, and enthusiastically in a hyperlinked world.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.

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Clark Quinn: Learning, Nomenclature, and Fomenting Revolution  

May 21, 2015

Clark Quinn, a colleague through #lrnchat and ATD (the Association for Talent Development), is certainly not the first to say that he is mad as hell and to urge us to not take it anymore. Nor is he the first to suggest that the nomenclature we use to describe what we do in what is generically called “training” is far from adequate, or that our event-based approach to learning is often a frustratingly ineffective approach to making a different in a learner’s life, or that it is time for a new manifesto to set things right.
Quinn--Revolutionize_L&D--CoverBut Quinn, in his well-researched, highly- and finely-nuanced book Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age, does far more than recycle old rants. He effectively draws upon the experience he and his colleagues bring to our workplace training-teaching-learning efforts. He builds upon research-based evidence to show where we continue to go wrong in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts and how we might change our course(s) to the benefit of those we serve. And he adds to the dynamic literature of training-teaching-learning-doing in a way that encourages reflection as well as action.

“I am on a mission,” he tells us on the first page of the preface to the book. “The stuff I had railed against a decade ago was still in place. I was, quite frankly, pissed off. I decided that I simply had to make a stab at trying to address the problem….I am not temperate in this [first] section, I confess; on the contrary, I may be tarring with too broad a brush. I am not apologetic, believing it better to be too harsh and raise hackles than to have no impact. Reader beware.”

signorelli200x300[1]The issues he tackles are numerous—not the least of them being the inadequacy of the jargon we use. As Lori Reed and I noted in our own book (Workplace Learning & Leadership; ALA Editions, 2011), there are numerous terms used to describe the training-teaching-learning field and those playing in that field; each term, furthermore, overtly as well as subliminally affects the way we approach and engage in our work—which, of course, is why it’s important that we eventually find the right vocabulary: terms that not only accurately and concisely describe what we do, but also guide us toward successful efforts supporting our workplace colleagues and those they ultimately serve. One of the most visible and well-orchestrated recent attempts to update our vocabulary came a year ago when the American Society for Training & Development rebranded itself as the Association for Talent Development for many reasons—not the least of which was a desire to emphasize the result (developing the workplace “talent” of employees) rather than the process (i.e., training/learning). Quinn, whose book was co-published by Wiley and ASTD one month before the ASTD-to-ATD transformation was announced, suggests that we move from our industry jargon of “learning and development (L&D)” to “performance and development (P&D)” for the same reason: to place a focus on the results of our efforts (employee performance in the workplace) rather than the process leading to those results. Neither approach strikes me as completely satisfactory, for “talent development” as an industry descriptor then suggests the less-than-perfect and far-from-inspiring term “talent developer” (instead of “trainer” or “learning facilitator” or any other equally-inadequate term we might also incorporate into our lexicon to guide us in our work). I continue, in my own work, to use the less-than-perfect hyphenate “trainer-teacher-learner” to capture what I believe is a trinity of terms summarizing important facets of our work—but I quickly acknowledge that it misses one of the key attributes Quinn calls to our attention: a focus on what learners do with what they are learning. If workplace learning and performance is—as so many of us believe—a transformative process that should lead to positive action, then the words we use to describe it should also reflect and acknowledge the inherent goals driving the process.

When we move beyond the nomenclature and into the real focus of the first section of the book (“Status Quo”), we find that the author has taken a playful yet devastating approach to describing the state of our industry. The subheadings to Chapter 3 (“Our Industry”) seem to be the result of an effective game of free-association—one that helps make the case for joining the revolution: “inadequate”; “event-ful” (in the negative sense that learning opportunities are treated as isolated events rather than part of a larger learning process that produces positive results for learners, their organizations, and the customers/clients/patrons they ultimately serve); “disengaging”; “antisocial” (in the sense that they underutilize the social media tools that are so important a part of our workplace efforts); “rigid”; “mismeasured” (in the sense that evaluations don’t measure meaningful results from training-teaching-learning efforts); and “no credibility,” among others. If that isn’t enough to make us grab our pitchforks and burning brooms so we can storm and burn the antiquated castles of training/L&D/P&D, perhaps we need to check to see if any of us still has a pulse.

The book (and Quinn), of course, offer us far more than a pessimistic document that would leave us wanting to slit our training-teaching-learning wrists. His second section explores research-based evidence on how our brains react to and absorb learning opportunities—in contrast to what many of our current efforts actually provide—and reminds us that informal learning opportunities, the use of communities of learning, the use of existing resources rather than always seeking to design new workshops and courses, and recognition of the benefits of mobile learning as part of our learning landscape stand to produce far better results than we currently produce.

ATD_LogoHis section on aligning learning with workplace needs provides a great example of what he is attempting to foster: by incorporating case studies and reflections by several of his colleagues (including Jane Bozarth, Allison Rossett, and Marc Rosenberg—people familiar to us through our involvement with ATD, #lrnchat, the eLearning Guild, and other first-rate learning communities), he reminds us that even a book like Revolutionize Learning & Development can serve as a gathering place for colleagues to meet, talk, learn, reflect, and develop effective plans of action.

The final section (focusing on a “path forward”) works well with a short set of appendices to help us reflect on core competencies and practices that better position us to be part of a process of change within our workplace training-teaching-learning (and doing) efforts.

“This book is not a final answer,” Quinn says up front (p. xxiv). “There are answers in many of the component areas, but the integration is new, and a book is a limited endeavor.”

He leaves us with an open invitation to join the discussion through RevolutionizeLnD.com; the “Serious eLearning Manifesto” that he, Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, and Will Thalheimer have posted; and his ongoing series of posts in his “Learnlets” blog. And there are, of course, the continuing opportunities to be part of the conversation and action through participation in #lrnchat (Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT), T is for Training, ATD, and our numerous other communities of learning and action.


From ASTD to ATD: Naming Opportunities

May 9, 2014

Being virtually present earlier this week at the formal announcement that the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) is immediately beginning a year-long process of transforming itself into the Association for Talent Development (ATD) provided, in many ways, a stunningly positive view of how a well-managed branding campaign rolls out.

ASTD_to_ATDAssociation managers including President and CEO Tony Bingham used the presence of approximately 9,000 association members at the 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) to build excitement throughout the day with notifications that were also disseminated on the conference backchannel feed. He and his colleagues, furthermore, also took the much-appreciated step of arranging for the announcement to be available via live online streaming for those of us who could not be at the conference. Joining the backchannel discussion via Twitter as I watched and listened to the announcement online gave me the sense that I was there, with colleagues, sharing and reacting to the changing of the name. The backchannel exchanges gave the impression that initial reaction was fairly positive, although—not surprisingly—there were also questions and concerns expressed onsite and online during and after a brief question-and-answer period; many colleagues were acknowledging and applauding the direction the name-change implied; onsite vendors with space in the exhibits hall posted congratulations; and Chief Learning Officer was quickly among the first to spread the news throughout the industry it serves.

Even more interesting as an example of how to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in renaming a dynamic 70-year-old membership organization with an international clientele was what conference attendees saw upon returning to the conference site the following morning:all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name; viewing even a few of the numerous photographs posted online via Twitter suggested the magnitude of planning and execution that went into making the transition real and immediate. And the online transformation was equally obvious: the ASTD website had a new graphic displaying the old and new logos side-by-side; chapter leaders had immediate access to new individual chapter logos so they could begin using them as soon as they are ready to do their part in making the year-long transition successful; and the transition webpage had plenty of background material for those curious about the process and the repercussions.

So the obvious next step was for ATD members themselves to absorb and further respond to all the change implies—both in terms of opportunities accepted and opportunities missed. For anyone interested in how managers and members in any association interact or don’t interact, reading Tricia Ransom’s online open letter to Tony and the organization’s board of directors is instructive. She includes a confirmation that she likes the new logo and that she is more positive than negative about the new name. But at the heart of her letter is a concise summary of why she feels left out of a decision in which she very much wanted—and felt entitled—to be included: “You said that you’ve spoken with countless CEOs and other leaders who recognize our efforts and how important our field is. You highlighted three executives, Senior Vice Presidents and higher, to tout the change. You emphasized the fact that you kept this change a secret for 2.5 years. Listen now to the voices of the tens of thousands of us who will never be an executive. Listen to the vast majority of the organization you lead. Listen to the people you are supposed to serve. We wanted to take this journey of change with you. You denied us. Why? We wanted to share our ideas, thoughts and suggestions about how we can grow. You denied us. Why? We have opinions to share with you. You never asked us. Why?…You don’t have to implement our choices, but at least ask.”

ALA_LogoReading Tricia’s note made me once again compare and contrast two membership organizations which I adore and which I consistently strongly support—ATD and the American Library Association (ALA)—because they have a lot in common. Both are large, well-run organizations with members in many countries. Both have a long history rich both in tradition and innovation to serve their members’ needs. Both work with people playing a strong role in training-teaching-learning. Both fulfill an impressive educational role by producing books, magazines, webinars, and other resources including first-rate conferences to support their members’ lifelong efforts to professionally serve their constituents. And both offer opportunities for volunteer engagement.

What is consistently different about the two, however—and what I believe is a core element of what Tricia is expressing—is that ASTD has, at least in the years I’ve been involved, tended to make huge decisions that leave members (correctly or incorrectly) with the impression that they were not part of the decision-making process. I repeatedly hear trusted and cherished ASTD colleagues express the theory that there are two ASTDs: one run by association managers rather than practitioners (which unfairly ignores how much Tony has done to consistently serve as a thought leader in our industry and how inspiring he is as a public speaker) and a second comprised of the practitioners themselves. Exploring this with an ALA staff member a few years ago, I was surprised by an insightful question he asked: how many volunteer opportunities does ASTD offer in comparison to what ALA offers? And my answer was “significantly fewer.” One of ASTD’s strengths is the streamlined nature of the organization; it doesn’t have the absolutely labyrinthine structure of committees, divisions, and round tables that sometimes absolutely drive ALA members to distraction. But, as my ALA colleague noted, it also doesn’t have the thousands of volunteer opportunities that come with the large number of committees, divisions, and round tables. We simply can’t be members of ALA without knowing that there are abundant opportunities to engage and participate in the decision-making process in ways that are custom-made for our numerous and varied roles in that industry.

Moving from Tricia’s open letter to a blog post by Clark Quinn, I found a wonderful exploration of a second theme consistent among those who are—at least initially—less than enamored of the new name for the organization: “To me, Talent Development is focused only on developing people instead of facilitating overall organization performance. And I think that’s falling short of the opportunity, and the need. Don’t get me wrong, I laud that ASTD made a change, and I think Talent Development is a good thing. Yet I think that our role can and should be more. I wish they’d thought a little broader, and covered all of the potential contribution[s].”

What Clark notes is something with which many of us in ATD and ALA—managers and members alike—struggle: finding terminology that accurately, concisely, and inspirationally captures all of what we do; I believe, because of the breadth, scope, and depth of our contributions to the communities we serve, that it’s ultimately a fruitless endeavor that will never produce a completely satisfying result. My own less-than-adequate term in the ASTD/ATD context for the past several years has been “training-teaching-learning” since I believe those are three core elements I consistently observe in the colleagues I most respect. But what Clark’s note suggests is that there is still a hole, and he concludes with this observation: “I just wonder who’s going to fill the gaps.”

To myself, to Clark, and to all my colleagues who are wonderful enough to passionately engage in and contribute to the work of our associations, I suggest that it is all of us who are going to fill the gaps. And not just by spending time trying to find the perfect name; ASTD was a far-from-perfect name, but somehow inspired results that contributed magnificently to the communities we serve. But by continuing to do what we do best: facilitating learning opportunities that serve the numerous workplace and lifelong learning/professional development/talent development needs of the individuals, organizations, and communities who rely on us to help “create a world that works better.”

N.B.: Additional thoughts on the change have been posted by ASTD staff, Tony Bingham, Jay Cross,  David Kelly, Alan Montague Marc Rosenberg, and others.


#etmooc and #lrnchat: When Communities of Learning Discuss Community—and Produce Results

September 27, 2013

There was no need this week to read yet another book or article on how to effectively create and nurture great communities. Participating in live online sessions with colleagues in two wonderful communities of learning (#etmooc, using the #etmchat hashtag and a Google+ community for online exchanges, and #lrnchat) provided experiential learning opportunities among those trainer-teacher-learners: participating in discussions to explore what makes our communities attractive or unattractive, and contributing to the conversations in ways that produced immediate results, e.g., a name for a new learning community that is in the early stages of formation in Australia.

#lrnchat_logoThe first of the two communities—#etmooc—is relatively young, having grown out of the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues earlier this year, while #lrnchat appears to have been in existence at least since early 2009 and is currently facilitated by David Kelly, Clark Quinn, Cammy Bean, and Jane Bozarth.

While #etmooc draws together a worldwide group of trainer-teacher-learners interested in improving their ability to effectively and engagingly incorporate technology into the learning process, #lrnchat has the somewhat broader goal of serving as a community “for people interested in the topic of learning [and] who use the social messaging service Twitter to learn from one another and discuss how to help other people learn”; those first-rate #lrnchat organizers also routinely post session transcripts that in and of themselves are great learning resources for others involved in training-teaching learning.

Participants and discussion topics sometimes, as was the case this week, overlap in #etmchat and #lrnchat sessions in fortuitous ways. Those of us who joined the #etmchat session on Wednesday and then joined #lrnchat on Thursday were able see these two overlapping yet significantly different communities explore (and, in many ways, celebrate) the elements that have made both communities dynamically successful. (Stats posted this afternoon by #lrnchat colleague Bruno Winck, aka @brunowinck, suggest that the one-hour session produced 642 tweets and 264 retweets from a total of 79 participants.)

What was obviously common to both groups was the presence of strong, dedicated, highly-skilled facilitators who kept the conversations flowing, on topic, and open to the largest possible number of participants. There was also an obvious sense of respect and encouragement offered to newcomers as well as to those with long-term involvement—a willingness to listen as well as to contribute, and a commitment to extending the conversation to others not immediately involved. (Retweeting of comments was fairly common in both groups, indicating a commitment to sharing others’ comments rather than trying to dominate any part of the conversation solely through personal observations). What we continually see in both groups is an invitation to engage and a willingness to listen as well as contribute rather than the tendency to create and foster cliques that exists in less effective and less cohesive communities.

A sense of humor and a fair amount of humility also appears to support the high levels of engagement visible in both groups—those who are most inclined to offer the occasional ironic/sarcastic/snarky comment just as quickly turn those comments back on themselves to draw a laugh and make a point that contributes to the overall advancement of discussion—and learning—that both communities foster.

There also is more than a hint in both communities of creating learning objects through the transcripts and conversational excerpts (e.g., through the use of Storify) generated via these discussions. And that’s where some of the most significant results are produced, for embedded in those transcripts and excerpts are links to other learning resources that many of us may not have previously encountered.

etmoocFollowing those links during or after the conversations continues our own personal learning process and, as was the case with #lrnchat yesterday, actually produce something with the potential to last far longer than any single discussion session. One of those unexpectedly productive moments of community-sharing-in-action yesterday came when, from my desk here in San Francisco, I posted a link to a Wikipedia article about third places—that wonderful concept of the places outside of home and work that serve as “the heart of community” and the third places in our lives, as defined and described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (1989). A colleague in Melbourne (Helen Blunden), seeing that link, quickly followed it to familiarize herself with the concept, then realized that “Third Place” would serve nicely as the name for a new learning and development community she is currently forming in Melbourne—which means that when members of #3placemelb (Third Place Melbourne) interact online, they’ll be the latest offshoot of a learning tree with roots in Oldenburg’s book first published in 1989; a well-developed trunk that has branches representing a variety of settings, including libraries; and continues to sprout twigs in online virtual communities such as #etmooc and #lrnchat, blended (onsite-online) settings, and that latest growth in Melbourne—all because great communities seem to beget additional great communities through collaboration rather than competition.

N.B.: The #lrnchat sessions currently take place every Thursday from 8:30-9:30 pm EST/5:30-6:30 PST; #etmchat sessions are generally announced on Twitter via the #etmooc hashtag and are also promoted in the #etmooc Google+ community.


The M-Learning Mantra: Augmenting What We Do

June 23, 2011

Two recent reports and a couple of presentations I’ve attended in the past few weeks hint that m-learning—mobile learning—may also be defined by a second name—mantra learning—since there is a mantra-like consistency to the message being delivered by mobile-learning advocates.

M-learning, we’re hearing, is all about augmenting, not replacing, the way we currently design and deliver learning opportunities. Which is a fabulously productive way to approach this growing part of workplace learning and performance as well as education in general. It takes us past the unnecessary either-or thinking that so commonly creates artificial walls in what should be a cohesive field of practice: teaching-training-learning.

Writer and learning technology strategist Clark Quinn, in his 30-page Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends report for the eLearning Guild (available free of charge to anyone registered with the eLearning Guild online), offers an eloquent and helpful approach to m-learning. The use of a mobile device “augments our capabilities, both for formal learning, and for informal and performance-support needs,” he writes (p. 5). “The essence of mobile is, to me, augmenting our mental capabilities wherever and wherever we are.”

“It is clear that mobile learning is not and should not be perceived as a replacement for anything,” the writers of ASTD’s Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand report (distributed free of charge as  PDF download recently to members of the national ASTD organization) concur, adding that “it should be viewed as a complement to other forms of learning. It fills the gaps between formal classroom training and e-learning, formal and informal, local and remote.”

Quinn’s eLearning Guild report, drawing from “the preferences, opinions, likes, dislikes, trials, and triumphs of eLearning Guild members,” does a great job of showing how m-learning is a “nascent” and rapidly spreading presence among trainer-teacher-learners and the organizations they serve. People “are seeing real returns,” he notes (p. 1), and up to 80 percent of Fortune 100 businesses are already supporting the use of the devices that facilitate mobile learning in their workplaces (p. 5). “Mobile benefit advocates will be enthused to learn that there are almost no negative impacts seen…On the positive side, we see modest-to-large improvements for learner access and needs and at least half are finding benefits in the speed of content delivery and, importantly, improving user performance” (p. 16).

In essence, what the eLearning Guild and the ASTD reports are documenting is the small yet growing use of m-learning to expedite just-in-time learning. And, because both reports were released within a couple of weeks of each other, it’s not surprising that both contain a great deal of complementary material.

Which makes it all the more interesting that they end with tremendously different recommendations. Clark sees  tremendous growth ahead and encourages his readers to “figure out how to start” (p. 26). The authors of the ASTD report also see a growing mobile market, but suggest
that “for once it really is okay to wait and see” since “standards are still being developed and consumers are still figuring out which devices/platforms work best for them.”

But if accept the broadest possible definition of m-learning and focus on the idea that it’s “any sort of learning thathappens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location,” as the writers of the Wikipedia article on m-learning suggest, we realize there is no reason to hold back.

Regardless of the devices we use (laptops, iPads, smartphones, or anything else that comes our way and travels with us), we can easily take advantage of the magnificent possibilities m-learning provides for just-in-time learning. And our learners and those they help will be the real winners.


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