Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

Preparing a personal learning networks (PLNs) webinar and reading Jan Holmquist’s “Global Learning Networks” chapter in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction makes me realize how wonderfully expansive and rewarding our PLNs have become.

Information_Services_Today--CoverThe idea driving the creation of a personal learning network—the ever-changing informal group of people each of us personally and uniquely defines, forms, and turns to in our lifelong learning endeavors—appears to be timeless; I can’t imagine a period of our recorded or unrecorded history during which people didn’t learn from each other informally, beyond the confines of classrooms or other formal learning spaces. And yet, as Holmquist notes at the beginning of his chapter, changes in the technology we use are expanding the pool of potential PLN members from which we can draw tremendously: “The world keeps getting smaller. Technology has challenged the need for physical presence regarding how, when, and where learning, collaboration, and sharing information takes place” (p. 374).

PLNs, he continues, provide a tremendous set of benefits by offering us connections to colleagues with whom we can “interact and exchange information and resources; share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; and collect and create an informed guide to professional development opportunities and lifelong learning” (p. 377).

We don’t want or need to become too technical or academic in exploring what personal learning networks mean to us to fully appreciate how they operate and what they provide. They are flexible (because we continually modify them to meet our learning needs). They are responsive (because we define them, nurture them, and turn to them in our moments of need, not someone else’s). They can be collaborative (although there are times when we learn from members of our PLNs without directly contacting them, e.g., when we learn by reading a PLN colleague’s writing on a topic we’re exploring or drawing upon a list of resources curated by members of our PLNs). They thrive on our willingness to contribute to them rather than seeing them solely as one-way resources—something where we take but never give. They are as local or as global as we choose to make them, drawing upon colleagues we see face-to-face as well as colleagues with whom we might have only the most cursory of online interactions via social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ Communities, Scoop.it, and Storify. And as the name implies, personal learning networks are deeply and inevitably personal (both in the sense of being something that is centered on each of us, individually, and in the sense of being centered on persons)—and they change as our learning changes need, but also have a sense of continuity that reflects the continuities in our own learning interests and endeavors.

xplrpln_logoThere seems to be no definitive answer as to how small or large a PLN should be. The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that there is a point (Dunbar’s number) beyond which members of any social group lose their ability to function effectively in social relationships, and I suspect that an overly large PLN eventually becomes ineffective in that valuable resources become overlooked because they are lost in the PLN crowd. The diversity of members and the variety of interests represented by those members, on the other hand, suggests that a PLN benefits from not being overly small or exclusive. And the resources from which we draw members seems to be limited only by our own imaginations: A cursory glance at my own PLN shows that it includes people with whom I’ve learned in formal academic settings, onsite workshops, and professional associations (e.g., the New Media Consortium, the American Library Association, and the Association for Talent Development); from people I’ve met in tweet chats (e.g., through #lrnchat); and from learning facilitators and learners in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs)—including one (#xplrpln—”Exploring Personal Learning Networks”) focused on the creation and nurturing of PLNs. My PLN has also grown significantly by adding people whose published work—including work they publish on their blogs—provides learning opportunities for me. I’ve even realized that drawing upon an anthology such as Information Services Today can contribute to the development of a PLN; reading chapters written by and interacting with other contributors to the book has made me consciously include Michael Stephens and Kristin Fontichiaro, along with Jan Holmquist, in my own PLN.

If this inspires you to expand your personal learning network by adding Stephens, Fontichiaro, Holmquist, or other writers, and to expand your own ideas about where you can find additional members to strengthen your own PLN, then you’ve taken another step in recognizing how global and open our personal learning networks have become.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Information Services Today: Hyperlinked Libraries, Makerspaces, & Learning in a Collaborative World

April 17, 2015

Trainer-teacher-learners reading Michael Stephens’ “Hyperlinked Libraries” and Kristin Fontichiaro’s “Creation Culture and Makerspaces” chapters in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction will find inspiring reminders of how learning organizations are evolving to meet community needs.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIn fact, if we substitute the term “learning organization” for the word “library” in a set of observations Stephens offers at the top of the Hyperlinked Library page on his Tame the Web site, we have another first-rate manifesto for trainer-teacher-learners working within libraries as well as for those working in other settings: “The Library Plays. The Library Learns. The Library Tells Stories. The Library is Transparent. The Library is Participatory. The Library harnesses user-generated content. The Library makes Connections.” Stephens, furthermore, has provided a bridge from hyperlinked libraries to a concept of hyperlinked learning that carries us into themes trainer-teacher-learners are exploring worldwide; it encompasses learning models and tools including massive open online courses (MOOCs), a combination of formal and informal learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, mobile learning (m-learning), connected learning; reflective learning, production-centered learning, personal learning networks, and flexible learning spaces.

Hyperlinked_Library_SiteHis description of hyperlinked libraries in Information Services Today offers us a straightforward point of departure: “Hyperlinked library services are born from the constant, positive, and purposeful adaptation to change that is based on thoughtful planning and grounded in the mission of libraries. Information professionals embracing the hyperlinked model practice careful trend spotting and apply the tenets of librarianship along with an informed understanding of emerging technologies’ societal and cultural impact. Information professionals communicate with patrons and potential users via open and transparent conversations using a wide variety of technologies across many platforms. The hyperlinked library model flourishes in both physical and virtual spaces by offering collections, activities, trainings, and events that actively transform spectators into participants. In participatory culture, everyone is in the business of advancing knowledge and increasing skill levels. The community is integrated into the structure of change and improvement” (p. 185).

Hyperlinked learning includes elements of much of what colleagues and I explore and document through our participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project: how we are incorporating technology into the learning process; how tech tools support and expand the collaborative opportunities we have within learning organizations and the communities they serve; and what we should and can do to keep our skill levels where they need to be to meet the needs of the organizations and learners we serve.

When we turn our attention to makerspaces within the framework of  hyperlinked learning, we easily see how makerspaces fit into our experiential (learn-by-doing) learning landscape and how much less vibrant that landscape would be without the creative, collaborative nature of what those spaces produce. They provide a huge and much-needed leap from lecture-based learning—where success is measured by quizzes and other ineffectual measures of long-term learning—into a world of learning that supports the development of the collaborative and creative skills so many people promote as workplace essentials. They are engaging. Dynamic. And transformational. And they build upon some long-established traditions.

Fontichiaro_Makerspaces“Information organizations have a long tradition of supporting a community’s intellectual and personal interests through rich collections available for checkout and through interactive activities online and in the physical space,” Fontichiaro explains in the conclusion to her makerspace chapter. “By unifying the how collections of the information organization with the let’s-do energy of the community, information organizations can create maker learning communities and opportunities that delight, motivate, and inspire communities” (p. 198).

We don’t need to make this overly complex. It really comes down to some simple concepts:

  • Our approaches to learning and to designing/redesigning the spaces in which we learn, while grounded in well-established patterns and practices, offer intriguing possibilities for dynamic change at least partially made possible by the rapid rate of change in the technology we have.
  • Learning is not something with defined beginning and ending points; when supported effectively, it’s a fascinating, rewarding, meandering, lifelong endeavor comprised of informal as well as formal elements carrying us between a variety of learning organizations including academic institutions, workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs, museums, libraries and other information organizations, conferences, and onsite as well as online communities of learning.
  • We don’t have to subscribe solely to a single element of hyperlinked learning or what learning spaces—including makerspaces—contain. Remaining open to an evolving set of options serves us and our learners well.
  • The tools available to support training-teaching-learning are continuing to evolve in intriguing ways, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our learners to explore those tools as time allows so we can most effectively support the varied, lifelong learning needs successful participation in our workplaces and our communities requires.

We have, as so many of us have repeatedly observed, come to expect that learning will occur when and where we need it. Our greatest challenge is to find ways to embrace and meet that need through effective collaborations—without becoming overwhelmed by options.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


On a Bit of a Rant: Motivating Our Learners…and Ourselves

April 3, 2015

“I was on a bit of a rant the other day…” may not seem to be the most auspicious way to begin a dynamic, wide-ranging, and inspiring conversation about fostering self-motivation among learners. Nassau Library System Outreach Services Specialist Andrea Snyder, however, may have hit upon a training-teaching-learning truism when she made that admission earlier today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training—the unspoken truism being that we are often motivated (to rant as well as to learn) by our levels of passion about a given topic or situation.

T_is_for_Training_LogoSnyder’s alleged rant—and the entire T is for Training discussion—was inadvertently inspired by one of her colleagues who not only seemed completely unaware of an important element of contemporary librarianship, but displayed little interest in plugging that knowledge deficiency. Listening to Snyder’s description of the situation, we couldn’t help but understand the underlying challenge: how do trainer-teacher-learners help their colleagues in learning fill critically important gaps in their knowledge when those learners don’t even seem to be aware that those gaps exist?

The underlying problem for so many of us, as Coleman noted at the beginning of the discussion (available online in an archived recording and briefly described on the T is for Training site) is that we don’t know what we don’t know. That, as we all agreed during our discussion, is where trainer-teacher-learners play important roles grounded in our own passions about learning—our own learning as well as the learning of those we are committed to supporting.

“It’s tough because there are students who are self-motivated…and then there are students who come into a program…and think ‘You’re going to tell me what I need to know,’” T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl suggested. And it becomes even more difficult when contemporary learners don’t seem be aware of the need to commit to a program of lifelong learning: “You don’t just come out of a degree program and stop learning.”

ccourses_logoFor me, it begins with acknowledgement of and commitment to fostering collaborative learning—the type of learning where everyone has a role to play and there isn’t necessarily a single person serving start-to-finish as the primary mover in the process. It’s the type of learning that we see in connected learning settings, in the best of our connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses), in well-nurtured communities of learning, and so many other settings where the role of learning facilitator is shared in an ever-changing way between the person or people designing and delivering a course or other learning opportunity and the learners themselves. In terms of workplace learning, it’s the difference between a learner showing up to a mandated two-hour “Preventing Sexual Harassment” session online (where the learner passively absorbs canned lectures and then completes the learning experience by taking a quiz) and the same learner showing up for an interactive onsite or online session that provides essential information, includes discussion and chances to absorb and immediately use the information through deeper and richer explorations, then extends to opportunities back in the workplace to demonstrate an ability to apply, in a positive way, the lessons learned. If we’re serious about supporting our learners, nurturing their self-motivation to learn, and gaining the most from the time and resources invested in learning opportunities, we need to passionately and with great dedication show that appropriate application of learning is more important than simply attending a session and passing a test.

What is abundantly clear from that T is for Training discussion and numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues in training-teaching-learning is that the best of those colleagues really do care about the learners they serve and are motivated to support their learning—which is why we spend relatively small amounts of time ranting about the sort of situation Snyder described and much larger amounts of time seeking and implementing ways to help learners identify what they need to know and then supporting their efforts to fill their knowledge gaps. Again, this is collaborative: if we make ourselves accessible to our learners by visiting their worksites, listening to their concerns and watching for gaps they themselves might not have identified, and working with them to create effective, creative, engaging learning opportunities, we all rise together in our learning efforts.

Jill Hurst-Wahl

Jill Hurst-Wahl

It’s far more than an attempt to justify the time, energy, and money that goes into workplace learning and performance/staff development/staff training programs; it’s an acknowledgement that those who aren’t self-motivated and well-supported are not going to survive in contemporary workplaces: “We’re in an economic environment where if you’re not a self-directed learner…you’re going to get left behind,” Hurst-Wahl observed. “That being left behind may not happen immediately [but] in some way, you’re going to be left behind. People are going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know that thing? Huh. OK. I’m moving on.’”

None of which is to say that learning facilitators don’t have important roles to play and that a commitment to the learning process is anything less than an essential element to be cultivated by all parties in the learning process: “I talk about things that I have at least some sort of feeling about,” Coleman noted. “When I’m out presenting or training, usually I feel some affinity for the material…I’m energized; I’m buzzed by it. I want people to be energized by it, too [and talking about it]. If you’re talking, you’re engaged”—and, I would add, cultivating the passion that fosters self-motivation among learners as well as among those of us supporting those learners.

 


Career Choices: Training-Teaching-Learning and Love

March 20, 2015

Joining the hour-long discussion about pursuing careers in training-teaching-learning today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training once again helped make something obvious to me: it’s all about love.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

You could hear, as each one of us on the audio recording described how we began working as trainer-teacher-learners in library settings, the same theme that runs through most conversations I have with colleagues engaged in designing and facilitating learning opportunities onsite and/or online throughout the world: we really love what we do. We love the opportunities the work provides for us to make a difference among the learners we serve and the patrons-customers-clients those learners ultimately serve. We love the shared sense of achievement we have with learners when our efforts help them become better at or more knowledgeable about something they wanted to pursue. We love the never-ending challenge of having to learn new things so we can stay at least a couple of steps ahead of those we serve. And we love the fact that many of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) found our way into the profession in ways other than through overt decisions.

signorelli200x300[1]It’s not as if any of us can remember a conversation in a kindergarten playground that included the words, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a trainer,” much less the even more specific, “When I grow up, I’m going to work in staff training for libraries.” One T is for Training colleague, in fact, noted that she did pursue an academic degree in teaching elementary-school students before realized she didn’t even like other people’s children—a somewhat discouraging obstacle to her initial plans; my own feeling is that we’re tremendously fortunate that she found a more compatible audience in the adult learners she so effectively serves today.

For those of us in the T is for Training conversation and for numerous other colleagues with whom I’ve had this conversation, training-teaching-learning was something that came our way when a colleague or an insistent manager or supervisor told us that we seemed to have an ability to help others learn what they have to learn, assured us that we “talk real pretty,” and decided that we would be great at designing and delivering learning opportunities for others. After the initial elation of being acknowledged for being good at anything at all began to subside, we generally were overcome by sheer terror when we realized we had very little formal training in how to help others learn, so we spent the next few years scrambling to absorb everything we possibly could about a subject and a skill we were supposed to have already mastered.

ALA_LogoIt is, during that catching-up-to-be-where-we-were-supposed-to-be-yesterday process, that love sets in. We love the fact that we discover many colleagues who not only have suffered through this “Great! I’m a trainer. Now what do I do?” experience but who are also quite willing to share tips and experiences and resources. If we’re in libraries, we discover that the American Library Association has plenty of groups that include our best training-teaching-learning colleagues, e.g., the Learning Round Table, the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), and the Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT). If we’re engaged in exploring ways to effectively use educational technology to support learning, we find plenty of wonderfully innovative (and very patient) colleagues in the New Media Consortium. If we are looking for a global learning organization comprised of colleagues in training-teaching-learning, we find a first-rate professional family in the Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD, the American Society for Training & Development).

We also love the fact that nearly everything we do contributes to our increasing skills in training-teaching-learning. If we have an engaging learning experience, we incorporate the best of that experience into the learning we design and facilitate. If we have a terrible learning experience, we add it to the list of indignities we will never (intentionally) inflict on other learners. If we hear a colleague describe a successful learning exercise or instructional-design technique or engaging way to prepare slide decks for onsite or online learning sessions, we absorb them and share them. We write articles about them. We do presentations about them. We discuss them within T is for Training and our numerous other communities of learning. And we sustain that insatiable hunger for constant improvement by immediately following that successful acquisition of a new training-teaching-learning tip or technique with the words, “That was great. What’s next?”

That love of training-teaching-learning extends to a love of sharing our enthusiasm with those who may be following in our footsteps sooner than later, as was clear when we discussed tips for those currently earning the academic degrees necessary for successful careers within libraries. Not surprisingly, we all encouraged current MLS/MLIS students to pursue any opportunity available to take courses about training-teaching-learning. The less-obvious advice that we consistently offered was to “take initiative and be creative” in seeking and developing those opportunities. If an information-school program isn’t specifically offering courses in the fundamentals of teaching and learning or isn’t offering courses in instructional design (and this appears to be a huge gap in most programs I’ve explored), students can shape those learning experiences by seeking a willing faculty member who will oversee independent, semester-long individual-study projects that allow the student to learn by creating his or her own curriculum that results in a concrete final project which, in turn, may be publishable—a winning situation in that the learner gains recognition for the effort expended, and the entire community of learning has grown through the addition of what that project documents and suggests.

ATD_LogoAlthough our T is for Training conversation didn’t explicitly move in this direction, it could easily have included suggestions that those seeking careers in training-teaching-learning (and those needing new, engaging, inspiring trainer-teacher-learners) work to establish formal mentorships and apprenticeships. It’s obvious to my colleagues and to me that lifelong learning is an essential element to success in contemporary workplaces, and it’s obvious to me that our commitment to lifelong learning is what makes us competitive—and useful to those we serve. The more we can do to draw people into the ever-evolving world of training-teaching-learning, support them in their growth as part of our own professional growth process, and draw them into our professional associations (e.g., ALA and ATD) as well as our formal and informal onsite and online communities of learning, the more successful we all will be. And the more love we’ll have to share.


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Radical Meeting, Learning, and Collaboration

February 5, 2015

You didn’t have to be in Chicago from Friday, January 30 to Tuesday, February 3 to avoid being left behind. American Library Association (ALA) staff, members, and presenters, during the Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting, displayed an amazing, noteworthy commitment to bringing colleagues together regardless of geographic, economic, and temporal barriers—and, in the process, provided an example every trainer-teacher-learner can benefit from exploring.

alamw15--LogoAssociation staff began the process, in the days before the conference began, by reaching out to members with a set of tips on how to be part of the conference whether onsite or offsite; they also carried the popular ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony to offsite members through a live webcast of the event. This is clearly not an association that cares only for those paying registration fees and booking rooms in conference hotels.

Onsite individual Association members helped augment these efforts connecting offsite colleagues to the conference in a variety of ways, including the use of a Google Hangout and an extremely active Twitter feed that fostered plenty of back and forth. The Hangout, designed to serve as an episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series for those involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries, was a successful experiment in creating a gathering that, through the discussion of “bringing offsite colleagues into the room,” engaged colleagues in the moment and produced a 30-minute archived recording demonstrating how Hangouts work (and, in their weaker moments, don’t work) to extend live conversations beyond the barriers of physical rooms and to further extend them beyond their initial synchronous interactions. And the multi-day #alamw15 flow of tweets from onsite and offsite Association members was so heavy during the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony Monday morning (February 2) that it completely overwhelmed the feed from the social media tool (Twubs) I was using to monitor the exchanges; new tweets appeared to pop up at one-second intervals, and a notification at the top of the Twubs page confirmed, at one point, that more than 480 tweets were waiting to move from a queue into the actual Twubs feed I was observing on my mobile device—which means the feed was, at that point, a full eight minutes behind what all of us were producing. The fast, steady pulse of tweets flowing into the feed made me feel as if I were watching a heart monitor somehow attached to an Olympic athlete engaged in a sprint.

Lankes--Radical_Guide_to_New_LibrarianshipIt seemed that the ALA community’s commitment to inclusivity never faltered. When Atlas of New Librarianship author R. David Lankes began setting up for his hour-long “Radical Conversations on New Librarianship” session Monday morning, for example, he obviously was fully immersed in extending the conversation (and the size of his room) through the same efforts others had pursued. Using Adobe Connect to reach out to offsite participants and using a projector to display the chat feed so those of us inside the physical space at McCormick Place in Chicago could see what our offsite colleagues were saying, Lankes made it possible for us to at least be aware of both sides (onsite and offsite) of an ongoing, intriguing conversation about how librarianship is continuing to evolve to the benefit of all whom it serves. It was clear—as was the case with that Google Hangout Sunday afternoon—that the conversation would continue after the formal session ended: several entry portals to the conversation remain on Lankes’ blog, and the book that will come out of those conversations is sure to inspire additional exchanges long after the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting begins fading in our memories.

ALA_LogoAnother extended no-one-left-behind conversation that was easy to join during the conference was the Association’s current efforts to update its strategic plan. We often hear, from ALA staff, that “the conversation starts here” at the Midwinter Meeting and the Annual (summer) Conference, but the current strategic planning process shows the conversations are also continuous—beginning before we arrive onsite, continuing (rather than starting) while we are face to face, and extending far beyond the few days we have together during those meetings and conferences. Three town hall meetings had been held online from November through December 2014, and archived recordings remain available for those who don’t want to be left behind; several 90-minute onsite “kitchen table conversation” sessions facilitated by Association members during the 2015 Midwinter Conference were open to anyone interested in helping shape the strategic planning process and, by extension, the near-term future of the Association itself. Conversations are scheduled to continue as the planning process proceeds, and anyone paying attention knows that this is yet another example of an association keenly aware of a foundational tenet: without membership engagement, there is no real association in any sense of that word.

Those of us involved in training-teaching-learning—and nearly everyone in libraries falls into that category at some time during day-to-day library work—are far from unfamiliar with what was on display at the Midwinter Conference. The nurturing of community that took place there (as well as before and after the event) is what we strive to nurture as we develop and maintain the valuable communities of learning that provide meaningful experiences for those we serve. It’s what connects conferences. Workshops. Webinars. Courses. And every other learning opportunity part of our overall dynamic learning landscape. And I, for one, am glad to be part of associations that do more than understand that idea—they transform the concept from idea to reality in ways that make a difference to everyone they/we touch.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Adventures, Guilds, MOOCs, MOLOs, and Gamification (Play With Me)  

June 17, 2014

You won’t hear any of the “MOOCs are dead” lamentations here at the 2014 New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer [ed-tech] Conference in Portland, Oregon. In fact, many of us attending New Mexico State University Assistant Professor of Curriculum & Instruction Julia Parra’s pre-conference workshop this morning walked away understanding that the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses)  is still very much evolving. As is the approach to designing and delivering them. As is the vocabulary that attempts to describe them.

nmc.logo.cmykParra took an appropriately playful approach to the topic as she suggested that incorporating concepts of gamification into the evolving world of MOOCs might produce more engaging and rewarding learning experiences for all involved. If we apply the playfulness of gamification to MOOCs, she suggested, we begin trying to cultivate “fans” rather than designing coursework for “students.” Those “students” then become “adventurers” in learning “adventures” rather than completing uninspiring assignments in weekly “modules,” and they engage in connected learning by working in small “guilds” comprised of less than 10 people per guild so they can more effectively become learners as creators rather than learners solely as consumers—something I’ve experienced and documented through participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC—and other connectivist MOOCs.

Even the terminology applied to these online courses can reflect the variety of options available, Parra noted: MOOCs, in a variation she is exploring through an “Adventures in Learning Design, Technology, and Innovation” course she is developing, become MOLOs—Massive Open Learning Opportunities. Other variations she noted in passing include LOOCs (little open online courses), SPOCs (small private online classes), and LeMOOCs (limited enrollment MOOCs).

The way we and our learners approach MOOCs and define completion and success is equally open to variations. One of her own practices is to engage in what she calls “scavenging”—diving into a MOOC long enough to find something of value to her or to achieve a particular learning (adventure) goal rather than feeling that she has to finish every assignment designed by those creating and facilitating the adventures she is pursuing. It’s the same approach many of us are taking in our lifelong-learning endeavors: we maintain that we have “completed” this sort of learning adventure when we have met our own learning goals rather than standard one-size-fits-all definitions of the term “course completion.” The bottom line, of course, is that we help create and foster a culture of lifelong learning that provides the opportunity for learning facilitators to learn alongside their learners.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandParra further helped us explore our ever-evolving learning environment by reminding us that some of our familiar approaches to learning (e.g., pedagogy and andragogy) are complemented through increasing attention we give to other “gogies,” including heutagogy (the study of self-directed learning) and hybrid pedagogy. The push to explore, synthesize, and build upon the myriad approaches and influences trainer-teacher-learners encounter every time we step back from our work enough to see all that goes into it helped clarify the exciting range of possibilities that come our way each time we convene at a conference as inspiring and as eye-opening as the NMC Summer Conference is.

Leaving the session—and looking forward to all that is before us for the next few days—left at least  few of us appreciating the elements of a framework for learning that Parra outlined: clarification; community and collaboration; creation; crystallization; and contemplation—a framework that should serve us well as we continue learning from our colleagues here in Portland and within the much larger communities of learning to which we belong through all that we attempt and accomplish.


Alan Ehrenhalt, Inversions, and Developing Our Communities

June 2, 2014

There’s something viscerally appealing about a dynamic, creative community, regardless of whether it is onsite or online.

If we walk on a city street, through a public plaza or park, or in a library or museum where people are engaged with each other, we often feel the urge to be part of what it offers. If we participate in and contribute to a civil, active, well-facilitated, and creative online community of learning, community of practice, or community of interest, we frequently feel well-rewarded and stimulated by the positive interactions we have. Conversely, if we stumble upon or through communities that feel uninviting or in any way unsafe, we’re not going to remain there very long.

Ehrenhalt--Great_Inversion--CoverReading Alan Ehrenhalt’s book The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City tells us plenty about the state of some of our most interesting physical communities; it also, I believe, offers us opportunities to draw productive parallels about what makes online communities attractive.

The settings for his onsite explorations include urban and suburban neighborhoods in or near Chicago, Cleveland, Gwinnett County (Georgia), Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and several other American cities, and he also draws upon several European cities (including the Paris of George-Eugène Haussmann’s time and Vienna as the Ringstrasse was opening in the latter half of the 19th century). He reminds us that a great European street served—and continues to serve—as “a center of activity, much more than of motion, a center of commerce and sociability, of nonstop human drama, of endless surprises and stimulation….To talk about a crowded city thoroughfare of the nineteenth century as ‘mixed use’ urbanism in the modern sense is to miss the point altogether. This was essentially ‘all use’ urbanism” (p. 23) He then explores various American cities to document ebbs and flows of population into and out of areas in an attempt to help us understand what makes contemporary cities appealing or lacking in appeal.

As we share Ehrenhalt’s journey through our physical sites, we consider the impact immigrants, the availability of public transportation, the presence of street life, street furniture, parks, residents’ commitments (or lack of commitment) to their communities, and even levels of housing available in downtown areas have on making or breaking communities.

And that’s where I believe we can draw parallels between what we see in The Great Inversion and what we see in equally dynamic or challenged online communities. The diverse points of view that can result from interactions between immigrants and well-established residents of a community also provide the advantages and challenges of welcoming various points of view in our online communities. The presence of engaging levels of onsite street life has its online equivalent in communities where friends and colleagues can drop into an online community with the assurance that their “neighbors” will be there to interact synchronously as well as asynchronously in rewarding and stimulating ways. The elements that contribute to a sense of safety and engagement in our onsite settings also have their online parallels: just as broken windows and large amounts of graffiti can quickly chase us away from onsite settings, the presence of spammers and haters in an online community can quickly inspire the departure of previously-engaged members of an online community.

Street life in our physical settings is returning in various forms, Ehrenhalt contends, and I see—and benefit from—a parallel level of street life in the best of the online communities to which I’m drawn. Although Ehrenhalt’s own conclusion is that “The more that people are enabled by technology to communicate with one another while remaining physically solitary, the more they crave a physical form of social life to balance out all the electronics” (p. 236), I believe that an equally compelling interaction is occurring as those of us who are lucky enough to meet in dynamic onsite communities continue some of our interactions online. The result is that for those of us who comfortably move back and forth within our blended onsite-online communities, the opportunities to engage and benefit from interactions from dynamically diverse communities has never been better.


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