From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 3 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 18, 2016

There is always a moment of stunned silence when I initially tell new “co-conspirators” (i.e., prospective clients) that I want to be onsite in their city a full day before the day of an event/presentation (e.g., arriving Wednesday evening for a presentation to be held on Friday). And the silence deepens when I explain that I would prefer to fly out the morning after a day-long event rather than rushing off to an airport as soon as the final words I’m going to say have passed my lips. Parachuting in and then being quickly airlifted out, I explain, is not a great way for us to work together to produce the concrete training-teaching-learning-doing results we all hope to produce.

“We don’t have it in our budget to pay for three nights of a hotel,” they usually admit.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12And that’s when the “co-conspiratating” process begins. I explain that arriving so early guarantees that they’re going to receive the best I can deliver since they won’t be facing a bleary-eyed, half-coherent presenter-facilitator exhausted from spending the night in an airport because of a delayed flight. I tell them that I want to have a leisurely tech check of the onsite facilities so we can anticipate and trouble-shoot any unexpected problems we identify during that day-before-the-event meeting. I also want to have a final face-to-face fine-tuning session with them so I can personalize the slide deck and speaker notes I’ll be using with them and the co-conspirators who are the learners. I tell them, furthermore, that I want at least a few hours on my own to explore their community, overhear conversations about what is important and happening in that particular moment in that particular community so I can more effectively work with them to deliver what they have asked me to deliver during our formal time together. And, most importantly, I tell them that I don’t want to have to rush back to an airport and, by engaging in that anxiety-producing beat-the-clock exercise which currently is even worse because of extended lines to pass through airport TSA Security checkpoints, miss the opportunity for the level of post-event discussions onsite and online that produce some of the loveliest learning moments for all of us.

We always find a way to overcome budget constraints. After all, we’re trainer-teacher-learner-doers: we know how to seek and implement solutions in the moment.

And once we have passed that hurdle, magic happens—as was the case recently during Mount Prospect Public Library’s 2016 Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning,” the day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work (which is at the heart of this case study).

Mt_Prospect_LogoArriving in Chicago late Wednesday afternoon for the Friday event gave me time to literally become grounded and comfortable so I could be at my best for my co-conspirators. They had helped me make arrangements to stay at a place in Mount Prospect that was accessible via a free shuttle ride from O’Hare Airport, so I was completely coddled (relatively inexpensively, mind you; that’s part of the process for all of us); I arrived in their town completely relaxed and focused early Wednesday evening. (It was an added benefit to all of us that I had the opportunity to have dinner that evening with a lifelong friend who lives in the area, and we dined at a wonderful restaurant one block away from the library—which meant we had a relaxing conversation, I had an initial glimpse of the town shortly after arriving, and I was already feeling comfortable before a Library staff member picked me up Thursday morning to drive me back to the Library for our meetings and a leisurely lunch.)

The magic I have come to expect from this level of pre-session conversation and tour of the area where I will be working began almost immediately. As we returned to a theme we had been discussing from January to early May of this year, we once again talked about ways to easily take the onsite learners into online environments so they would viscerally understand the nature of our dynamic onsite-online e-learning/blended learning landscape.

Twitter“Does your staff use Twitter much?” I asked at one point, and that became a transformative moment for all of us (learners included) less than 24 hours before the highly interactive keynote address began.

Deciding upon a unique hashtag (major warning: always check those hashtags before you use them so you don’t have unexpected surprises on the day of the event), we added that information into the mix. The extended onsite-online conversations that resulted from that last-minute addition produced experiences and discussions that ended up taking the event to greater heights than any of us had been imagining, as a skim of the Storify compilation of those tweets suggests. And taking and using that “Discovery Zone” photograph (reproduced within this series of posts) onsite at Mount Prospect Public Library provided a familiar, iconic image that set a very sweet tone for our explorations during “From eLearning to Learning.”

Next: Facilitating a Transformative Onsite E-learning Experience

NB: This is the third of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.


From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 2 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 18, 2016

Setting the agenda (at multiple levels) is always part of a successful learning event/presentation. It’s no surprise, therefore, that my “co-conspirators” on the Mount Prospect Public Library 2016 Staff Inservice Day planning committee and I focused on this for “From eLearning to Learning,” a day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work, throughout the planning phase (from January through early May 2015).

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12There was the obvious, simple question we all face at the beginning of the planning process for successful learning: what will we actually do with our co-conspirators (i.e., our learners) on the day we meet as co-conspirators in learning? It didn’t take us long, during our initial telephone conference call, to settle on a structure that included a highly-interactive keynote presentation that would set the tone for the entire day of learning by trying to recreate the high levels of interactivity inherent in any great onsite or online learning experience; my own agenda here was to help staff at the Library quickly move past the idea that online learning has to be formulaic, lacking in engagement, and something done to them rather than with them. We also took little time in reaching the decision to set up a series of breakout sessions so staff members could have meaningful, productive discussions in small groups to explore a variety of interrelated themes and then, at the end of the day, come back together so we could share the wisdom of the crowd in deciding what they would do in the days, weeks, months, and years after participating in “From eLearning to Learning.”

A more subtle, nuanced approach to setting the agenda was at the level of deciding how we, as co-conspirators in the planning and facilitation process, would work together; that’s how we settled on the approach briefly described in the first of these five “case study” postings. We followed an informal “how to run a meeting” process I’ve been successfully using for years: I very much see meetings as theater, with strong elements of improvisation thrown in for good measure. Each item on a meeting agenda is meant to be part of a carefully-crafted script from which we can deviate as needed (hence, the improvisational element), and each item should produce something concrete that leads to the next item on the agenda.

Circle of learning: breakout session in a lovely setting

Circle of learning: breakout session in a lovely setting

When this approach to setting agendas and facilitating meetings works well, it produces results that are as engaging, entertaining, and transformational as a great piece of theater is. We walk away knowing we have been involved in something significant. Something that makes us see our world at least a bit differently than we saw it before we were together. And something that makes us want to transform a potentially ephemeral moment into a very long, extended moment of process that continues to grow as long as we take the time necessary to nurture it.

The Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” planning process became tremendously engaging for all of us when we started, during the initial planning conference call, to shine a bright spotlight on a few questions we had already been thinking about before we joined that call:

  • What could we do to be sure we provided the best possible learning environment for the co-conspirators who would be the participants in “From eLearning to Learning?”
  • What could we do to be sure that everything we offered created a visceral sense of understanding the power of eLearning as a component of our overall approach to learning?
  • What could we do to assure that everything that happened during “From eLearning to Learning” connected back to the Library’s strategic plan in terms of incorporating eLearning into its learning offerings?

Mt_Prospect_LogoMy own meeting notes—which I edited and shared with other members of the planning committee to create the same sense of blended synchronous/asynchronous conversation I often try to foster in online learning environments—show that our initial conversation produced numerous substantial elements, including a set of learning goals that helped shape the event. Participants would be told that, by actively participating in “From eLearning  to Learning “, they would be able to more effectively define e-learning; put e-learning in the larger context of learning overall; be able to explain why e-learning is positive and why they should take advantage of it; identify what e-learning provides for them; identify what e-learning provides for those they serve; and, most importantly, what they would decide to do within the next two weeks to foster more effective e-learning opportunities for themselves, their colleagues, and/or those they serve. We also threw in the additional perk of assuring them they would become aware of at least three resources they could use to improve their e-learning efforts. (These are, after all, members of library staff; we love our “see also” references.)

Keeping our focus on the learning experience, we also built plenty of reflection time and shared debriefing time so the learners would be able to absorb what they would be experiencing. We scheduled 15-minute breaks between each of our proposed chunks of learning (keynote, the three break-out sessions, lunch, and the final “bringing it all back together/next steps” session).

Subsequent meetings focused on content for the break-out sessions; discussion about developing a facilitator’s guide—the bones of that simple two-page guide came out of a 15-minute discussion during one of our telephone conference calls; a series of questions the facilitators would ask to foster lively and productive discussions during the break-out sessions; and a final structure that brought everyone back together briefly at the end of each break-out session for additional brief wisdom of the crowd moments. In this way, we made sure there were the small, very fruitful opportunities for each voice to be heard, and the larger opportunities for everyone to stay on track in terms of understanding how these small-picture sessions would contribute to a large-scale transformation of the entire staff’s approach to e-learning as part of the overall learning landscape in which we operate.

A critically-important moment occurred late in the planning process, when we decided that those who wanted to be able to step back a bit over lunch could do so, and those who wanted to engage in a mini unconference to more deeply explore topics that had come out of the morning sessions would have that opportunity in a way that put them at the center of the learning process. We’ll look more at what came out of the unconference in Part 4 of this case study; Part 3 will focus on how and why we had a pre-event onsite meeting the day before “From eLearning to Learning” was held—and the important modifications that came out of that final, lively discussion.

Next: Onsite Fine-tuning

NB: This is the second of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.


From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 1 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 17, 2016

“Co-conspirators” is a term I’ve loved ever since I first heard it used by colleagues in the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (#etmooc) in 2013. Within its training-teaching-learning-doing context, it implies a sense of richly nuanced and deeply rewarding collaboration between learning facilitators and learners unlike any other I’ve experienced in our onsite and online (blended) learning environments.

Mt_Prospect_LogoSo, when I was invited in essence to become a co-conspirator (we, as a group, weren’t yet using that term) with Staff Inservice Day committee members at Mount Prospect Public Library eight months ago, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. The result was that I became part of another magnificent community of learning that has just produced a stunningly beautiful and tremendously inspiring example of all that can go right in planning and facilitating an e-learning experience—even one very-much grounded within an onsite setting.

What all of us (Library Staff Inservice Day planning committee members, as planners-learners-participants; I, as the consultant-presenter helping them shape an event that supported learning goals contained in the Library strategic plan; the learners themselves; and a few people offsite who occasionally joined us on the day of the event through a very active Twitter feed) produced looks as if it will have exactly the long-term positive impact all of us were hoping to produce for and with the library, its staff, and the members of the community it serves.

Everything about “From eLearning to Learning,” a day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work, ultimately was drawn from and became an example of the extensive e-learning environment we currently inhabit—far more, as I reminded them, than the usual module-out-of-a-box and final multiple-choice exam to mark the conclusion of a learning experience.

In our setting, there is no beginning and there is no discernible end. “From eLearning to Learning” continues a process begun long before I became involved, and the day-long “event” simply prepares them to continue their learning/e-learning process well into the foreseeable future.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12

This Mount Prospect Public Library “Discovery Zone” sign became an iconic image for “From eLearning to Learning”

Even the initial steps for this onsite-online exploration were grounded in e-learning. I was, for example, initially contacted by a member of the Staff Inservice Day committee who had initially met me through her participation as a learner in a four-week online “Rethinking Social Media” course I have designed and that I continue to facilitate for the American Library Association. Without that shared experience in an innovative online learning environment, my Mount Prospect colleague and I might not have made this particular connection and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be part of one of the most innovative and rewarding learning experiences I have ever helped design and facilitate.

Because the obvious distance between San Francisco and Mount Prospect (which is approximately 20 miles northwest of Chicago) is so great, all of us quickly agreed that the planning process itself would take place within a blended environment comprised of conference calls by phone and asynchronous interactions that ultimately produced our planning document and a facilitator’s guide to be used by the staff members who would foster discussion during break-out sessions we arranged throughout the day.

In a significant way, we were, as trainer-teacher-learner-doers, adapting a Flipped Classroom model approach to our meetings: at almost every stage of the process, we completed initial work on our own, had information to review before meeting by phone, and productively used our “classroom” time (the conference calls) to produce something concrete, and then repeated the process up to the day of the actual event.

What was clear from the beginning of our “conspiratating” was that we were committed to producing something that was far more than a one-day diversion that would soon be forgotten. Drawing upon the principles from the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results and remaining committed to producing something that was in alignment with the Library’s current strategic plan, we worked together to shape something that would be as much a process as an event. The learners/co-conspirators within the library knew well in advance what we were planning; they even provided tremendously useful information via a SurveyMonkey survey to be sure that we would be providing them what they needed (and, in that part of the process, probably became aware of how SurveyMonkey itself could be part of their efforts to effectively shape their overall e-learning landscape).

Participants in the mini unconference, held during the lunch break

Participants in the mini unconference, held during the lunch break

Those of us on the planning committee initially created a broad subject-specific agenda. We fine-tuned it over the course of several months to be sure it would lead to fruitful discussions and positive transformation for everyone involved. We continually looked for ways to innovatively provide experiential learning opportunities the learners could immediately adapt and apply within their own workspaces. One idea, for example (a mini unconference during the lunch hour) came relatively late within the planning process; it ultimately produced ideas (including a proposal for a library-wide e-learning think tank) that participants seem eager to explore and create. And a final, unexpectedly rewarding idea—to incorporate Twitter into the event so our co-conspirators in the learning process would viscerally understand how Twitter has become an effective and dynamic part of our learning landscape—was added to the picture during the onsite meeting less than a day before “From eLearning to Learning” took place.

Next: Planning for Success

NB: This is the first of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.


When Words Fail Us (Revisited): T is for Training, Augmented Reality, and Mobile Learning

December 11, 2015

Hearing T is for Training host Maurice Coleman unexpectedly and creatively expand the definition of augmented reality during a discussion on the show earlier today made me realize, once again, how inadequately our language and nomenclature represents our quickly- and ever-evolving training-teaching-learning world.

T_is_for_Training_LogoAs Maurice, Jill Hurst-Wahl, and I were talking about the intersection of lifelong learning and individual learning events, I was describing the wonderful experiences I had as a trainer-teacher-learner attending the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco earlier this week. What I was describing to Maurice and Jill was how LearniT! Vice President of Professional Development Jennifer Albrecht had, in her sessions, very creatively used every inch of the learning space and had, in providing a steady stream of additional resources, inspired me to pull out my tablet a couple of times, log into our local library’s online catalog, and place reserves on those books so I could continue my learning after leaving the classroom. And that’s when Maurice made the connection: by expanding the classroom, in the moment, by connecting it virtually to the library, I was augmenting the experience in a significant way that further extended the learning as well as the learning space.

Augmented_Reality_at_NMC_2015_Conference[1]–2015-06-08

Most of us familiar and intrigued with current definitions of augmented reality would, up to that moment, have envisioned the term as referring to overlays on a computer, or mobile-device, or wearable technology screen that provide additional information about an environment we’re visiting or studying. But I think Maurice was spot on with his observation: using my tablet to augment Jennifer’s list of resources by accessing them through a library catalog is no less significant than what we have, up to this moment, pictured when discussing and exploring the concept. And I could just as easily have augmented that particular learning reality by using the same tablet to find ebook versions of those works and downloading them immediately.

Engaging in this augmentation of a definition of augmented reality made me realize how inadequately the term itself reflects the levels of augmentation we already are taking for granted. It also made me return to other situations where commonly-used terms no longer adequately suggest the nuances of what those terms suggest.

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

The term mobile learning, for example, suggests the (often-wretched) formal-learning modules that allow us to continue our learning asynchronously on mobile devices rather than having to be in a physical classroom or other learning space. But many of us have come to acknowledge that those formal-learning modules are only a small part of a much larger mobile-learning landscape that includes a wide range of possibilities. Mobile learning can include just-in-time learning that is no more challenging than using a mobile device to find an online article, video (e.g., a TED talk), or other resource that quickly fills the learning gap. It can include participation in a Google Hangout via mobile devices. It can include exchanges between onsite and online colleagues reacting to learning opportunities in conference settings. It can include an informal exchange of information between us as learners and a colleague, mentor, or other learning facilitator who teaches us something via a mobile phone or tablet at the moment when we need that level of “mobile learning”; and given that informal learning provides a huge part of workplace learning, we clearly are underestimating the reach and significance of mobile learning if all the term conjures up for us is the image of formal learning modules viewed on a mobile device.

In the same way, the words “libraries” and “classrooms” are beginning to overlap and expand in interesting ways as libraries feature stimulating state-of-the-art learning spaces that are at times indistinguishable from other state-of-the-art learning spaces. The words “librarian” and “teacher” and “learning facilitator” are also beginning to represent interesting and nuanced variations on professions with increasingly overlapping functions and goals.

This is not meant to suggest that our training-teaching-learning nomenclature is completely obsolete. Quite to the contrary, it connects us to very deep roots from which incredibly dynamic branches are developing. And one of our many challenges is to not only observe and acknowledge the growth of those branches, but to help shape them in small and large ways—just as Maurice did, in the moment, during our latest T is for Training conversation.

N.B.: An archived recording of today’s episode of T is for Training remains available online through the T is for Training site. 


LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit (Pt. 2 of 2): Writing on the Walls

December 10, 2015

Designing or redesigning learning spaces is an increasingly common endeavor; knowing how to use those spaces effectively is an entirely different challenge that often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

LearniT!_LogoSo when I had an opportunity (earlier this week at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco) to observe and learn from someone who clearly revels in using every inch of a learning space to the benefit of the learners she serves, I faced the wonderful challenge of trying to absorb the learning content she was offering while also trying to pay close attention to how she accomplished what she was so effectively accomplishing.

Walking into each of the four one-hour sessions led by LearniT! Vice President of Professional Development Jennifer Albrecht on the topic of exploring and developing an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning) was a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream. The sessions were highly interactive. Well organized. Learner-centric. And they were clearly designed to inspire participants to apply what was learned as quickly as possible after the sessions ended.

Obviously grounded in LearniT!’s “8 Step Model for Learning,” the sessions (without ever feeling forced or formulaic) encouraged self discovery (brief self-assessments were a deftly-handled element of the learning experiences); provided concise explanations of ideas—and the value of the ideas—to be explored; included brief breakout sessions to foster a social-learning approach; included class discussions; offered moments for us to consider how what we were learning could quickly be applied in our worksites; had moments for individual learners to complete exercises to foster greater use of what was being learned; encouraged participants to engage in small groups (two or three people per group) to further learn by sharing their thoughts on specific elements of the course content); and left us thinking about what would and could come out of the time we spent together.

The framework, as many of us recognize, is not particularly revolutionary; it actually provides the foundation for some of the best learning experiences we are encountering onsite, online, and in blended (onsite/online) learning environments. But what made Albrecht’s sessions dynamic from the moment we entered her/our learning spaces was the way she so effectively and with minimal effort transformed our perceptions of the space in subtle yet important ways.

Jennifer Albrecht

Jennifer Albrecht

One fairly straightforward example was the manner in which she rapidly went back and forth from having a formal front of the room to having a room full of interactive centers. Her standard approach, whenever she wanted learners to engage in an exercise in groups of two or three people, was to give us eight seconds to form those groups. It always worked: within an eight-second period, the learning focus had shifted from a teacher-to-learner model to a learner-to-learner model where the front of the room was wherever a group of learners were interacting. The transformation was so effective and so complete that most learners didn’t seem to notice that she occasionally, briefly stepped outside of the room while the learning continued because learners had taken control of their own learning process.

What was most striking to me, however, was a sudden, completely unexpected shift in my own perceptions of how the room-as-learning-space was functioning. It started with her use of the whiteboards that seem to cover entire left-to-right spaces in many of LearniT!’s classrooms. If Albrecht had simply done what so many of us do—used those spaces to write notes and draft simple illustrations of points she was making—we would have had good, productive learning sessions. If she had simply done what her other colleagues did—used the center part of that white board as a screen upon which she could project text-laden PowerPoint slides—we still would ultimately have had good, productive sessions. But by creating visually appealing slides with strong imagery projected onto and extending seamlessly across the central section of a wall-length white board (instead of onto a stand-alone screen), she subliminally created the same feeling of engagement and immersion we have when we’re watching a movie in a well-designed theater—a feeling also fostered through her use of the whiteboard as a screen for showing brief videos. Those videos and the high-quality, visually-appealing images from her slide deck made them feel as if they were part of the entire room; they were large enough to draw us into them completely as they flowed across a space with no visible boundaries differentiating it from other parts of that entire front wall.

It was only at the point when she began writing on that extended whiteboard, using a space unoccupied by one of the beautiful images she was projecting, that I realized how much my perceptions of the room had changed without my having noticed the change: “Oh my God, she’s using a marker to write on that expensive screen,” I thought in horror until I quickly refocused my attention to take in the fact that the screen was the whiteboard and the whiteboard was the screen. In the same very important way, I also realized that Albrecht had made the entire space an integral part of that learning opportunity, and the learning process was supported and augmented by her use of that space.

As is the case with many well-designed and well-facilitated learning experiences, hers were lively because there was never a moment when the learning started to feel forced or routine. She employed a variety of resources and techniques to convey information. Content within the superbly designed and graphically-stimulating PowerPoint slides, for example, were used in ways that connected them to the in-class use of simple workbooks: the content on the screen/whiteboard and the content within those workbooks seemed to melt into one cohesive resource. Her judicious use of the short videos to bring otherwise unavailable experts into the room to make key points provided a variety of viewpoints during what was essentially a one-facilitator session. Sprinkling citations to additional resources throughout her presentation and our discussions repeatedly and subliminally reminded us that our learning was a process as well as an event and that we could continue learning long after we left the room—something I took advantage of by using my tablet to place reserves on a few books through my local public library while I was still participating in the session.

None of this is difficult to replicate. All of it requires a commitment to learner-centric creative approaches to learning and to learners—probably one of the most rewarding lessons I could have once again encountered by attending the Technology Adoption Summit and learning from a master learning facilitator.

N.B.: This is the second of two sets of reflections inspired by the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit; the first set remains accessible elsewhere on this blog. 

 


Naming Opportunities: Reflections on Library and Non-library Learning Spaces

November 17, 2015

We used to have wonderful, clearly-defined words like “library,” “librarian,” “classroom,” and “teacher.” And some of you may still have crystal-clear visions of what those words mean. But reading two very thoughtful pieces today makes me wonder, once again, whether our nomenclature is failing to reflect the evolving world of educational technology and learning resources in which we work, play, and live—the world so well-explored and documented by New Media Consortium Horizon Project reports.

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

Reading—and equally importantly, looking at the great set of photographs included in—Buffy Hamilton’s “A Visit to Discovery High School: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Learner Experiences” on her “Unquiet Librarian” blog this evening initially made me think about many of the fabulously creative learning spaces I’ve been lucky enough to visit, photograph, and describe in presentations this year. I see them in libraries. I see them in academic settings. I see them in corporate buildings and “training centers” where management, staff, and learners are committed to (as the Association for Talent Development so aptly puts it) creating “a world that works better.” And seeing them so explicitly displayed in Buffy’s article makes me see how similar those spaces are becoming—and have become. Which raises a question I posted in response to Buffy’s thoughts:

When does a library become interchangeable with other learning spaces rather than being unique?

The knee-jerk reaction to that question, for many of us, is “when it no longer has books.” But that ignores the changing—and very-much changed—nature of libraries and, in particular, library collections, as Rick Anderson writes in “The Death of the Collection and the Necessity of Library-Publisher Collaboration: Young Librarians on the Future of Libraries,” which he posted earlier today on the “Scholarly Kitchen” blog. Among the many very thoughtful points he makes is that a review of a group of young librarians’ work strongly suggests that “…the library collection, as traditionally understood, is dead.

“It’s worth noting,” he continues, “that these writers weren’t saying the print collection is dead, but rather that the very concept of a librarian-built, prediction-based collection, in whatever format, is moribund. Furthermore, none of them seemed to be particularly upset about this; on the contrary, they generally mentioned it more or less in passing and as if it were a self-evident reality and nothing to get worked up about.”

Library Media Lab, University of Texas at Austin

Library Media Lab, University of Texas at Austin

Let’s be clear about one thing at this point: neither writer is suggesting that libraries are dead or in danger of extinction. Their writing is very much grounded in documenting the positive, exciting evolution of libraries, librarianship, and learning. Buffy implicitly sees what so many of us are seeing: physical changes within libraries that reflect the increasingly strong roles libraries are playing in lifelong learning (including providing onsite and online formal and informal learning opportunities for the increasingly extended communities they serve). Rick’s article focuses more on how the mindset of the young librarians he is discussing affects the organizations in which they work—a mindset that means the change has already occurred in some libraries and will continue to expand as these young librarians replace more and more of their predecessors who had different visions of what the words “library” and “librarianship” implied.

And to carry this more explicitly to my question about when a library becomes interchangeable with other learning spaces, let’s acknowledge something I’ve maintained for several years now: librarians increasingly are trainer-teacher-learners (or, to use more common terminology, “learning facilitators”). But not all trainer-teacher-learners are librarians—a distinction that, up to now, has provided us with a way to clearly differentiate between the two groups. But as more libraries evolve to include those wide-open spaces that Buffy so wonderfully documents through the photographs in her article, and as more libraries take an entirely different approach to what a collection is, and as more first-rate trainer-teacher-learners become better at information management and the sort of educational technology that is increasingly common to libraries and other learning spaces, will we see library spaces (onsite as well as online) remain easily differentiated from other learning spaces, or are we beginning to see a merging of learning and librarianship that will bring us all closer together and provide exciting new opportunities for everyone willing to collaborate in this potential endeavor?

Altas_New_Librarianship--CoverVery much an admirer of R. David Lankes’ work (including Expect More and The Atlas of New Librarianship), I have always been intrigued by his suggestion that “a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library” (Atlas, p. 16); he also has some wonderfully nuanced thoughts on the nature of collections within libraries. His ideas help us, at least in part, to define libraries by the presence of librarians; by extension, they also help us recognize how much we define classrooms by the presence of teachers/instructors/trainers. But the equation frays a little at the edges when we see increasing numbers of great librarians doing what other great trainer-teacher-learners do, in ways that don’t clearly differentiate them from those other trainer-teacher-learners. It frays much further when we see the library spaces in which they weave their magic becoming increasingly similar to non-library learning spaces (and vice versa) , as some of those spaces documented via Buffy’s photographs confirm.

These are learning spaces with lots of open space as opposed to spaces dominated by print collections. These are learning spaces that are learner-centric—spaces featuring moveable furniture and moveable (including bring-your-own-device) technology that can quickly be reset to meet varying learning needs that can come up even within a single learning session. These are spaces where short-term as well as lifelong learning is supported. And, increasingly, these are spaces that look the same in a variety of settings—Buffy includes photographs of a corporate learning center—something we clearly have not yet addressed with the language we use to describe our libraries and other learning spaces, and something that, as we address it, may lead us to even more exciting learning possibilities and collaborations than we’ve have ever seen or imagined.


NMC 2015 Summer Conference: Full Participation & Circling Back to Conversations

June 9, 2015

When a few hundred of your favorite educational-technology colleagues from all over the world gather to explore trends and developments in teaching-training-learning, you certainly don’t want to miss a single minute of it. So you arrive a day or two before formal activities start. Spend inordinate amounts of time engaged in face-to-face conversations in the various hotel lounges and lobbies. Skim the conference Twitter feed (#nmc15 for this one). Pore over the conference program book and website trying to decide how to be in five places at the same time. Reach out via social media to colleagues who couldn’t be onsite so they won’t be left out of the conversations. Grab every available opportunity to join colleagues for breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, dessert, coffee, dinner, coffee, dessert and coffee. And just when you believe you’ve covered all your physical and virtual bases, you unexpectedly find delightful additional ways to be so plugged into and help plug others into the overall conference conversation that it feels as if it will never end.

NMC_2015_Summer_Conference--LogoWhat we’re talking about here is a magnificent part of the connected learninglifelong learning process at conferences that becomes exponentially more rewarding with every new effort we make to be part of the conversations that contribute to the growth and innovation fueling first-rate teaching-training-learning efforts, as we’re seeing again this week during the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2015 Summer Conference here in the Washington, D.C. area. Formal conference keynote presentations, breakout sessions within a variety of pathways, and other activities start tomorrow; half-day preconference workshops took place today. Onsite conversations were already underway two days ago as a few of us arrived Sunday evening. And pre-preconference online conversations have been taking place for at least a few weeks. All of which raises an interesting question: given all the resources we have to interact face-to-face as well as virtually and synchronously as well as asynchronously, when can we actually say an intensive onsite-online learning experience begins and ends, and what (if any) geographic boundaries define a conference site?

TwitterTwitter has been an essential part of my conference experience for the past few years. By skimming the feed from a conference hashtag a few times a day (and understanding that it’s far from necessary to read every tweet if I want to gain a sense of what is occurring), I’m able to asynchronously join conversations and “attend” sessions I otherwise would not have time to sample. By live-tweeting sessions and monitoring the feed from those sessions, I’m able to share content with offsite colleagues, occasionally draw them into what is happening onsite, and interact with others in particularly large meeting rooms. And, by commenting on colleagues’ tweets during and after sessions, I’ve found Twitter serving as yet another portal to meeting colleagues I might otherwise not have met—even though we were (or are) in the same room during a conference session.

And that’s where conversations can both meander and circle back upon themselves in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. I’ve met colleagues face-to-face for the first time by responding to their tweets during a session, and then seeking them out before any of us have a chance to leave a room at the end of a session—which, of course, leads to extensions of the conversations fostered by those facilitating the conference sessions we were attending. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to serendipitously pick up the threads of a conversation hours later when small groups of colleagues gather in those aforementioned hotel lounges and lobbies. Conversations occasionally extend over Twitter for several days after a conference formally ends, and can also continue as those of us who blog read and comment upon each other’s posted reflections on those blogs.

Coffee in a local shop

Coffee in a local shop

But today brought a wonderfully new and unexpected variation on the theme. Needing some time away from all those preconference conversations and preconference workshops, I decided to go offsite for the first half of the day to have brunch and visit one of Washington’s magnificent museums. As I was finishing brunch, I couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in what was going to be first of three check-ins to the conference Twitter feed throughout the day. And there it was: a colleague’s wonderful summary of high points from a three-hour workshop—which I was able to skim in less than 10 minutes, with a few additional minutes set aside to retweet a few comments I thought off-site colleagues might appreciate reading. After a couple of hours in the museum and a little more reading time in a local coffee shop, I made the quick cross-town trip back toward the conference hotel via Washington’s subway system, and planned to catch the shuttle that completes a circle between the hotel, the closest subway station, and the airport (which is only a very short distance from the hotel where we are staying) every 30 minutes.

The shuttle arrived as expected. What I hadn’t in any way anticipated was the discovery that the presenter from that morning preconference workshop was sitting across the aisle from me on the shuttle. So as he was heading back to the airport and I was planning on staying on the shuttle to return to the hotel, we had a few minutes to ride that circular route together while discussing his presentation, laugh over the idea that we didn’t have to send follow-up tweets (at least for the moment) to continue our conversation, and that his part of the circle that was taking him to the airport so wonderfully overlapped with part of my own circle back to the onsite conference conversation.

It may be months before we see each other face-to-face again. But already, as I capture this set of reflections late at night, I see the conversation extending further—along with the reach of the “conference site” via a follow-up email message he sent. And if he and I (and others here at the NMC 2015 Summer Conference) carry these extended-learning lessons back to our own learners, who can say when the conference will really end?


NEKLS Innovation Day 2015: Training-Teaching-Learning While Hanging Out in Kansas

April 30, 2015

I’ve hung out before, and I’m sure I’ll hang out again, but I can’t imagine a more intensely innovative and emotionally-rewarding approach to incorporating Google Hangouts into training-teaching-learning than the one collaboratively created as part of the 2015 Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS) Innovation Day program yesterday.

nekls_logosm_400x400What we’re continuing to explore with Hangouts is highly-engaging, low-/no-cost web-conferencing, a rudimentary and surprisingly effective form of telepresence, and  notably strong levels of interaction in training-teaching-learning made possible through the use of an easy-to-learn social media tool—something that fell into place nicely in two consecutive sessions during Innovation Day.

It has taken a fair amount of experimentation and practice to reach the point we reached yesterday: an onsite event that seamlessly expanded to include two offsite presenters (Harford County Public Library Technical Trainer Maurice Coleman and me) so we not only could interact directly with onsite participates but with each other as if we were all in the same room—and the room expanded further via connections simultaneously made with Twitter.

My own experience in training-teaching-learning through web conferencing and rudimentary telepresence dates back to a successful experiment to bring an offsite presenter (from Ohio) into an onsite event attended by more than 200 people here in San Francisco in 2007 in a way that encouraged some limited, direct interactions between the online presenter and members of the onsite audience. I expanded the exercise a bit a few years later by incorporating Skype, Twitter, and onsite colleagues into one of these blended learning events at a Sacramento ASTD (American Society for Training & Development meeting, then carried it a bit further with my New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker when we switched over to Google Hangouts for onsite-online blended sessions with ASTD Mount Diablo and Golden Gate chapter colleagues.

What many of us were realizing at that point was that with proper preparation (which included abundant amounts of rehearsal time) and the right equipment (most of which was already available to us in each of the venues we used), we could erase geographic barriers in ways that caused onsite participants to forget that the online participants weren’t physically in the room.

An expansion of the experimentation included adding an onsite Twitter facilitator (colleague Larry Straining, who ad-libbed from a basic script to tweet out what Samantha and I were doing via Google Hangouts for ASTD—now ATD, the Association for Talent Development) at a conference in the Washington, D.C. area in late 2014. Adding Twitter to the mix in this focused, pre-planned way helped make the point that the “rooms” in which each of these events was physically taking place was actually expanding to include a global audience comprised of participants working synchronously and others who could participate later in an asynchronous fashion by seeing and responding to the tweets in an ongoing conversation. Carrying this another step further by drawing “left-behind” colleagues (including Maurice) into the 2015 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting (held in Chicago) provided yet another example of how Hangouts could produce live as well as archived learning opportunities —and further laid the groundwork for what we accomplished yesterday during the annual NEKLS Innovation Day conference: live interactions between the two of us who were offsite, interactions between the two of us and those who were physically present at the conference; and interactions with non-conference attendees who saw the tweets and shared content through retweeting. All that was missing yesterday was synchronous two-way interactions between those non-conference attendees and those of us who were participating onsite or via the Hangout)—but we had a hint of it as my own Innovation Day tweets were picked up and retweeted by several unfamiliar tweeters here in the United States and elsewhere.

NEKLS Continuing Education Consultant Patti Poe initiated the process as part of her overall Innovation Day planning by inviting me to use Google Hangouts as the vehicle for a presentation/discussion on using online collaboration tools. When she mentioned that Maurice would be doing a separate (closing keynote address) session via Hangouts, I asked if it would be possible to also include Maurice in the session I was facilitating and schedule that session in the time slot immediately preceding his keynote address. The experiences Maurice and I had with the ALA Midwinter Meeting experiment primed us to attempt something that was both structured—with specific learning goals and objectives—and improvisational so that onsite conference attendees would very much be involved in learning while also shaping the nature of the session.

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

As Patti noted shortly after the day ended, it exceeded everyone’s expectations and once again demonstrated that it’s possible to have this technology as the vehicle for—not the central feature of—learning opportunities and to have all of us interacting almost exactly as we would have if we hadn’t been spread over a 2,800-mile distance—in essence, creating a 2,800-mile-wide room. Maurice and I had a PowerPoint slide deck (with extensive speaker notes) and a supplemental resource sheet that I prepared and that served as our roadmap even though we actually didn’t display either during the live session (we wanted onsite attendees seeing us rather than slides as part of our effort to create the sense that we were  in the room in a very real sense); the slide deck and resource sheet were posted online later as additional learning objects and as a way to give the synchronous session an extended asynchronous life. We also allowed for plenty of interactions via question-and-answer periods throughout the entire hour-long “Using Online Collaboration Tools” session just as we do when we’re physically present in training-teaching-learning sessions. And when that initial hour came to an end, we took the same sort of between-session break we would have taken if we had physically been onsite, then returned with Maurice assuming the lead and with me maintaining an onsite-onscreen presence through a small window at the bottom of the screen as I watched his onsite-online presentation.

All of us had set out to create the sense of presence (i.e., close physical proximity) that we believe—and continually prove—is possible in well-planned, well-executed onsite-online learning environments capable of transforming learners. All of us confirmed with those onsite that we had achieved that goal. But several hours passed before I realized that in my playful role of the trickster who creates the illusion of physical proximity, I had unintentionally even tricked myself, for as I sat in the comfort of my own home here in San Francisco last night—never physically having left that home—I unexpectedly felt the same sense of melancholy I sometimes experience after intensively engaging in learning with colleagues at onsite conferences and then being physically separated from them as we return to our own homes and workplaces across the country. And I have the same sense of longing to be back with them again sooner than later to continue the connected-learning process that brings all of us such deeply rewarding experiences and relationships.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 6 of 6): Adaptive Learning Technologies, Internet of Things, & Engagement

February 26, 2015

We might mistakenly think we’re moving into a place where technology becomes more important than people and engagement in the training-teaching-learning process as we look at the farthest reaches of the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverThis, after all, is where we find concise descriptions of adaptive learning technologies (learning opportunities programmed to respond and adapt in an apparently personal way to an individual learner’s progress, performance, and unmet learning needs) and the Internet of Things (automated tracking and control of objects within our world) discussed within a four- to five-year time-to-adoption horizon.

We would even be well-justified in approaching these developments—particularly adaptive learning technology as part of a larger movement toward new levels of personalized learning—with a great deal of skepticism. We have, after all, seen well-intentioned colleagues in instructional design create asynchronous online learning modules that appear to offer learners different learning paths with personalized responses based on learners’ choices, only to discover in the worst of cases that the “different” paths all lead to one generic screen of feedback that is so broad as to be meaningless—particularly if a curious learner works his or her way back through a lesson and sees that the various allegedly personalized and divergent pathways all lead to the same meaningless one-screen-serves-all response.

nmc.logo.cmykBut this is not the world of adaptive learning technologies described within the Horizon Report. Here we really are seeing a well-documented “emergence of adaptive learning technologies” reflecting “a movement in academia [and in other learning environments] towards customizing learning experiences for each individual” in meaningful ways (p. 44): if a learner is clearly mastering a topic, the adaptive programming advances the learner to an appropriately more-challenging set of problems or to the next topic to be studied, while a struggling learner is moved to different content that offers additional supportive learning opportunities to plug that person’s learning gaps.

The winning element in the best of these examples is that learning facilitators are encouraged to remain integrally involved in the design and use of this technology to the benefit of the learners they serve; those trainer-teacher-learners understand that adaptive learning “is best suited to take place in hybrid and online learning environments” (p. 44), Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada note.

Following resources cited within the NMC Horizon Project 2015 Higher Education Edition, we find descriptions of a “flurry of activity and experimentation around adaptive learning,” “the relatively recent emergence of sophisticated adaptive learning software and platforms,” and plenty of collaboration and partnerships between key players in training-teaching-learning (John K. Waters, “The Great Adaptive Learning Experiment,” Campus Technologies). If we follow that article to first-rate adaptive-learning technology reports prepared and posted online by Tyton Partners (formerly Education Growth Advisors), we are rewarded with two additional reports well worth reading to quickly immerse ourselves in the state of adaptive learning: the overview “Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education” and “Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape,” a survey of several vendors engaged in producing and supporting adaptive learning technology.

The authors of the Tyton Partners “Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning” conclude their white paper with comments providing a fair assessment of where we remain for the moment: “…adaptive learning applications…still remain long on promise, and we must start where we are. But we are already somewhere quite interesting…fostering more personalized collaboration among students and with instructors by virtue of new tools and new data that promise to bring the power of learning to more learners more effectively and more efficiently than ever before” (p. 16). If trainer-teacher-learners collaborate to drive the process in ways that focus on learners rather than putting the tech tools at the center of the learning process, this remains a world well worth exploring, as we see in a brief video produced by Knewton, an accelerated-learning vendor.

When we turn our attention to the “no longer far-fetched” world of the Internet of Things/The Internet of Everything, we find ourselves in “a world where all people, objects, and devices are connected to act in concert, regardless of brand or vendor” (Horizon Report, p. 46). Our New Media Consortium guides, in this instance, write about how this technology provides the potential for learners to “carry connected devices with them” so they can “benefit from a host of interdisciplinary information that is pushed to them from their surroundings” and to “create an environment where learners are informed by crowdsourced contributions and observations from the community via networked objects” (p. 47). Examples of the Internet of Things in action within learning settings include those fostered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Internet of Things Lab, which features hands-on experimentation by learners, and efforts by University of Pennsylvania students to engage in product development.

If we engage in the spirit of the Horizon Project reports, we don’t stop here; we continue exploring the numerous resources available to us to learn more about the Internet of Everything and its potential to combine people, process, data, and things in ways that further support learning innovations, as described in Cisco’s brief “Education and The Internet of Everything” video. This ultimately reminds us that reading Horizon Project reports is the beginning, not the end, of an important process in our own lifelong-learning efforts; what matters most is what we do with the information and inspiration these reports consistently provide on educational technology, its key trends, and the challenges we face in the dynamic world of training-teaching-learning. 

NB: This is a final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 5 of 6): Makerspaces, Wearable Technology, & Skillsets

February 24, 2015

Helping trainer-teacher-learners place educational technology in a meaningful context remains one of the many strengths of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project—a strength fully and engagingly on display in the  Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition survey of how makerspaces and wearable technology are supporting positive learning opportunities in a variety of settings.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada go far beyond simply describing makerspaces (learning spaces where people, technology, and learning interact in creatively dynamic and innovative ways) and wearable technology (tech tools that can be worn to support learning and a variety of other endeavors). At the beginning of the makerspaces section of the 2015 Higher Education Edition, they remind us we are seeing a significant “shift in what types of skillsets have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational consideration…” (p. 40).

As we think through the need for and repercussions of developing new skillsets, we see that overtly working to develop the skills to effectively incorporate makerspaces and wearable technology into our training-teaching-learning endeavors is an often-overlooked part of our ever-evolving learning landscape. It’s not enough for us to simply enter a makerspace or put on the latest piece of wearable technology; we actually need and benefit from guidance in what these developments offer us and, more importantly, how we may have to rethink our approach to training-teaching-learning if we’re going to effectively incorporate them into our most stimulating and productive lifelong-learning efforts. Makerspaces and wearable technology, after all, have the potential to move us further away from a focus on lecture-based learning and closer to creatively-engaging experiential learning opportunities.

Touring the Autodesk makerspaces on Pier 9 in San Francisco

Touring the Autodesk makerspaces on Pier 9 in San Francisco (July 2014)

Walking into Autodesk’s high-tech makerspaces here in San Francisco several months ago with a colleague who had arranged for us to join a tour of the facilities, I was initially struck by the numerous unfamiliar tools on display and in use by those using the space. Although familiar with the expanding use of makerspaces in libraries, I had not yet had the opportunity to use a makerspace as a learning space. It didn’t take long for those of us on that Autodesk tour to move past the state-of-awe stage; through impromptu conversations with artist-learner-makers who were incorporating 3D printers, lasercutters, and other high-tech tools into their own learning and creative-production efforts, we began to understand what an engaging approach to learning and collaboration these spaces foster—something that would not have been so obvious and engaging without the guidance of Mark Gabriel, the Autodesk rep who was serving as an Autodesk intern when we were onsite. Our own learning-about-learning experience was, furthermore, tremendously supported by our onsite learning colleagues—the artists and others who contributed to our wonderful informal-learning experience by helping us take the first steps toward raising our own skill levels in ways that may eventually lead us to more active engagement in makerspaces wherever we encounter them.

The need for that same relearning-how-to-learn guidance is obvious as we monitor and dive into the rapidly-changing environment of wearable technology and how that is going to affect our training-teaching-learning efforts. Watching (with admittedly great enthusiasm) the apparently inevitable move toward mainstream adoption of Google Glass—the 800-pound gorilla of wearable ed-tech—over the past couple of years made many of us involved in the Horizon Report expert-panel explorations last fall firmly place wearable technology in a two-to-three-year time-to-adoption horizon for higher education; we were already seeing numerous examples of how Google Glass prototypes were being incorporated into learning, and some of us were taking steps to hone the skillsets necessary to effectively connect wearable technology to training-teaching-learning. It was, therefore, a real Black Swan moment—that moment when we come face-to-face with something that had previously appeared improbable—when we read (shortly before the 2015 Higher Education Edition was released but long after the text for that report had been written and submitted for publication) that Google Glass in its current iteration was being pulled back for further development.

There were the inevitable and completely predictable mainstream media stories and blog posts about how it had been clear that Google Glass was never going to work, and I was briefly among those who saw that two-to-three-year adoption-horizon rapidly slipping away (as horizons so often do in the extremely volatile world of ed-tech developments where today’s snapshot can unexpectedly fade, only to be restored later by additional Black Swan developments that make the improbably suddenly so obviously real). There were, however, new wearable-tech announcements within days of the announcement that Glass was being withdrawn, and a glance at the Tech Times website shows that wearable technology is not going to disappear in training-teaching-learning or other endeavors anytime soon.

 

Our eLearning Guild colleague David Kelly, in fact, was quick to point out intriguing ways in which Glass, even at this point, can be seen as a success because of the ways it “opened minds” and “explored important questions”—which brings to our attention the most important skillset we need to continue developing: the skillset which helps us to look beyond the momentary successes and setbacks, the changes in specific technologies’ placement within one-year, two-to-three-year, and four-to-five-year adoption horizons, so we’re not completely flummoxed when a black swan lands in our learning nests.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the Four- to Five-Year Horizon—Adaptive Learning Technologies and the Internet of Things.


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