Viral Learning (Just in Time)

January 15, 2010

Forget about viral marketing, the contemporary version of word-of-mouth promotion combined with Web 2.0 social networking tools.

Let’s popularize a relatively new, rarely encountered phrase—“viral learning”—and acknowledge San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard for unintentionally providing an example of how easily we can use this to the benefit of those working in libraries.

The story begins with a lunch Marti and I had. We were talking about articles on the topic of “Training, Story, and PowerPoint”; Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points; and how to make training and learning sticky. I had read both editions of Atkinson’s book, was using the ideas with Infopeople webcast and webinar presenters, and was about to do my first bullet-less PowerPoint presentation. Marti had not read a word of Atkinson’s book, but was intrigued by what she was hearing.

When we met again a week later for lunch, she proudly told me she had tried a bullet-less PowerPoint presentation and was delighted to receive enthusiastic, unsolicited comments about her slides from those who were present—which leads us to the idea of viral learning and how easy it is for anyone working in a library to put it to use. As Marti demonstrated, it is not difficult to informally exchange word-of-mouth descriptions of lessons we have learned so that they are immediately adapted, applied, and shared at the moment of need with others who might repeat the process in a quickly expanding group of learner-trainer-teachers.

This really is no different than the experience I had as a result of taking Michele Mizejewski’s “Web 2.0: A Hands-On Introduction for Library Staff” Infopeople workshop. I knew very little, at that point, about wikis, blogs, or RSS feeds. It wasn’t long before I was using Netvibes and iGoogle to read RSS feeds; writing articles on training and Web. 2.0 for two different blogs; experimenting with a rudimentary form of wikis with colleagues in Canada by using Google Docs; and, most importantly, engaging in viral learning by describing my successes (and failures) to others who might pass this learning-training on to others in our libraries and beyond.

Let the viral learning spread!

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Training, Learning, and Context

January 7, 2010

Sometimes we need to go to London to be reminded of what is here at home.

A virtual trip to the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) via the organization’s website reveals that a first-rate online report remains available to offer more support to trainer-teacher-learners who believe that effective learning must be integrated into a learner’s workplace.

There’s nothing revolutionary here, but the report does offer a useful summary of what an effective learning program should include. At the heart of “How People Learn Systems,”  written for CIPD by Stephen Gourlay and Carol Baily from Kingston University, is the idea that learning includes a social component and is more effective if it involves colleague-to-colleague assistance in the workplace rather than being treated “primarily as something that happened away from where the learning was to be applied.”

It’s all about context, which “(a)dult learning theory typically overlooks,” Gourlay and Baily contend. Since “professionals…are more likely to learn from their peers (as co-workers or as mentors), effective training programs include workshops away from the worksite, but must also include connections to onsite co-workers/mentors who are trained and formally designated to provide learning assistance when and where the learners need it.

This is not a ground-breaking concept in libraries, but it is not extremely common, either.  The Newport Beach Public Library in Southern California, for example, has a “Geek Squad” of employees who are well versed in the Library’s technological tools; staff is encouraged to seek help with tech questions by calling Geek Squad members whenever the need arises. The Contra Costa County Library system in the San Francisco Bay Area also provides a great example of how training continues beyond a one-time workshop: after Infopeople trainer Cheryl Gould reached every member of the Library’s staff with a basic one-day computer-proficiency workshop, she also worked with Contra Costa County Library staff to train a group of Library employees who would serve the Geek Squad function long after Cheryl’s initial workshops ended.

Infopeople itself is continuing to experiment with ways of assuring that lessons learned will carry over into libraries after workshop participants complete their coursework. Recent online courses have included opportunities for students to have telephone conferences with instructors—which helps to build a lasting relationship between instructors and students, and perhaps even among the students themselves. Infopeople Director Holly Hinman takes this a step further: before her online grant-writing workshops begin, she conducts a brief survey to better understand the needs of each student. She uses that information to guide participants through the lessons and sometimes works with them on grants which they are preparing for their own library systems. The fact that some students remain in contact with Holly for a year or two after a workshop ends provides a here-at-home example of what Gourlay and Baily propose, and reminds us that it sometimes is not all that hard to give our trainings life.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

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