Community, Collaboration, and Learning: Time for the Fourth Place

August 15, 2010

It appears to be time to further develop what Ray Oldenburg initiated with The Great Good Place. That wonderful and still-influential book, first written and published more than twenty years ago in a pre-World Wide Web era, suggests that our first place is our home, our second place is where we work, and our third place is the treasured community meeting place where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go. The idea of the third place has been embraced by many, and has a counterpart in “the Intersection,” which Frans Johansson describes in his own more recently published book, The Medici Effect, as a place where people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

What seems to be ripe for development now is a complementary fourth place: a community gathering place for social learning. The idea for this version of a fourth place (more about other versions in a moment) came out of a discussion two days ago with colleagues participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training podcast—which, in its own way, has become an online third/fourth place for an ever-expanding community of learners comprised of those involved and/or interested in workplace learning and performance in libraries.

The potential development of the fourth place as community gathering place for social learning is worth exploring in and of itself since it embraces all that the concept suggests and it serves as an online example of what both Oldenburg and Johansson describe in face-to-face settings. Coleman’s latest podcast began with a handful of us discussing what we would love to see discussed at the annual Computers in Libraries  conference, to be held in Washington DC in March 2011. Because T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, who serves as Assistant Professor of Practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and is involved in planning the conference, was participating in the discussion, we quickly started dreaming about topics that have been on our minds, including the idea that “Computers (and Humans) in Libraries,” with a strong emphasis on listening to what library users want from libraries, might open some doors and eyes. As if on cue, the remaining participants—Coleman, Library System of Lancaster County Training Coordinator Stephanie Zimmerman, Statewide MarylandAskUsNow! Coordinator Julie Strange, and I—were joined in our Intersection by a contributor who had not previously called in during one of the live online sessions: someone who identified himself as Rutgers University student Walter Salem.

Salem was exactly what we were seeking: a person who is not involved in training but who expressed a passion for what libraries are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. While he was commenting via the audio portion of the program, a few of us noted via the typed chat that he seemed to be describing Oldenburg’s third place, and we actually suggested that to him. At that point, he corrected us by emphasizing that what he really loved was the sense of a place where he was surrounded by learning and the potential for learning, and that’s where we started translating his thoughts into something concrete for libraries and any other onsite or online community willing to use all the tech and human tools available to us.

“Maybe we’re looking at a ‘fourth place’: the educational community meeting place where members of the community gather,” I suggested via the typed chat.

“The interesting thing is that this ‘fourth place’ can be anywhere,” Hurst-Wahl immediately typed back. “It needs to be a ‘place’ where there are resources (people, books, computers, etc.) to connect people to the knowledge that they want to acquire.”

It didn’t take long for all of us to agree that this is an idea well worth nurturing and promoting, and Coleman had, before the live discussion ended, provided the refined fourth place definition with which we are working: “a community gathering place for social learning.” And while all of us were specifically thinking of the roles libraries could play as this sort of fourth place, it’s obvious to me that there’s room for fourth places of this level in almost any onsite or online setting where learners come and go, where they seek a community of support and a chance for Intersection-level exchanges, and where the place itself serves as and inspires communities of learning.

Curiosity, of course, compels us to immediately ask whether others have already toyed with the idea of a fourth Oldenburgesque place. The answer is yes, and one of them appears to have made its online debut just a month before we had our own Intersection moment: Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other more recently published books, proposed his own version of a fourth place as a mixture of commerce and engagement. And writer-consultant Doug Fleener was actually five years ahead of us with a proposal of fourth place  as “a gathering place inside a store for customers who share a common interest in the products and services the retailer sells.”

So perhaps what we are working with are sub-sets of Oldenburg’s original third place—communities with specific interests. Or an entirely original version and description of the important places in our life. Or, perhaps with yet another nod to the brilliance of the entire Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 phenomena, we’re looking at Place 4.0, and an acknowledgment that there is room for all three proposals described here: a series which begins with Place 4.1, Place 4.2, and Place 4.3, then continues with the infinite possibilities of places that are different, yet intrinsically connected to, what Oldenburg has set in motion.

Let’s see how many interesting Places this might take us or produce.

Updates: Jill Hurst-Wahl, on August 17, 2010, has continued the conversation on her Digitization 101 blog (at http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2010/08/community-collaboration-and-learning.html).


E-Learning Innovations, Lori Reed, and Destination Learning

January 28, 2010

We seem, in many ways, to be in a training-teaching-learning renaissance. The stunning burst of creativity among workplace learning and performance practitioners—what we colloquially and inadequately call “trainers”—is virtually nonstop, exhilarating, and just plain fun to watch.

Experimentation with ways to deliver effective online learning is abundant, and Lori Reed, a close colleague and cherished co-writer who serves as Learning & Development Coordinator for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (among other things), has just provided another wonderful example of where we might and should be going.

Like Beth Harris and Steven Zucker at Smarthistory.org, Reed has started with a blog and innovatively manipulated it to create a visually attractive and dynamic website (“Destination Learning”) offering numerous learning opportunities which are available to us at the moment we need them and in a format which makes them incredibly easy to navigate.

If you’re looking for well reasoned and heartfelt writing—the centerpiece of any great blog–she consistently meets your expectations by delivering pieces like her introductory posting on the new site, where she considers her transition from thinking and working on training to “focusing more on the end result—performance and answering the question of how…we improve the services and quality of service we provide to our customers.”

Those in search of other training-teaching-learning resources will find plenty on her Curriculum Vitae page, where links to published articles, educational presentations, and webinars are included among the standard background information about her own skills and expertise.

But what is most innovative here is something rarely seen on blogs, which often become dumping grounds rather than useable repositories of retrievable resource because of inconsistent or non-existent tagging or other clues as to what resides within the site. Reed’s archives begin with the sort of admirably simple and user-centric set of explanations great trainers provide:

“Categories are sorted alphabetically.

“Hierarchical categories are grouped and indented under their parent category.

“Reports are listed once only, under the category they are first shown.

“A count (in brackets) is given of comments received against individual reports.

“The number of reports under each category is given (in brackets) after each category name. “Reports may be filed under more than one category and are included in the total for all categories under which they are filed, but are not included in a parent category’s total.”

We then find ourselves on familiar ground via an alphabetized index, by category, to every piece posted on the blog. If we are looking for articles about customer service, we easily find them grouped under that heading. The same is true for “instructional design,” “learning,” “learning 2.0,” “online learning,” and a variety of other topics. Simply clicking on any of those headings leads you to the titles of various articles she has written on those topics, and each title provides a direct link to the individual piece.

What we have here, therefore, is the same sort of creative hybrid available on the Smart History website: a living, constantly evolving, and free-ranging combination of a traditional printed work on a broad topic; a wiki (via readers’ comments); a blog; and a knowledge management system providing learning opportunities at the moment of need. In other words, a masterful lesson by a master trainer on how to master the organization of information in a compelling and assessable fashion for all trainer-teacher-learners.

Let’s see how long it takes the rest of us to catch up.


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