ATD ICE 2016: Tapestries, Transformations, and Pedicabs

May 23, 2016

Memorable learning experiences (e.g., workshops, webinars, and well-designed conferences) often are tapestries of personal experiences and shared wisdom-of-the-crowd moments—and there is no doubt in my mind that the ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) 2016 International Conference and Exposition (ICE) that is currently unfolding in Denver can be described in those terms.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoThere are several thousand of us here. Each of us is having our own personal conference, with its own spectacularly transformative learning moments. And there is a communal (collaboratively shaped and shared) experience that, as I wrote in an earlier piece, transcends time and physical space. Each of us—whether we’re actually physically onsite, participating from an offsite location via the Twitter hashtag (#atd2016) and other social media resources, or, in the best of all worlds we can imagine and actually help construct, creating a completely blended experience—brings our own unique experiences and expectations to our world-sized conference “room.” Each of us also benefits from the shared moments ranging from hallway conversations and discussions over dinner to the we’re-all-in-this-together communal experience of inspiration that comes from being with thousands of others in a huge auditorium while enjoying a keynote speaker’s presentation. (This, in its own way, extends as well to our offsite co-conspirators, aka fellow learners, who are creating a conference-as-learning-experience by reading and responding to what we are also creating in the Twitter backchannel, on Facebook, on Periscope, and elsewhere. )

Each time I participate in a conference onsite, online, or both—the blended approach is one I increasingly pursue with increasingly-lovely pleasures and rewards—I end up walking away transformed. I consciously attempt, through my writing and the use of tech tools including Storify, to capture and extend those moments of transformation so they won’t be lost to me or to colleagues interested in pursuing their own equally delightful individually and communally-constructed pleasures and rewards. And just when I mistakenly believe I have explored and shared all there is to explore and share in this admittedly odd approach to blended-learning, I find myself experiencing another five-year-old-child’s moment of wonder.


(almost) no one left outside the conversations at #atd2016

The almost naïve sense of wonder this week has come from further incorporating simple (low-tech) phone calls into the more high-tech, innovative blended-learning mix that is becoming increasingly familiar to many of us. It started a couple of days ago when, even before getting out of bed here in the hotel where I am staying, I saw that one of my cherished training-teaching-learning-doing friend-colleague-mentors (Maurice Coleman) was already up on the other side of the country and posting items on Facebook (for shame, Maurice: posting on Facebook before noon on a Saturday!). Missing the sound of his voice and the unique insights he would bring to the table if he were physically here, I called with the intention of talking with him for no more than a few minutes; more than half an hour later, we had completed an exploration by phone that helped me connect what I had experienced in an entirely different blended environment a week earlier with what was unfolding here—part of the process of constructing my personal conference-as-learning-moment here at ATD ICE 2016.

Because it was such an unexpectedly stimulating and rewarding moment and because it was becoming an important thread in the tapestry-in-progress I am creating, I repeated the call to him yesterday morning after seeing him, once again, posting before noon on a weekend. And that’s when the ATD ICE 2016 magic leapt to a higher level: the result of our conversation was that Maurice—who is not (yet) an ATD member—actively joined the #atd2016 conversation. And colleagues here onsite started interacting with him via #atd2016. And then another of my non-ATD training-teaching-learning-doing colleagues jumped in by retweeting one of Maurice’s conference tweets. And I started interacting with that colleague via the conference Twitter backchannel, too.


a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and “Fellini’s Roma”

As Maurice and I were finishing our second ATD-ICE-2016-by-smartphone conversation, he asked me to give him a blow-by-blow description of a walk I had taken with friends here the previous evening because he was intrigued by how that walk had begun at the end of a three-hour-long conversation with one group of colleagues in a local tavern and somehow extended for the duration of a combined walk/pedicab ride to a restaurant where we continued that conversation with a slightly reformed group we acquired on our way to dinner. He grew more and more incredulous as I told him how we would unexpectedly meet someone who then joined the group while others peeled off as needed to participate in other conversations/learning moments. And I suspect his jaw dropped a bit when I told him about the brief stopover in a hotel lobby where, while I was attempting to send a direct message to a colleague via Twitter, I turned around to discover that the intended recipient of the tweet was walking across the lobby to say hello to what then constituted the core of that particular iteration of the group. She eagerly accepted our invitation to join us as we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to take pedicabs the rest of the way to the restaurant. (You probably already know that breaking a group of six trainer-teacher-learner-doers into groups of two and creating a mini-caravan of pedicabs up a major thoroughfare in a city like Denver is going to result in a wonderfully bizarre scenario that looks like a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Fellini’s Roma. We were happy. The fabulous pedicab drivers were happy. And no residents of Denver appear to have been injured in the course of our move from hotel lobby to restaurant dining room.)

There’s so much to unpack in all that I’ve attempted to describe here. And there’s so much more ahead of us as our conference-as-personal-and-communal learning moment continues to unfold. But what is clear to me at this stage in the game is what I said to a close friend over dinner the night I arrived here: what I most look forward to at these conference-as-learning-moments is the experience I don’t yet know I am going to have.

That’s the magic of learning.


N.B.: Paul’s onsite participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.


ATD ICE 2016: The Size of the Room, Revisited

May 22, 2016

As several thousand members of ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) from all over the world gather in Denver for our annual International Conference and Exposition (ICE), it would be easy, at times, to forget how large the rooms in which we are meeting are.  The myriad ways in which countless members of this spectacular community of learning are helping to expand our concepts of what it means to “attend” a conference or participate in other learning opportunities. And how inclusive we can be with just the slightest bit of creativity, innovation, and effort.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoOur ability to draw people in, as I frequently note in conversations with colleagues and in learning opportunities I design and facilitate, has increased exponentially through increasingly far-reaching and widely available tech tools. There is the obvious use of a Twitter backchannel to somewhat blur the lines between onsite and offsite participation in conferences and other learning opportunities like ICE. There are the moments shared on Facebook in ways that strengthen our already strong sense of community. There are Google Hangouts and numerous other tools to turn huge geographical distances into virtual spaces that make us feel, at a visceral level, as if we are all in the same room even if that room extends over hundreds or thousands of miles. And there are even the much older, more familiar, and often overlooked vehicles (including telephones) that we can turn to when we don’t want to be left behind or don’t want to leave cherished colleagues behind. The result, of course, is a richer, deeper, more nuanced level of participation in our associations and with our colleagues than has ever before been possible.

I think about how much reaching out occurred today (Saturday)—the day before ICE formally opens—and I marvel at what all of us have accomplished together and how many people we’ve already drawn into our global conference room. Seeing that Maurice Coleman (a colleague in Maryland) was already active on Facebook early this morning, I called him from Denver for a brief conversation, mentioned that we will have a very active Twitter backchannel (#atd2016) here, and invited him to expand the room by skimming the feed over the next several days, retweeting what appealed to him, and, most importantly, reacting to the tweets he saw so he would, as I have already done numerous times, become part of the conversation and the overall conference experience in which so many transformative conversations take place in our blended onsite-online environment.

...using every possible means to draw others into the conversations...

…using every possible means to draw others into the conversations…

Lucky enough to be part of inspiring, thought- and action-provoking conversations throughout the day with some of the most creative, innovative, and passionate trainer-teacher-learner-doers I know (including a couple who live in Denver but are not affiliated with ATD), I looked for every possible opportunity I could pursue to draw others into those increasingly dynamic and inspiring conversations while also sharing thoughts from those non-ATD members with my fellow conference attendees.

It was obvious that everyone physically present at every table I joined was doing the same thing. At times it involved little more than calling out to someone who happened to be passing by a coffee shop, tavern, or restaurant where we were sitting. At other times, we would reach out or respond by Twitter to invite others to join us where we were or simply include them in on the conversations by tweeting out what seemed worth sharing. And at one point, when we were thinking about a colleague who had recently experienced a personal tragedy that left kept him from traveling to Denver to be with us, we simply called him from the place where we were all sitting and passed the phone around to be sure he knew the physical distance did not at all represent a separation from his ATD family at a time when contact with other members of that family would be particularly meaningful to him.

I heard people colleagues excited about—and getting the rest of us excited about the ways in which they are working to produce results-driven learning in their workplaces. I heard colleagues talking about the innovative approaches they are taking to leadership training. I sat with Sardek Love, a cherished colleague who has done more than anyone else I know personally to mentor colleagues younger and older than he is so he strengthens us and our profession (and helps all of us better serve those who look to us for assistance) rather than giving even the slightest thought to the possibility that he might be creating completion for himself. We just don’t think that way; we revel in our own growth and in the growth of those around us, knowing that every step forward makes all of us better, builds a stronger community of training-teaching-learning-doing for all of us, and, as ATD so wonderfully suggests, creates “a world that works better.”

And as my day draws to an end and I already look forward to even more stimulatingly transformative moments over the next several days, I think back to that initial conversation with Maurice this morning. Savor the pleasure of being part of an amazingly dedicated group of learning facilitators who make a difference every day—every day—by doing all they can to be sure the doors through which we pass remain as open as they possibly can be. And hope that everyone reading this finds way to place a hand on the doorknob that just needs to be turned the slightest bit to make the door open to him or her, also.


N.B.: Paul’s participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.

ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.

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.


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. 

ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Digital Literacy, Onsite-Online Learning, & No Colleague Left Behind

August 6, 2015

Helping colleagues learn how to create blended onsite-online learning spaces by actually creating blended onsite-online learning spaces is an exercise we are far from exhausting, as I saw once again while facilitating a session at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco a month ago.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicBeing able to foster this sort of blended interaction seems to me to be another critically-important digital-literacy skill along the lines of what colleagues are exploring in our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course; is not at all difficult or costly to do if we creatively use tech tools readily available to many of us; and actually becomes a fun and engaging way for many of us to extend the size of the learning spaces we typically inhabit, we again saw during that “Blend It” session sponsored by ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA).

The concept, which I’ve explored with colleagues in a variety of settings, is straightforward: using little more than a laptop with a webcam, a projector and screen, and some form of audio system (either a small, portable set of speakers or a connection to an existing sound system within the onsite space that serves as the anchor for our efforts), we create real-time multiple levels of communication between learners/colleagues in a physical setting and colleagues who join us via their own online access points anywhere in the world. This quickly transforms those offsite learners/colleagues from being part of a “left behind” group to being active participants in a learning space that can be thousands of miles wide if those colleagues come from a variety of countries.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoWhat makes this personally rewarding for all involved is that we continue to learn through experimentation. The earliest effort I was lucky enough to help design and facilitate used Skype as the tool uniting an offsite presenter with approximately 200 colleagues here in San Francisco for a dynamic and tremendously rewarding exchange. The experiments continued a few years later when two colleagues and I used Skype and Twitter to connect onsite and online participants in a wide-ranging conversation about how we could incorporate these tools and these blended spaces into effective learning spaces. New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and I continue to push this particular learning envelop via Google Hangouts in a variety of settings, so I was ready, at the ALA Annual Conference this year, to carry it a step further by adding a “bring your own device” element to the conversation.

After introducing onsite participants to the concepts we were exploring, Harford County Public Library tech trainer Maurice Coleman and I demonstrated the concept by having Maurice step outside the room, use his own smartphone to join a Google Hangout I had started with my own laptop and was projecting onto a large screen that everyone in the room could see, and carry on a brief conversation that those in the room could join by addressing questions to him via the microphone that was embedded in the laptop.

LITA_LogoThe magic moment came when he physically returned to the room—it’s worth noting that by remaining visible and audible via that smartphone, he had never really left the room or the conversation—and we offered onsite participants a challenge: quickly identify someone you know could not be here at the conference, try to reach them using your own mobile device, and bring them into the room now via a Google Hangout. It was learning at its best: those unfamiliar with Hangouts helped others try to set up individual sessions; those familiar with Hangouts tried to initiate their own. And those who were successful let the rest of us know that had eliminated another member of the “left behind” corps through that virtual contact.

ala_leftbehindAt its peak, we had nearly a dozen individual hangouts happening simultaneously, and those in the room completely made the learning space their own: some explained to their friends what they were doing and what others were accomplishing; a few kept those sessions live for the remainder of the time we had together. And one particularly creative learner left her seat and gave her offsite colleague a virtual tour of the room by walking around and introducing our offsite colleague to others who were onsite.

It may have been gimmicky. It may have been far from pretty. But it was an exploration of digital literacy and educational technology at work in a way that provided a visceral example of how far we literally have come together. How easy it is for us to foster those levels of training, teaching, learning, and collaboration when we’re not afraid to risk failure in seeking small and large successes. And how easy it is to have fun while creating memorable, meaningful learning experiences that will continue spreading long after that formal session ended.

N.B. – This is the fourth (and final) in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.

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

July 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning With Heather Plett, Holding Space, T is for Training, and Extended Conversations  

May 29, 2015

Conversations aren’t what they used to be. They are so much more—at least among the members of the various extended and extensive communities of learning to which I belong.

T_is_for_Training_LogoHaving documented a conversation-by-blog that started earlier this afternoon, I find myself continuing to reflect on a second, entirely different, but no less dynamic conversation that began unfolding at roughly the same time within the T is for Training community that Harford County (MD) Public Library Technical Trainer Maurice Coleman so lovingly and effectively nurtures through his biweekly podcasts.

The platform for T is for Training conversations is, a free service that allows talented facilitators to recreate the feel of a dynamic radio talk show via the Internet. A host such as Maurice creates a community of interest—in this case, colleagues connected by their interest and involvement in library training-teaching-learning opportunities; facilitates the conversations; and, most importantly, creates the sense of an open community that draws in new members and temporary participants in a variety of creative ways. There are sessions where only one or two people are involved; the session today, at one point, had nine obvious on-the-call participants. But what strikes me in retrospect is that there was a tenth person—Heather Plett—who actively contributed to the conversation without even knowing it was underway. Because her recently-published blog article “What It Means to ‘Hold Space’ for People, Plus Eight Tips on How to Do It Well” and its companion piece “How to Hold Space for Yourself First” inspired our conversation, there really never was a moment when Heather’s presence in the conversation wasn’t palpable.

Holding_Space--PlettThe first article begins with her recollections of how a “gifted palliative care nurse” helped Plett and other members of Plett’s family cope with her mother’s impending death by “holding space” for them. Holding space, she explains, “means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.” As a teacher, facilitator, and coach, Plett saw and documented the parallels between holding space in the situation she was facing and holding space in learning situations.

Her lessons learned are worth repeating:

  • “Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.”
  • “Give people only as much information as they can handle.”
  • “Don’t take their power away.”
  • “Keep your own ego out of it.”
  • “Make them feel safe enough to fail.”
  • “Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.”
  • “Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.”
  • “Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.”

And because Plett shared those lessons learned with all of us who read that piece, we were drawn into a conversation that started with her voice (as captured in the article), extended into our own hour-long extension, continues with further asynchronous but clearly interconnected interactions including the writing and posting of the article you are reading now, and will continue at least for a while in a rhizomatically-expanding way through any comments posted in response to this posting, any blog posts colleagues write and link back to this one, any tweets or Facebook comments we create to share and further extend the conversation, and other face-to-face or online interactions that build upon and circle back to what Plett started and the T is for Training discussion continued.

What is most fascinating about all of this is the way in which Plett’s initial conversation-inspiring offering has spread so quickly and uncontrollably. In “How to Hold Space for Yourself First,” she tells us that the initial article “has been spreading like wildfire. Suddenly, tens of thousands of people were visiting my website, thousands were signing on to my newsletter and sharing it on social media, and hundreds were commenting and sending emails. In the end, the post received so much attention that my website was taken down by the hosting company and wasn’t revived for 24 hours (when I finally switched to another host).”

The fact that, as I write this, there are already 252 responses posted on the page that holds her original article demonstrates the nature of this conversation: it’s on her blog; it spread today to the T is for Training community; it clearly is inspiring contributions via other bloggers’ postings; and is, no doubt, inspiring plenty of other face-to-face and online extensions—thereby creating a conversation so large and expansive that no single contributor can possibly be aware of every other contributor’s additions. It’s as if Plett lured several thousand people into a huge room, gave all of us enough to get us started, and then stepped back to watch and let her baby grow.

It is clear that many of us, through those responses posted on her blog, are directly engaged in the conversation with her. It’s also obvious that some of us are engaged even though she isn’t yet aware that we are diving into this deeply rich and rewarding learning pool with her. Most importantly, it’s obvious that our approach to “conversations”—regardless of geographic barriers and because of our willingness to engage in conversational “moments” that will extend over a very long period of time—is changing the nature of those conversations in wonderfully dynamic ways—a lesson well worth sharing with those whose learning efforts we facilitate in our roles  as trainer-teacher-learners willing to engage in holding space.

N.B.: Join the T is for Training community every other Friday at 2 pm ET/11 am PT via Talkshoe at


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