NMC 2017: Expanding the Ever-growing Conversations in Our Global Learning Spaces

June 14, 2017

You certainly didn’t have to be here in Boston to have been an active participant in opening day at the NMC (New Media Consortium) 2017 Summer Conference yesterday. Because so many of us have become used to, adept at, and passionate about being part of  the blended (online-onsite) learning environments we help create and nurture, those of us onsite actively reached out to offsite colleagues to draw them into the presentations, conversations, explorations, and numerous moments of revelation in terms of trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology. And those to whom we reached out responded magnificently via synchronous and asynchronous contributions on Facebook, Twitter, Shindig, and other online collaborative tools. Sometimes with us, sometimes among themselves—a process that further emphasizes the diminishing assumption that onsite interactions are always central and online interactions are ancillary.

NMC17--LogoIt’s far from unusual at conferences serving trainer-teacher-learner-doers to find dynamic levels of discourse flowing seamlessly between onsite and online participants. When the reason we are gathering is to learn more about technology by using it, the discourse that is fostered by creative use of resources such as Shindig only speeds up the process of disseminating that innovation and its adoption among ever-increasing numbers of people globally.

You could literally see the process taking place during International Society for Technology in Training (ISTE) CEO Richard Culatta’s keynote address during the formal opening session. Colleagues onsite were visibly engaged, and their engagement expanded via Twitter and Facebook to draw our offsite colleagues into exchanges that sometimes included backchannel conversations between those offsite colleagues—as if Culatta were with them as well as with us and inspiring some major rethinking about the world we inhabit.

Also apparent to those of us attentive to this was the way what used to be seen as discrete, separated moments are becoming intriguingly expanded “moments” that that can continue for days, weeks, months, or event years through the use of the online tools that continue to evolve to our benefit.

nmc17--Richard_Culatta_and_Bryan_Alexander--2017-0614[1]

Richard Culatta(l) and Bryan Alexander at NMC17

The latest of those moments for me began earlier this week when Apple Distinguished Educator/Henderson Prize Winner/Future-U Founder/entrepreneur/innovator/NMC Ambassador/colleague/friend Jonathan Nalder and sat down to dinner here an hour after I arrived. Some of what we discussed during that dinner extended into another dinner two nights later with Shindig representatives, our colleague Bryan Alexander, and several others who, over the course of the evening, were sharing stories about the ed-tech developments we are exploring, fostering, and disseminating—including the use of Shindig to take advantage of collaborative learning opportunities. The moment again expanded unexpectedly yesterday morning when another colleague (Palm Beach State College Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology/NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli) and I decided to track Bryan down to see if we could watch him conduct a live Virtual Connecting session via Shindig with offsite colleagues right after Richard Culatta’s keynote address concluded.  He and our Shindig colleagues didn’t just invite us in to observe the session involving Culatta and others; they introduced us to Culatta a few minutes later when he arrived to discuss his keynote address a bit with our offsite colleagues; allowed us to photograph the process in action; and even interviewed us, at the end of the session, to extend our own conversations into the online part of our global learning space.

NMC staff, administrators, board members, general members, and supporters have done a great job, over the past few years, in creating and fostering a vision of a cutting-edge community of  learning centered on “lifelong learning with lifelong friends,” and I’ve never felt that vision in action more strongly than during this extended “moment” that is obviously far from finished as I write these words well after midnight between days one and two of the conference. We came. We interacted. We learned. And we will continue to do so as long as we remain committed to maintaining a strong sense of curiosity, a commitment to innovation, and a focus on serving those who rely on us to support them in their own lifelong learning efforts.

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NMC17: Joining the Edunauts

June 12, 2017

A well-run conference like the annual NMC (New Media Consortium) Summer Conference always sends me into the stratosphere. And the one that officially opens tomorrow in the Boston area with pre-conference workshops has already thrust me into the lovely lofty heights of the teaching-training-learning-doing endeavors I pursue as part of my own lifelong-learning efforts.

NMC17--LogoArriving a couple of days early and rooming with Apple Distinguished Educator/Henderson Prize Winner/Future-U Founder/entrepreneur/innovator/NMC Ambassador/colleague/friend (yes, I am a bit fond and in awe of him) guaranteed that I would be flying high very early this time around. As we sat down to dinner last night here in Cambridge an hour after I arrived, Jonathan began telling me about his latest creation, Future-U, and his efforts to “build a framework to scaffold the next phase of work and education into a thriving future.”

The three-hour workshop he will be facilitating here tomorrow afternoon (June 13, 2017) will more fully explore the themes he and I discussed last night, and his workshop description captured the essence of what we discussed:

“With up to 70% of future jobs under threat, education systems need to do more than provide digital skills. A new mindset is needed to help students bypass the ‘know-what game’ that is being mastered by artificial intelligence. Instead, the future belongs to those who can think, unthink, and rethink well enough to make their own jobs. This workshop will benefit anyone interested in unpacking this proposition by canvasing the ‘Agile Thinking’ approach, the Future-u.org framework, and NMC Horizon Reports to build out discussion of where education is heading and how it can get there.

One of the many elements that always intrigues me about the conversations I have with Jonathan and other NMC colleagues/co-conspirators as we are drawn together at NMC summer conferences is the way they zoom back and forth between views that seem to be at the 33,000-feet-above-ground level while never failing at some point to dive to ground zero with an eye toward responding in concrete ways to real challenges we face. The initial conversation in 2014 with Jonathan,  Palm Beach State College Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology/NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli, and others initiated a discussion that has literally extended with numerous training-teaching-learning-doing colleagues over a three-year period in a variety of onsite, online, and blended environments: trying to find a word or group of words that adequately describe what we all do.

Belshaw--8_DigLit_ElementsIt was an exploration that continued last night as Jonathan described the work he is doing through Future-U on “future literacies” (which to my eyes seems to share turf with what Doug Belshaw has described in terms of eight elements of digital literacy and other ideas I’ve encountered over the past few years) and Jonathan mentioned, almost in passing, the term “edunaut” that he has been using to describe “educators, experts, and [others] who are ahead of the curve and working to aid a transition to a successful tomorrow.”

Looking to see if others had stumbled on to the same term this afternoon as I was writing this piece, we struck gold in a Czech-language site that described edunauts as people “who are continuing to find new teaching methods, new skills and new learning objects, daringly venturing into places where no teacher has ever been…” and a Danish-language site that describes edunauts as ‘teachers, educators, and executives who will create strong visions, new knowledge and change of educational practice.”

future-u_logoSo, there we are: a word that for me captures so much of what I see in training-teaching-learning-doing environments that include onsite and online gatherings of colleagues in ATD (the Association for Talent Development). And similar gatherings of colleagues who are working in libraries—onsite and online environments that are an essential part of our lifelong learning landscape. And so many other gatherings of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who share a passion for helping create a world that works better.

Yes, the thoughts are flowing. The colleagues are arriving. And the best is yet to come here at the NMC 2017 Summer Conference at this latest convocation of the edunauts.

N.B.—Those interested in meeting other edunauts can request an invitation to the private community space at https://future-u.mn.co/


ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017: The Transformative, Action-Oriented Conversations Continue Here

January 19, 2017

“The conversation starts here…” is a long-standing tagline for American Library Association conferences such as the one beginning this week here in Atlanta. But I would suggest the reality is much deeper: The conversations continue playfully, creatively, thoughtfully, and productively from conference to conference and are valuable as much for their inspiration as for the positive transformations they produce.

alamw17_logoSome begin (or resume) when we unexpectedly meet up in shuttles on the way to airports across the country. Others happen as we run into cherished colleagues in check-in lines at our hotels. Many take place in the wonderful Networking Uncommons meeting area that ALA staff so diligently and generously maintains from conference to conference, while others seem to leap to life on their own from conference hallway to conference hallway, restaurant to restaurant, coffee shop to coffee shop, and online through a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—this really is a first-rate example of early 21st-century blended conference (seamless interactions between colleagues onsite and online) practices and explorations. (ALA staff members Mary Mackay and many others reach out consistently to all Association members to remind those who are “left behind” that they can participate through online platforms, and many of us onsite maintain an online presence to draw our offsite colleagues into the action. It’s just the way trainer-teacher-learner-doers are made—and library staff members are among the best learning facilitators I know.

My ALA 2017 Midwinter Meeting onsite conversations began less than an hour after I reached Atlanta—three hours later than expected because of a much-delayed cross-country flight—last night. Two cherished colleagues were kind enough to wait until nearly 10 pm so we could have dinner together, catch up a bit, and dive into a topic that I’m sure will be pursued assiduously over the next several days: what each of us individually and collectively can do over the next four years to be sure that libraries and library staff members across the country remain positive players in the communities we serve by facilitating conversations; providing safe meeting places for all members of our communities regardless of their political views, backgrounds, and myriad other elements that could potentially divide them/us rather than provide common ground to explore solutions to the challenges we face; and respond to anyone who needs what libraries and library staff members provide.

everylibrary_logoThe library directors, staff members, and consultants I know did not wait long after the 2016 presidential election concluded to initiate this very conversation; our colleagues in the EveryLibrary political action committee had, within 24 hours, created a private forum on Facebook that attracted over 200 library directors, staff members, and consultants to pursue the topic. One-on-one and group conversations developed face to face and online across the country to explore what the transfer of power would mean to those served by libraries across the United States.

Some of the initial rudimentary ideas explored in that forum (e.g., collecting and disseminating library-users’ stories about the emotionally rich and deeply moving ways in which libraries and library staff members positively impact their lives; promoting the availability of multi-faceted resources, from a variety of points of view, that are available to anyone who wants to draw upon them; promoting libraries onsite and online as relatively safe places for people willing to share ideas and listen to those that might be the most comfortable of ideas for them to explore; and providing adaptable examples for trainer-teacher-learner-doers in industries outside of our own) were literally on the table last night.

ATD_LogoThat deeply-rewarding and inspirational exchange of ideas continued for me throughout the day today as I met with colleagues I had planned to meet. They extended into chance encounters that I could not have possibly anticipated—but that are a staple of the meet-ups and explorations familiar to those of us who have been shaping ALA conferences (and so many others, including those organized by ATD and NMC) for many years simply through the combined actions of showing up, listening, and asking “so what are we gonna do about that?”

And they will, no doubt, gain momentum and produce positive results far beyond the physical and virtual walls of #alamw17. Because that’s the sort of life libraries, librarians, and others involved in lifelong learning foster. With your collaboration.

 


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.


Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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