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

December 11, 2015

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

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

Augmented_Reality_at_NMC_2015_Conference[1]–2015-06-08

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

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

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

Augmented reality via Google Cardboard

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

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

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

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

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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.


Information Services Today: What We Call Ourselves

April 8, 2015

We don’t have to go very far into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction to reach the first of the challenges many of us face in the contemporary workplace, where job descriptions and workplace responsibilities evolve and increase at a dizzying, overwhelming pace : our language has not been keeping up with the changes taking place within our professions.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIt’s not as if the words “librarian” or “library” are in any danger of disappearing anytime soon; they do, at significant levels, remain evocative, familiar, and comforting even though they inadequately describe the people and the organizations under discussion. On the other hand, we see throughout Information Services Today the use of “information professionals” and “information organizations” (defined at the beginning of the book’s preface as “all places that manage, create, store, or provide information”) as terms more suggestive and reflective of what those organizations and those people who staff them offer to members of the onsite and extensive online communities they serve.

Proposing and supporting changes in our workplace nomenclature is far more than an intellectual exercise; it’s an essential element of the process of acknowledging change by seeking and adopting terminology that reflects what we do and—equally importantly—helps others understand what we offer in our continually-evolving workplaces. It’s the same issue described by Theodore Levitt in his widely-read Harvard Business Review essay about how railroads made a mistake by describing themselves as being in the railroad rather than transportation business. It’s visible in the discussion about using “information professional” and “information organization” as alternatives to “librarians” and “libraries”; it’s visible in the continuing discussion of using “library member” or “library user” in place of “library patron,” which I first documented in an article for Infoblog in 2008; and it’s visible in the field we most commonly refer to as “staff training” but more accurately could be described in numerous other ways, including “learning facilitation.”

signorelli200x300[1]This challenge of deciding what to call ourselves clearly isn’t new for any of us involved in training-teaching-learning—an endeavor that is a core part of what many library staff members/information professionals do every day. Four years ago, Lori Reed and I (in our book Workplace Learning & Leadership) were already documenting some of many terms being applied to those of us involved in training-teaching-learning just in libraries and nonprofit settings: “…director, volunteer services and staff training; training coordinator; training and development manager; training manager; training officer; chief learning officer; learning and development coordinator; staff development and training coordinator; staff development librarian; staff development manager; continuing education coordinator; learning manager; and organizational development manager.” The situation has only become more challenging as our ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) colleagues began the process (in 2014) of changing the organization’s name to ATD (the Association for Talent Development) and replacing “workplace learning and performance” with “talent development” to reflect the idea that “talent development” is the overall, far-more-nuanced description of what our efforts are designed to offer and foster.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandThe importance of what we are facing and attempting to address became even clearer to me during a dinner conversation with colleagues at the 2014 New Media Consortium Summer Conference (held in Portland, Oregon). My personal moment of revelation struck as I listened to a colleague describing how a “school library” had been replaced by an “innovation center” and how school administrators, teachers, and students were struggling to come to terms with what that change meant in terms of what was available to them within that redesigned and renamed space. As I noted at the time, “the challenges we all face as our learning environments quickly change to reflect the rapid rate of technological change…reflect the rapid rate of technological change that is all around us: we literally don’t have the words to describe what we are doing in a world where our old labels (e.g., teacher, trainer, learning facilitator) are simply not broad and rich enough to capture the nuances of all we are doing. It’s as if we’re facing a vocabulary deficiency…”

As we read through the 39 chapters provided written by a large group of information professionals for inclusion in Information Services Today, we gain an understanding of the magnificent range of services and resources information professionals provide through information organizations. And, in the process of absorbing that content, we gain a better understanding of why it’s worth looking for alternatives to “library,” “librarian,” “library patron,” and “trainer” within the dynamic and enticing worlds we are lucky enough to inhabit, foster, and support.

N.B.: This is the first 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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