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,, 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.”

NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 3 of 6): Personalized Learning, Digital Literacy, & Other Key Challenges

February 19, 2015

Intriguing educational-technology challenges ranging from “solvable” to “wicked” remain on the horizon for trainer-teacher-learners, the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition reminds us.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverAlthough focusing on learning in formal higher education settings, the report’s summary of six “significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education” covers a set of challenges trainer-teacher-learners in a variety of learning environments would do well to consider—and attempt to address. In the short term (a one- to –two-year horizon featuring challenges “that we understand and know how to solve”), there are the challenges of blending formal and informal learning and improving digital literacy. In the category of “difficult” challenges—those “that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”—we find personalized learning and teaching complex thinking. And in that wonderfully knotty area of “wicked” challenges—those which become more difficult the more we attempt to resolve them—are the efforts to address competing models of education (massive open online courses—MOOCs; competency-based degree programs; and other alternative models of learning) as well as the need to find effective ways to reward teaching.

Cork_Lifelong_Learning_FestivalReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada begin with the solvable challenges by noting that “there is an increasing interest in the kinds of self-directed, curiosity-based learning that has long been common in museums, science centers, and personal learning networks.…Many workplaces already encourage informal learning methods for professional development…” (p. 22).  They help us better appreciate the roles social media and other resources are playing in helping us blend formal and informal learning, expose us to innovations including the Cork City Lifelong Learning Festival that “promotes and celebrates learning of all kinds, across all ages, interests and abilities, from pre-school to post-retirement” on an annual basis, and discuss numerous “informal professional development opportunities,” including NMC’s Academy; among the resources explored are the European Union’s Lisbon Recognition Convention—in essence promoting recognition of learning achievements across learning organizations—and the “Formalising Informal Learning” article written by Rory McGreal, Dianne Conrad, Angela Murphy, Gabi Witthouse, and Wayne Mackintosh and published in the Open Praxis distance- and e-learning journal in 2014.

NMC_Horizon_Project_WikithonIf we care to go beyond what is already copiously documented in the report, we might further explore efforts to support the blending of formal and informal learning by looking at proposals for a lifelong-learning database (item #6 in NMC’s 2014 Wikithon list of new topics in educational technology) and Stephen Downes’ efforts through the National Research Council of Canada to create and promote learning and performance support systems.

Remaining in the realm of solvable challenges, we join the report co-authors in a brief survey of efforts to improve digital literacy. They begin by noting that “[l]ack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address these challenges”—a failing that is equally prevalent in many other learning environments, including workplace learning and performance (staff training)—and point out that “[c]urrent definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity” (p. 24). But they don’t just leave us at that juncture where need and confusion intersect; they take us to “20 Things Educators Need to Know About Digital Literacy Skills” (from Innovation Excellence) and the “Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Infokit” as points for departure for addressing the challenge. The Public Library Association division of the American Library Association offers links to additional digital literacy resources for those interested in going beyond what the 2015 Higher Education Edition offers.

When we follow the report into the area of personalized learning, we find ourselves immersed in the intriguing world of learning designed to “enable students to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn”—learning opportunities that support the learning process at an individual learner’s own pace: “The goal is to give the student the flexibility to make…learning as effective and efficient as possible” (p. 27). Those already familiar with self-paced learning in settings ranging from the online staff training efforts to the flexible learning environments provided by connectivist MOOCs will find themselves on familiar ground here, and those wanting to become more familiar with the challenge and possible solutions can follow the report links to “Personalized Learning Changes Everything,” from the University of Maine at Presque Island, and Mike Keppell’s engaging “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education” article that explores interrelated topics ranging from “learning in ubiquitous spaces” to “personalized learning strategies.”

Moving through the final three challenges (teaching complex thinking, working with competing models of education, and finding ways to effectively reward teaching), we find ourselves in areas interwoven with other topics covered in the report. We can’t, for example, explore competing models of education/learning without thinking about how we try to transform the formal-and-informal conversation from an either-or proposition into an and-and proposition. When we seek ways to effectively reward teaching, we find ourselves struggling to even define what “exemplary teaching” is: lecturing, facilitating learning in ways that encourage learner-centric approaches, guiding learners to a level of proficiency that allows them to pass competency-based tests, or a combination of these and additional learning goals and objectives we are still struggling to define within our various learning sandboxes?

One of the many strengths of the Horizon Project reports is that they help us focus on these challenges and, in the process of fostering that level of attention, encourage us to actively participate in the creation of effective, creative responses to these and other challenges to which curious, dedicated, innovative trainer-teacher-learners are drawn.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and Flipped Classrooms

#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses): When Personal Learning Networks Collide (Again)  

September 30, 2014

Connected learning went over the top again this evening as members of the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) community of learning engaged in their/our first tweet chat as a group coalescing through a connectivist massive open online course (MOOC).

TweetchatsIt’s difficult to know where to start in describing how the learning connections expanded rapidly and rhizomatically during that one-hour session that was fast-paced and well-facilitated by #oclmooc co-conspirator Verena Roberts. There’s a temptation to talk about the obvious connections to be made between #oclmooc and the equally fabulous Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) community of learning since at least a few of us are participating in both and extending conversations between the two MOOC communities. There’s also the temptation to talk about how the #oclmooc session and so much of what we’re doing in #ccourses is making us more aware and appreciative of the importance of personal learning networks in learning—particularly since #ccourses just produced an engaging and inspiring session on “Social Capital and PLNs: Discovering, Building, and Cultivating Networks of Learners,” as I documented in a blog article posted yesterday. There is even a temptation to focus on the fact that what was originally designed to be a MOOC to connect educators in Alberta (Canada) quickly morphed into a MOOC open to—and attracting participation from—trainer-teacher-learners around the world (an obviously brazen and much-appreciated attempt by our Alberta colleagues to make the entire world a protectorate of Alberta and its innovative onsite-online learning community!).

oclmooc_logoBut what was most interesting to me at a personal level was how the open conversation taking place within Twitter drew in colleagues not previously connected through either MOOC. This has happened to me in other MOOCs, as I wrote in an earlier article, and I would be surprised if it hasn’t happened to others engaged in connected-learning environments. What was noteworthy and unexpected this time was how quickly everyone naturally and playfully fell into exchanges that suggest the blossoming of new learning—and, more importantly for explorations and documentation of how connected-learning works, the blossoming of new learning relationships, as Verena quipped when it became obvious that one of my New Mexico-based colleagues from the New Media Consortium had seen one of my tweets and retweeted it to her own followers. Not more than a few minutes passed before a Kansas-based colleague from an entirely different community of learning—the American Library Association Learning Round Table—saw my online admission that I hadn’t yet participated in edcamp activities.

“You, of all people, need to crash an edcamp,” she commanded with mock consternation shared openly with other #oclmooc participants. “Get with it.”

And to emphasize yet another element of these connected-learning rhizomatically-expanding interactions—the idea that our online interactions are not and need not all be conducted synchronously—I later realized, while reviewing a record of the #oclmooc tweet chat, that a North Carolina-based colleague that I know well from yet another first-rate community of learning (#lrnchat) had also responded with an edcamp response directed to two #oclmooc members and one other #lrnchat colleague.

ccourses_logoThe tally of net gains (networked gains?) from the session, then, include a strengthening of the #oclmooc community, which was designed to foster greater communication between teacher-trainer-learners; more cross-pollination between #oclmooc and #ccourses through the tweets and this follow-up blog post; the possible beginning of interactions between various members of my own personal learning network outside of the MOOCs and members of the two connectivist MOOCs—with no need for me to remain anywhere near the center of those interactions; additional interactions between all of us and a group of young connected-learning students we were encouraged to contact through their own group blogging efforts; and the pleasure of encountering new ideas through articles—including Clay Shirky’s essay “Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Away Their Laptops,” and Laura Hilliger’s article “Teach the Web (MOOC)”—mentioned during the live tweet chat. And there clearly is much more to come.

N.B.: This is the eighth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  

Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Nurturing Our Personal Learning Networks

September 29, 2014

When learning turns in on itself, the results are magnificent—as is the case when we learn about personal learning networks (PLNs) by engaging with members of our personal learning networks, for example.

It’s something I’ve seen repeatedly in my own communities of learning, and it’s something I have explored and documented extensively through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrlrn) and other connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs). Those explorations are continuing through two MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc)—and it feels as if #ccourses hit a training-teaching-learning home run this evening with a live (and now archived) one-hour online session “Social Capital and PLNs: Discovering, Building, and Cultivating Networks of Learners.”

Social Capital and PLNs, the opening session in a two-week exploration of “Trust and Network Fluency” through the three-month #ccourses MOOC, brought together a dynamic panel of experts (Kira Baker-Doyle as moderator, with Cristina Cantrill, Meenoo Rami, Howard Rheingold, and Shelly Sanchez Terrell as participants). The tips and reminders were wonderful; the interactions with those panelists and with #ccourses learners via Twitter were engaging reminders that this is a community of learning that is quickly connecting numerous personal learning networks around the world. And each individual learner is a node within that ever-growing network of networks.

ccourses_logoThe session, early on, included a reminder that, for many teachers (and other learning facilitators, I would add), Twitter is a starting point in developing social capital. Just as Twitter can rapidly increase our contacts with valuable colleagues we might otherwise not encounter, our PLNs can serve as “social magnifiers,” Rheingold suggested. Bringing value to our online interactions is essential, he continued: when we give away things of value (e.g., shared resources and links to useful information), we draw upon a “reservoir of reciprocity,” contribute to the value of the PLNs, and strengthen our own positions as valuable members within those interwoven and incredibly extensive personal learning networks—as all of us participating saw time and time again during our hour together.

Acknowledging the reciprocity and uniqueness of social capital helps us better appreciate it, he continued: the more social capital we spend, the more we have.

This was obvious throughout the session. As we provided resources for each other, we gathered even more, including links to a Storify document containing Rheingold’s tweeted tips for developing PLNs at one point, for example,  and to the Peeragogy handbook—a “collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work”—at another.

PLNs, we were reminded, are not just about learning; they provide emotional support and can be important resources that sustain us when we are beginning to feel overwhelmed, Terrell suggested. They also are among the resources we need to help our learners master—by helping those learners acquire the skills to effectively function within and use them; helping them understand that online social networks are not necessarily just for fun; and promoting the idea that good PLNs ask as much of their members as they offer.

Developing PLNs can include relatively simple steps: finding “your hashtag,” for example—the hashtag that brings someone together with other members of his or her learning community.

oclmooc_logoWhat helps those communities coalesce is the realization that making and building things together is an essential part of cementing relationships within communities—which suggests that for those of us creating teaching-training-learning opportunities through active participation in #ccourses, #oclmooc, and other first-rate learning opportunities, there is positive result of drawing ever closer to having even stronger learning communities and personal learning networks than we previously believed possible.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc. For a wonderful example of how PLNs develop, please see Howard Rheingold’s Digital Media Laboratory and Learning Research Hub article about Shelley Terrell—originally published online in October 2010.  

Barbara Fister, Project Information Literacy, and Addressing/Fostering Lifelong Learning  

August 8, 2014

I’m in the middle of an unexpected lifelong learning experience that is the training-teaching-learning equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. My heart is racing. My mind is engaged. And I feel as if the best is yet to come—if I don’t completely explode.

Caffe_Latte--2012-01-28--Flora_GrubbThe day began as many do for me: I set aside a little time to skim a few blogs and check my social media feeds for articles that would help me keep up with the myriad topics I attempt (unsuccessfully) to follow. And there it was, the first gem of the day: Gustavus Adolphus College professor/writer/librarian Barbara Fister’s fresh-off-the-presses article “What PIL [Project Information Literacy] Teaches Us About Lifelong Learning” in Library Journal. It’s the sort of article I adore—an intellectual home run—in that it’s well written, it provides thought-provoking information I can immediately apply to the work I do, it draws attention to another fabulous resource (the Project Information Literacy lifelong learning Phase 1 Research Brief that inspired Fister to write her Library Journal article), and it was something I immediately wanted to share (via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) with my colleagues involved in training-teaching-learning.

Fister gracefully and enthusiastically summarizes and builds upon a few of the key points made in this report, which is drawn from interviews with 65 relatively recent graduates of 10 American colleges and universities. (The research brief is part of a continuing two-year study to determine, in part, how “today’s graduates use information support systems for lifelong learning.”) The interviewees, Fister notes, “sought out learning opportunities, either through formal certificates or graduate education or through more informal means: enrolling in MOOCs [massive open online courses] or looking for websites and YouTube videos that teach the skills they want to develop.” She recaps something that many of us involved in learning already know viscerally: “the learning that stuck came through doing things…the learning that comes from creating things transfers even if content knowledge doesn’t.” And most importantly, she makes us want to read the original six-page brief ourselves so we can more fully absorb the nuances of what PIL is continuing to produce in its overall study of information literacy—a topic we could explore for several lifetimes without ever fully absorbing all there is to contemplate.

Project_Information_LiteracyWhen we succumb to our natural instincts and do skim the PIL brief, we find plenty worth pursuing among the five elements explored through the PIL researchers’ initial interviews (interviewees’ lifelong learning needs, use of information sources, use of social media, best practices for lifelong learning, and adaptable information-seeking practices from their higher education experiences). The interviewees consistently admit to being “challenged by ‘staying smart’ in a rapidly changing world.” Google search is their “go-to source for lifelong learning” as they attempt to find resources responsive to their lifelong learning needs. And “[m]any mentioned actively building a social network of go-to experts they could consult at work”—in essence, developing what many of us refer to as our personal learning networks (PLNs).

None of this would have been as significant to me at a personal level if I hadn’t immediately connected it to what I do in my own lifelong learning efforts—and if I hadn’t immediately begun to apply it. Knowing that I was less than two hours away from joining an online discussion session I try to attend biweekly, as time allows—Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast—I contacted Maurice and one other T is for Training colleague to see if we could incorporate Fister’s article into our discussion this morning. My lifelong learning efforts successfully continued, therefore, when we did spend nearly an hour exploring what the PIL research brief, Fister’s article, and our extended (and often overlapping) personal learning networks do to support us and the learners we serve. And the lifelong-learning adrenaline continued to flow when I returned to the archived recording of the T is for Training conversation, copied the podcast link, and added it to my own website as a free resource for others interested in exploring lifelong learning and personal learning networks. Which, of course, brings us to this moment in which I’m further solidifying this augmentation of my own lifelong learning efforts by reflecting on all that has come out of the simple act of reading Fister’s article and seeking ways to connect it to what I do for myself and the trainer-teacher-learners I serve.

The learning is not over yet; it really never is. In fine-tuning this piece by exploring the Project Information Literacy site (a fabulous lifelong learning resource in and of itself), I discovered a section of “Smart Talks” featuring “interviews with leading experts about PIL’s findings and their thoughts about the challenges of finding information and conducting research in the digital age.” Better yet, among the interviewees are colleagues and others whose work I have followed and admired. So, as I suggested at the beginning of this article, I remain very much in the middle of consuming the intellectual equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. And I am doing all I can to avoid being overwhelmed by this magnificent lifelong –learning experience that Fister and my personal learning network colleagues are supporting.

ASTD International Conference 2014: Connectivity, Learning, Augmented (Emotional) Reality, and Phoning It In

May 7, 2014

As the Association for Talent Development (ATD)/American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition) reached its conclusion this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about how much I forced myself to learn from it—by not being physically there.

ASTD_to_ATDI thought I had pretty much drained the learning pool over the past few days by experimenting with virtual participation via social media tools and the conference backchannel. My own increasingly-immersive participation over the past few days had included interactions with onsite and offsite colleagues extending across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog posts. I had even watched and tweeted a live online broadcast that made me feel present yesterday afternoon at the formal announcement that ASTD was officially transformed, at that moment, into ATD after 70 years of successful operation as a first-rate training-teaching-learning organization; the experience became more visceral this morning when onsite attendees used Twitter to share numerous photographs documenting that all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name.

But it didn’t occur to me, until this morning, that I had overlooked the use of one more piece of technology—one so familiar that I had completely overlooked it. The moment of revelation and experimentation came when I was again reading and reacting to tweets from the conference. Among the flood of messages was one from Walt Hansmann, a long-time ASTD friend and colleague with whom I’ve presented, brainstormed, learned, dined, laughed, and groused countless times. (In fact, it was through Walt that I met Larry Straining, whose Facebook posting a week ago sent me down the path of more creatively and intensely experimenting with learning through virtual-conference attendance; ATD/ASTD really has been and continues to be pivotal in helping me understand what a small world we all inhabit and serve.) So there was Walt, tweeting about the fact that he was already wearing a new ATD pin while I was on the other side of the country thinking, “If I was there, I’d be wearing one of those, too.” And then it dawned on me: all I needed to do was try to reach him on his cell phone. Which I did. And the ensuing conversation led to his assurance that one of those pins would work its way across the United States and into my hands sooner than later.

ASTD_ICE_2014That combination of tweeting and calling may have produced the virtual-conference-attendance equivalent of the joys and rewards of meeting and learning from each other in conference hallways. More importantly in terms of the virtual-conference experiment, the call carried us back into cross-platform conference participation as he immediately posted a tweet (“@paulsignorelli @trainersleaders may not be @ #astd2014 physically, but he is sharing via SoMe [social media] and just called to touch base!”) while I was tweeting my own response to the phone conversation: “Oh, technology, with all your lovely variations: just briefly joined @WaltHansmann at #ASTD2014—via a phone call. #NoLongerLeftBehind.” I was also, at the same time, responding to another tweet suggesting that Dan Steer’s tweets had made the tweeter sorry to have missed the conference—to which I responded, “made me feel closer to it.” We closed the circle on that conversation when Dan himself—whom I’ve never met face to face—used the “favorite” option on Twitter to acknowledge my appreciation for all he had done to carry the conference far beyond the physical site of the conference.

This exploration of how we might more creatively incorporate the use of social media tools into learning opportunities benefitted from a wonderful combination of resources. The fact that many ATD members are adept at synthesizing content via backchannel interactions on Twitter is an essential starting point; they were the portal to the conference for me and for others who were attending from a (physical) distance. ATD’s first-rate conference app made it possible to monitor the conference schedule and access some presenters’ conference materials; that helped me see and understand what others were reacting to onsite. Having a tablet meant I could turn this into a mobile-learning/mobile-conferencing experience at times by following the backchannel feed even while I was using public transportation here in San Francisco to move from appointment to appointment when I wasn’t at home using a desktop/laptop combination. And the encouragement of training-teaching-learning colleagues provided what a successful learner needs: a great community of learning and engaged personal learning network that supports the learner’s process and explorations.

There was a time, for me, when having that stimulatingly immersive experience face-to-face with conference colleagues—call it “conference high” for lack of a better term—concluded with a sense of melancholy that came from knowing I was about to leave them and wouldn’t see them again for anywhere from six to twelve months—until we were reunited for the next intensely inspiring set of learning interactions that we found through our shared conference experiences. The bouts of melancholy diminished noticeably over the past few years when it became obvious that we would be “seeing” each other far more often through our shared use of social media tools, conference calls, and interactions via Skype and Google Hangouts. But I found a different, yet parallel, sense of melancholy setting in this afternoon for the first time as we said our virtual good-byes. And I realized that it wasn’t just the coming and going of friends who interact, then are apart for considerable periods of time, that used to cause that melancholy. It’s the fact that a well-run conference or any other sort of convocation is, in and of itself, the catalyst—a special meeting of friends and colleagues to creatively explore, at a very human level, what is important to all of us; it’s a form of augmented reality that might best be described as “augmented intellectual and emotional reality.” It deepens the emotional connections that draw us together. It ignites all that is most worth cultivating within each of us. And it reminds us that without those shared community-building moments of engagement regardless of whether they are onsite or online, we would be far less than what we are.

N.B. — This is the third of three interrelated articles inspired by the ASTD/ATD 2014 International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C. For two additional views of the virtual conference attendance experience, please see Kent Brooks’ Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014] and Michelle Ockers’ My #ASTD2014 Backchannel Experience.

ASTD International Conference 2014, ATD, and Far From Left Behind

May 6, 2014

With a bit of help from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and the use of social media tools, I was far from left behind this afternoon not only in my attempts to actively participate in a first-rate conference I can’t physically attend this year (the 2014 International Conference & Exposition—ICE) but to keep up with much that ASTD is doing. Which, I learned while watching a live online broadcast from the conference itself and live-tweeting it just as if I would have done if I had physically been there, includes the transition from ASTD to ATD—the Association for Talent Development—to reflect the evolving nature of what all of us do as trainer-teacher-learners.

ASTD_ICE_2014The past couple of days, as I noted in an earlier article, have provided tremendous learning opportunities about how outdated our beliefs are in terms of the concept of being left behind when we can’t join friends and colleagues at professional-development opportunities beyond our geographic reach. By engaging with onsite attendees through the conference Twitter feed and actually commenting on what was happening onsite, I was able to do quite a bit of what I would have done onsite: learn from what presenters were discussing; pick up (from tweets) bits and pieces of (other) sessions I wasn’t able to attend; share my own tweets and those created by others with my own extended community of learning/personal learning network; and even make new acquaintances from whom I will continue to learn in the months and years to come. The levels of engagement fostered through these online exchanges even caused one colleague to send a tweet asking if I were actually onsite.

Seeing onsite participants retweeting my offsite tweets was just one of many signs that we have tremendous potential for interacting with colleagues and other learners in very creative ways if we nurture our skills in this direction. Actually working to connect one onsite participant with another onsite participant—they didn’t know each other, but a tweet from one made me realize that contact with the other would be rewarding for both of them—took the idea of facilitating connections to an entirely different level for me: I have often helped colleagues who are geographically separated make connections online—just as others have done the same for me—but never before had the experience of being an offsite facilitator of onsite connections.

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

The breadth and scope of the conference exchanges also continued to evolve—which is a good sign that we have not at all reached the limit of what we can accomplish by combining the use of our social media tools to meet our learning and communication needs. As I mentioned in that earlier article, the experiment started with a Facebook posting from another ASTD colleague (Larry Straining); reached fruition via backchannel interactions on Twitter; and then returned to Facebook at one point as Larry connected me to another offsite ASTD colleague (Kent Brooks) I had not met before that moment. Larry, Kent, and I continued out offsite conference-attendance interactions in a way that drew a few others into the Facebook conversation, then expanded it into cross-postings from our own blogs. Having carried this into a posting on LinkedIn last night, I was delighted this morning to discover a response, on LinkedIn, from an ASTD colleague I hadn’t seen in more than two years—which means our “attendance” now extends from the conference site across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Which brings us back to that moment when I realized, earlier today, that if I logged into the live online broadcast of ASTD/ATD President and CEO Tony Bingham’s much publicized surprise announcement about the future of the organization, I would be able to virtually join colleagues as the announcement was released and, at the same time, tweet it as if I were there. And as I engaged in that exercise and saw onsite attendees retweeting a few of my own tweets, I felt all thoughts of being left behind vanishing. I was there. In a very real sense, present. To hear and join in the celebration of a major step forward for an organization to which I’m very happy and lucky to belong. Onsite. As well as online.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.

Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.


I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to, but and are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).

Connected Educator Month and #xplrpln: When Personal Learning Networks Collide

October 25, 2013

None of us expects what is about to happen.

A small group of us are just beginning our latest hour-long online exploration of personal learning networks (PLNs), with Twitter as our means of communication. For those on the west coast of the United States, it’s the Thursday morning version of the Wednesday night session scheduled during this third of five weeks in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. A few of us know each other from the time we spent online together earlier this year in #etmooc, the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues. A few more of us have become part of each other’s personal learning networks through our collaborations in this new personal learning network MOOC.

xplrpln_logoAnd then there’s the unexpected visitor: Coline Son Lee, one of my colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She is a cherished part of my personal learning network but not—yet—part of the PLNs of colleagues in my #xplrpln community of learning. I first become aware of her presence in the chat when she retweets one of my comments. I respond with a tweet to everyone else in the session so they will know who she is and how she found us: “Another sign of personal learning networks in action: @pmtrainer, an ASTD colleague just joined us, meaning my PLN is in action.” Jeff, our session facilitator, seizes the learning moment with his response: “Cool! Welcome! One of the benefits of discussing ‘in the open.’”

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoColine, having stumbled (virtually) into the chat by seeing my comments in her own Twitter feed, steps up to the plate by asking what topic we’re pursuing. Jeff further draws her in—I’m no longer her sole conduit to the chat and to the group—and he provides an in-the-moment example of a connected educator in action by offering a response that includes a link to the page with information about our Week 3 goals and objectives, readings, and activities. At which point we have seen another example of exactly what we are studying: in less than 15 minutes, a piece of my personal learning network has collided with those of other course participants, and the two begin to seamlessly merge to the benefit of everyone involved. And even though Coline is not able to continue on with the discussion for the entire session—she inadvertently omits the tweet chat hashtag that would make her comments visible to the rest of us—the introductions have been made; the players have the seeds for new growth in our personal learning networks; and we all have a visceral understanding of how PLNs work by evolving naturally, serendipitously as well as through our intentional actions, as all of us engage in our roles as connected educators, connected learners, and participants in Connected Educator Month activities and celebrations.

We also see and note that even though this session is primarily relying on synchronous exchanges, there are also asynchronous participants in the sense that we are drawing upon and building upon comments made by colleagues who attended the Wednesday evening session: we have access to the transcript of that earlier session, a few of us paraphrase or include quotes from the earlier session, and there’s even a brief drop in during this Thursday morning session from one of our Wednesday evening colleagues. After the session ends, we’ll continue the discussion via exchanges in our Google+ community, various tweets back and forth, and blog postings that attract responses from other members of our connected leaning community—all helping to reinforce the idea that the more we explore and the more we learn, the more we find to learn and explore.

Gladwell--David_and_GoliathMy PLN and learning experience suddenly begin moving back in time as well as forward. I recall a moment that occurs two days earlier: the moment in which author Malcolm Gladwell suggests during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this week that Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is the sort of book that raises more questions than it answers—and that’s OK, he adds. I think about the inevitable moments in the days and weeks to come when members of my personal learning networks continue to share resources on the question-raising questions with which we joyfully grappling. And I realize that Exploring Personal Learning Networks is very much the MOOC version of Gladwell’s latest book: we arrive with some basic assumptions; explore those assumptions while listening to other people’s assumptions; find that every potential answer takes us wonderfully deeper into the topic and, as a result raises additional questions; and we all leave with a greater appreciation for the nuances of what we are exploring, having learned experientially how wonderfully complex this and the rest of the world can be if we are not insistent on approaching learning as something to be initiated, completed, checked off a to-do list, then shelved or recalled fondly each time we look at a diploma or certificate of completion as if learning is ever finished.

And doesn’t all of that just leave us with the most inspiring questions, PLNs, communities of learning, and learning experiences of all?

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).

Time Travel, Personal Learning Networks, and Rhizomatic Growth

October 17, 2013

Let’s engage in some trainer-teacher-learner time travel; let’s revel in a wonderfully and gloriously circular learning moment whose beginning and end have not yet stopped expanding—and won’t if you decide to enter into and further expand this moment as part of a connected educator network.

xplrpln_logoIt starts with a simple realization: that participating in a well-organized connectivist MOOC (massive open online course) or any other effective online learning opportunity not only puts us in real-time (synchronous) contact with those we draw into our personal learning networks, but also allows us to extend and connect online conversations with those that began days, weeks, months, or even years before the one we are currently creating, in venues we are just now discovering. It also can easily extend into days, weeks, months, or years we haven’t yet experienced.

I am, for example, writing this piece on October 17, 2013, and if you end up reading it on the same day, we’re in a fairly obvious and traditionally synchronous moment—the sort of moment we routinely experience face to face. By connecting this piece to others I’ve been reading and reacting to with colleagues in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program, and by further connecting it to interactions with colleagues via Connected Educator Month, I am in a very rewarding way extending and weaving this moment across weeks and months of conversational threads created by others. They wrote earlier. You and I respond now. They pick up the thread and run with it at some as-yet-undetermined moment. And all of us are in a figuratively synchronous way connected through a conversation and learning opportunity that flows in multiple directions, over multiple platforms, as Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) explain in an article they wrote in 2011 and which I explored with a segment of my own personal learning network colleagues in a blog post and other online venues.

etmoocWe see this in play through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC, where we are exploring and attempting to define personal learning networks by developing our personal learning networks. We are developing (or further developing) personal learning networks by drawing upon newly-created resources as well as resources that can be weeks, months, years, or even a century old. One colleague suggests that Jules Verne, the nineteenth-century novelist-poet-playwright, is part of his personal learning network in the sense that Verne’s work continues to guide him in his never-ending evolution as a learner. I am suggesting that a colleague from another MOOC is part of my #xplrpln personal learning network via a wonderful article she wrote months before the personal leaning networks MOOC was written and in progress; because her article is inspiring so many of us, she feels as if she is an active member even though personal time constraints are keeping her from posting updated material—for and in the moment. And several of us are suggesting that people who are still alive but with whom we have no one-on-one in-the-moment personal contact still are very much a part of our personal learning networks because they influence and affect our learning through the work they are producing or the examples they provide—something I experienced while participating in #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media MOOC) earlier this year.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoThat creates a wonderfully dynamic and continually evolving personal learning network—or network of networks—along with a tremendously expansive moment that remains open to further expansion through your participation. And the more we engage with #xplrpln course facilitators Merrell and Scott and course colleagues in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia synchronously and asynchronously, the more we find our own personal learning networks, personal learning environments, affinity spaces, communities of practice, and overall communities of learning overlapping in ways that once again transcend geographic and chronological borders—suggesting that in the world of training-teaching-learning, borders and barriers exist only to be erased (or, at very least, made much more permeable than we often assume they can be).

It’s an obvious extension of the concept of rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning, as I noted after picking up the term from Dave Cormier via #etmooc. The learning rhizomes in our personal learning network now continue to move backward to capture parts of the extended conversation we hadn’t previously noted, and they move forward into the moment you are living and extending in collaboration with the rest of us. Together, we may be on the cusp of even greater collaborations. Learning experiences. And being part of contributing to a world in which connections through time, across time zones, and over geographic boundaries produce possibilities we are only beginning to imagine and bring to fruition.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).

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