From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 2 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 18, 2016

Setting the agenda (at multiple levels) is always part of a successful learning event/presentation. It’s no surprise, therefore, that my “co-conspirators” on the Mount Prospect Public Library 2016 Staff Inservice Day planning committee and I focused on this for “From eLearning to Learning,” a day-long onsite and online exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work, throughout the planning phase (from January through early May 2015).

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12There was the obvious, simple question we all face at the beginning of the planning process for successful learning: what will we actually do with our co-conspirators (i.e., our learners) on the day we meet as co-conspirators in learning? It didn’t take us long, during our initial telephone conference call, to settle on a structure that included a highly-interactive keynote presentation that would set the tone for the entire day of learning by trying to recreate the high levels of interactivity inherent in any great onsite or online learning experience; my own agenda here was to help staff at the Library quickly move past the idea that online learning has to be formulaic, lacking in engagement, and something done to them rather than with them. We also took little time in reaching the decision to set up a series of breakout sessions so staff members could have meaningful, productive discussions in small groups to explore a variety of interrelated themes and then, at the end of the day, come back together so we could share the wisdom of the crowd in deciding what they would do in the days, weeks, months, and years after participating in “From eLearning to Learning.”

A more subtle, nuanced approach to setting the agenda was at the level of deciding how we, as co-conspirators in the planning and facilitation process, would work together; that’s how we settled on the approach briefly described in the first of these five “case study” postings. We followed an informal “how to run a meeting” process I’ve been successfully using for years: I very much see meetings as theater, with strong elements of improvisation thrown in for good measure. Each item on a meeting agenda is meant to be part of a carefully-crafted script from which we can deviate as needed (hence, the improvisational element), and each item should produce something concrete that leads to the next item on the agenda.

Circle of learning: breakout session in a lovely setting

Circle of learning: breakout session in a lovely setting

When this approach to setting agendas and facilitating meetings works well, it produces results that are as engaging, entertaining, and transformational as a great piece of theater is. We walk away knowing we have been involved in something significant. Something that makes us see our world at least a bit differently than we saw it before we were together. And something that makes us want to transform a potentially ephemeral moment into a very long, extended moment of process that continues to grow as long as we take the time necessary to nurture it.

The Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” planning process became tremendously engaging for all of us when we started, during the initial planning conference call, to shine a bright spotlight on a few questions we had already been thinking about before we joined that call:

  • What could we do to be sure we provided the best possible learning environment for the co-conspirators who would be the participants in “From eLearning to Learning?”
  • What could we do to be sure that everything we offered created a visceral sense of understanding the power of eLearning as a component of our overall approach to learning?
  • What could we do to assure that everything that happened during “From eLearning to Learning” connected back to the Library’s strategic plan in terms of incorporating eLearning into its learning offerings?

Mt_Prospect_LogoMy own meeting notes—which I edited and shared with other members of the planning committee to create the same sense of blended synchronous/asynchronous conversation I often try to foster in online learning environments—show that our initial conversation produced numerous substantial elements, including a set of learning goals that helped shape the event. Participants would be told that, by actively participating in “From eLearning  to Learning “, they would be able to more effectively define e-learning; put e-learning in the larger context of learning overall; be able to explain why e-learning is positive and why they should take advantage of it; identify what e-learning provides for them; identify what e-learning provides for those they serve; and, most importantly, what they would decide to do within the next two weeks to foster more effective e-learning opportunities for themselves, their colleagues, and/or those they serve. We also threw in the additional perk of assuring them they would become aware of at least three resources they could use to improve their e-learning efforts. (These are, after all, members of library staff; we love our “see also” references.)

Keeping our focus on the learning experience, we also built plenty of reflection time and shared debriefing time so the learners would be able to absorb what they would be experiencing. We scheduled 15-minute breaks between each of our proposed chunks of learning (keynote, the three break-out sessions, lunch, and the final “bringing it all back together/next steps” session).

Subsequent meetings focused on content for the break-out sessions; discussion about developing a facilitator’s guide—the bones of that simple two-page guide came out of a 15-minute discussion during one of our telephone conference calls; a series of questions the facilitators would ask to foster lively and productive discussions during the break-out sessions; and a final structure that brought everyone back together briefly at the end of each break-out session for additional brief wisdom of the crowd moments. In this way, we made sure there were the small, very fruitful opportunities for each voice to be heard, and the larger opportunities for everyone to stay on track in terms of understanding how these small-picture sessions would contribute to a large-scale transformation of the entire staff’s approach to e-learning as part of the overall learning landscape in which we operate.

A critically-important moment occurred late in the planning process, when we decided that those who wanted to be able to step back a bit over lunch could do so, and those who wanted to engage in a mini unconference to more deeply explore topics that had come out of the morning sessions would have that opportunity in a way that put them at the center of the learning process. We’ll look more at what came out of the unconference in Part 4 of this case study; Part 3 will focus on how and why we had a pre-event onsite meeting the day before “From eLearning to Learning” was held—and the important modifications that came out of that final, lively discussion.

Next: Onsite Fine-tuning

NB: This is the second of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.

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