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

May 19, 2016

The learning event has ended; the learning process continues. And, when all is said and done, one of the many important ways by which any of us can and will measure the success or failure emanating from Mount Prospect Public Library’s 2016 Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” (the day-long exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work) will be through the transformations it actually does or does not manage to produce for those involved and for those they/we serve.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12As mentioned in earlier sections of this case study of how a day-long exploration of e-learning can lead to more productive, effective, and creative use of e-learning within an overall learning landscape, we already know positive, potentially far-reaching transformations were occurring. Co-conspirators (the onsite participants in this training-teaching-learning-doing opportunity) clearly expanded their definitions and understanding of the state of contemporary e-learning and the possibilities it provides in workplace settings. Some of them posted their first tweets as part of the process of gaining a richer, more nuanced vision of how Twitter and other social media tools can be engagingly integrated into onsite as well as online learning opportunities to the benefit of everyone involved. Many of them contributed ideas face-to-face and online to expand the use of e-learning among staff members and among library users near and far. And some of them used Twitter to talk about what they hope and intend to do as a result of what they experienced.

As a co-learner as well as planning team member and presenter/facilitator in “From eLearning to Learning,” I know even I left feeling unexpectedly and significantly transformed by my involvement. I’m sure there is a wonderfully academic term to describe what I felt as the day came to an end and during the hours of reflection and conversation I’ve had with colleagues since leaving Mount Prospect, but I keep coming back to something far more basic and visceral: it blew my emotional pipes out! I was stunned. Elated. Inspired. And, at times, close to tears. Because everything was so…much…more…wonderfully and overwhelming intense and inspiring than even I expected it to be; I already carry a deep sense of gratitude to the staff members who invited me into the process and to those magnificent staff members who pushed the learning envelope so far during our onsite and online time together that day.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesAmong the continued-learning opportunities I already have pursued is the opportunity to expand upon and adapt in my own way a learning approach I saw Tom Haymes, a fabulous New Media Consortium (NMC) colleague, use during his own “Idea Spaces” presentation at an NMC conference a couple of years ago. His onsite Idea Spaces presentation and discussion gave all of us plenty of room to learn from him in the moment, to learn from each other in the same moment, to reflect upon what we were hearing and learning, and to see the “event” as part of a process.

More significantly, Tom created a beautifully expansive learning opportunity that helped me see how onsite and online learning could seamlessly be interwoven. His slide deck was posted and available on an Idea Spaces website (which, as I glance back at it in writing this part of the “From eLearning to Learning” case study, has expanded tremendously and magnificently since I last visited it.) The site itself was and remains a stand-alone expansion of what he was sharing with us; it was and is, at the same time, an integral part of the onsite experience. It includes a variety of resources for those of us interested in pursuing the topic in our own way. On our own time. Whenever we want to continue the training-teaching-learning-doing process. And, with that in mind, it occurred to me that what all of us designed for the onsite “From eLearning to Learning” experience easily translates into a modified version of what Tom modeled through his use of WordPress as a platform for the onsite version.

Tom (and many others) have used WordPress as a virtual course meeting place. I’ve used my own website “Previous Presentations” page as a central virtual meeting place for ongoing use and exploration of the material we all developed through the planning process and our onsite participation, and have added links to  the content to the “Presentations/Courses” page of this WordPress Building Creative Bridges blog, which serves as a secondary website/learning resource to expand the reach of what I do and document. I’ve also made minor modification to the slide deck I posted so there are references to the other current components of the suite (including the Storify document). The Storify document ends with a note providing a link to the PowerPoint deck with extensive speaker notes. This five-part case study on my blog is becoming an integral part of the suite by including links to other components at the bottom of each of these articles, and there are references to it sprinkled among the other resources and promoted via my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. And I’m looking at fine-tuning and providing access to additional resources that came out of the planning and day-of-the-event interactions so anyone interested will have a road map they can follow in the same way that Tom’s Idea Spaces continues to serve as a virtual road map and very real, tremendous source of inspiration nearly two years after I participated in the onsite version.

Mt_Prospect_LogoSo, there we have it: the current state of e-learning and a view toward pulling it into the overall world of learning rather than being something all-too-often mistakenly seen as inferior to other types of learning. We learn onsite while incorporating online learning opportunities that produce potentially long-lasting, useful resources openly shared with anyone who might benefit from them. We learn online synchronously and/or asynchronously so that learning occurs at our moment of need, when we are ready and primed for it, rather than being where we were a decade or two ago—largely dependent on the availability of teachers and trainers who stood in the front of a room and lectured at us. In the contemporary learning environment onsite and online, there often is no front of the room. The room is the entire world, the learners are fabulous, often self-motivated, inquisitive and collaborative co-conspirators in the learning process, and in the best of situations we are able synchronously or asynchronously to enter the room and work with our co-conspirators to produce positive effects that ripple out into our extended community of work, service, and play.

I look back at the annotated, lightly-edited Twitter transcript on Storify and smile as I reread a few of my favorites among the many wonderful tweets that came out of our time together:

  • “Whenever @paulsignorelli says ‘co-conspirator’ can’t help but thnk of mvie ‘The Conspirator’ abt plot to assassinate Lincoln #mpplsid16”
  • “Transformation today; we now recognize #elearning spaces; they’re everwhere! #mpplsid16”
  • “So important to stay excited about elearning long after today #mpplside16”
  • “What can we do to commit to #elearning after today? Make the time for the things we want to learn about! #mpplsid16”
  • “I just got elearned #firsttweet #mpplsid16”

And as I reread and reflect upon the content and the entire experience–and feel in a very real sense that the moment has not yet ended—I respond synchronously and asynchronously, both humbly and with a tremendous sense of elation and in the spirit of moving from elearning to learning, to that learner who just “got elearned”: “I learned.”

NB: This is the fifth 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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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.


Openly Meandering and Learning During Open Education Week

March 12, 2013

A little exposure to openness can carry us a very, very long way, as I’m learning through my Open Education Week meanderings.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoInitially inspired to engage in Open Education Week ruminations and activities through my current immersion in #etmooc—an online Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues—I am now finding myself nearly overwhelmed by how the current open movement module of the course is inspiring me to see rhizomatically-extending roots and shoots of “open” nearly everywhere I look.

There is, for starters, the idea that the open movement itself encompasses an incredibly broad set of terms and actions: the “connect, collect, create, and share” elements of Open Education Week; the four tenets of the open movement as cited in an #etmooc panel discussion (reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content); and Don Tapscott’s quartet of collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk he delivered in 2012.

Moretti--New_Geography_of_JobsBut there is much more, as I’ve been reminded through additional reading and reflection over the past several days. A brief passage that I found in Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs, for example, beautifully captures the idea that physically-open spaces within our worksites and coworking settings can facilitate a different—yet not completely unrelated sorts of—open exchanges of ideas and “knowledge spillover”—think Google, Pixar,  the San Francisco Chronicle building Hub space mentioned by Moretti, and so many others that have recently caught our attention. (Not everyone is enamored of these physically-spaces, as the most cursory online search will show, and I certainly don’t believe that physically-open spaces should be universally adopted for all work we do; a little solitude can go a long way in providing us with the time we need to reflect and absorb what we learn.) The open work spaces, however, are far from revolutionary; they’re similar to what we have seen in our more innovative classrooms, for at least a couple of decades, where learners aren’t confined to desks but, instead, interact with each other and those facilitating their learning in collaborative ways. And it’s also the same concept we find in Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place descriptions of how our interactions with friends and colleagues in our wonderful third places (coffee shops, neighborhood restaurants, and other settings which now extend to online communities where we can drop in unannounced and know our social needs will be met through stimulating interactions) produce the sort of creative results fostered by the open movement.

It’s just a short intellectual jump from the open movement and Moretti’s thoughts to the greater world of open-movement exchanges of ideas, as we’ve seen in Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful reminder that chance encounters under the right circumstances between people of varying backgrounds can produce far more than might otherwise be inspired. It’s as if we’ve tossed The Medici Effect into a huge mixing bowl with James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, let them brew a while, and then scooped out a wonderful ladle of open, collaborative thinking to see what new flavors we can discover.

etmoocWhich brings us back to Open Education Week and #etmooc itself: using the online resources available to us and the collaborative, participatory spirit that is at the heart of a successful MOOC and the open movement, we learn to viscerally understand, appreciate, and foster the spirit of open that drives these particular learning opportunities. And encourages us to openly engage within others in the hope that everybody wins during Open Education Week and for many more weeks, months, and years to come.

N.B.: This is the twentieth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Nicholas Carr, the Shallows, and Reflective Learning

July 1, 2011

An author who begins his book on “what the Internet is doing to our brains” by admitting that he is rarely able to “immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article” raises an obvious question in the mind of even the most lackadaisical reader: So how were you able to write a book inspired by your lengthy article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and how is anyone who uses the Internet going to be expected to actually read it?

Fortunately for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning, Nicholas Carr managed to persevere and even address those obvious questions near the end of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. And, in offering us that book, he provides an engaging look at how the neuroplastic nature of our brains is helping us adapt to the flood of information the Internet brings our way—something we need to understand if we’re going to effectively work with the learners we are serving.

“The very existence of this book would seem to contradict its thesis,” Carr disengagingly admits (p. 199). “If I’m finding it so hard to concentrate, to stay focused on a line of thought, how in the world did I manage to write a few hundred pages of at least semicoherent prose? It wasn’t easy.” He even, at that late point in the book, softens the case he makes throughout the book by writing, “The question, really, isn’t whether people can still read or write the occasional book. Of course they can.”

But by then it is too late for us to quibble. Through his lucid prose and by consistently introducing us to a variety of sources documenting how we absorb information, he builds a strong case for the argument that what we are doing as we quickly jump from Internet site to Internet site leaves us skimming the surface—wading ineffectually through those shallows he cites in his title—rather than engaging in the sort of reflective learning that the act of reading books often supports.

Those of us who do not have trouble reading (or writing) long articles or books would suggest to Carr that he appears to be right on target in explaining how our brains change physiologically in response to the constant inundation of information. Furthermore, he builds a strong case for his contention that quickly leaping from one website to another in a frenetic race through an enticing array of hyperlinks leaves us with little time to reflect upon and absorb the writing in any one article we encounter.

And yet—as usual—I find myself focusing on people as much as on technology. I find it as hard to blame the Internet for what we are doing to ourselves as I would find it hard to blame television or radio or videogames for the shallowness that is so often apparent in our intellectual lives. What I’m actually seeing here is yet another opportunity for trainer-teacher-learners: the opportunity to call our learners’ attention to all that Carr documents and work with them to counteract the shallow learning curve this sort of leaping produces.

It really is no different than the effort our best teachers made, during our academic careers, to help us develop effective study habits. If we accept Carr’s thesis that we’re undercutting our own ability to read and absorb material because, like kids in a candy shop, we’re always racing off to the next bright and shiny bit of information the Internet offers us, then the answer is to help interested learners find ways to slow the process. Step away from the hyperlinks. And spend a little more time in the uninterrupted pursuit of reflecting upon the more thoughtful pieces of writing that come our way—like The Shallows does—so we can have our learning cake and eat it too.

If “information overload has become a permanent affliction,” as Carr asserts (p. 170), then we as trainer-teacher-learners need to play a leading role in acting upon that diagnosis and showing our learners—while reminding ourselves—that slowing down a bit will bring us long-term benefits including reduced stress levels, higher levels of creativity, and more productive approaches to the challenges we face in our work and personal lives.

We don’t really have to go down the unnecessary path of making this an either-or choice between reading books and reading online materials. We can and should continue using the Internet and all those fabulous hyperlinks when they serve our needs. We also can and should continue recognizing that immersion in a printed or electronic book while fending off distractions does require effort on our part.

As Carr notes, it isn’t easy. But it is rewarding enough to be well worth the effort. As anyone who made it this far into this article can probably confirm.


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