Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Our Communities of Learning Are Responding

April 10, 2020

The massive transformation of our onsite world—at least temporarily—into a coronavirus pandemic shelter-in-place online world dominated by social distancing (but far from complete social isolation) has been breathtakingly quick, as I noted recently in two posts about how the ShapingEDU 2020 Unconference went online overnight.

There has been plenty to make our heads spin: a global “incompetence pandemic” displayed through lack of leadership; the massive spread of misinformation contributing to “an infodemic: ‘an over-abundance of information’—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”; an ever-increasing spread of the pandemic in terms of confirmed cases and deaths attributed to the coronavirus, which may be only the tip of a terribly large iceberg, given the low percentage of people tested globally; increasing levels of fear, and much-needed sources of information about how to cope with fear and anxiety in challenging times; and the rapid move from onsite learning into online environments by countless people who are ill-prepared—yet valiantly struggling to—successfully support that move in academic and workplace learning settings.

All that head-spinning, however, doesn’t mean that all of us are completely in a shut-down, wait-it-out mood. For those of us lucky enough to have great friends and colleagues, good internet access, and decent infrastructures in place for online communication, our work continues. Our interactions remain strong. And our desire to be of positive use to those we serve is finding plenty of outlets.

Family, friends, and colleagues are responding creatively and positively to the need to avoid isolation in a time of social distancing. We are spending a bit more time than usual taking advantage of the opportunities provided by social media interactions—some playful, some completely work-related, and all of them in some way keeping our communities as strong and thriving as they can possibly be in the current situation. I am, for example, sure I wasn’t alone in being part of an effort to take a celebration—in this case, my father’s birthday party—online via Zoom a few days ago, and creating some online “face-to-face” (telepresence) time via FaceTime a few days earlier to offer happy birthday wishes to a cousin on the other side of the country. Friends and I have been having rudimentary virtual brunches by phone and informal community drop-in gatherings via Zoom to stay in touch, share resources and updates about what we are seeing in training-teaching-learning, and offer support to those who, at any particular moment, might be struggling more than the rest of us are—because we know they will be there to do the same thing for us when we find ourselves falling into a dark place that threatens to overwhelm us.

Through all of this, my colleagues and clients and I are continuing to do business as we always have by phone, email, and a variety of online social media and videoconferencing tools. We are continuing to work on our online projects—courses, webinars, and publications, for example—and plan new ones to develop and facilitate to meet the ongoing training-teaching-learning needs we are committed to meeting.

Among the many developments for which I remain grateful is the magnificent way so many organizations and individuals are stepping up to the plate to provide much-needed information and support. The American Library Association (ALA) Public Library Association division, for example, has done a spectacular job in quickly documenting how public libraries are responding to community needs while shelter-in-place guidelines remain in place—an invaluable resource for those of us working with colleagues in libraries as well as for anyone interested in learning what is available in communities across the country at this point through these wonderful learning organizations. Local libraries including San Francisco Public are doing a great job of publicizing online resources such as kanopy, a service through which we can watch up to 15 movies a month free of charge—which has been a wonderful opportunity to catch up on old favorites while viewing some I hadn’t previously seen. And the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, in a somewhat controversial move, has tremendously expanded access to its online holdings through creation of a National Emergency Library providing access to millions of resources for trainers, teachers, and other learners who would otherwise be cut off from those volumes while library buildings remain closed.

My go-to professional families, including ALA, have been as responsive as they have ever been. ATD (the Association for Talent Development), for example, has curated “resources for virtual training design and facilitation,” on its website, for its members; there are numerous links to articles, videos, blog posts, and webcasts for those of us who support the parent organization through our membership dues throughout the year. And the resources extend to the regional and local levels through the wonderful way that colleagues in chapters including the ATD South Florida Chapter are strengthening their already strong communities of learning by quickly scheduling events along the lines of South Florida’s weekly Virtual TD (Talent Development) Talks via Zoom. What they are doing, by the way, is far from unique; I can’t even imagine trying to keep up with all the wonderful online learning opportunities I’m currently finding online every time I open my email and social media accounts to check for updates.

As if that weren’t enough, I am seeing—and taking advantage of—highly-interactive webinars offered by colleagues whose work I consistently admire, including George Couros. The spectacularly successful “Opportunities for Learning and Leading in a Virtual Space” webinar that he, Katie Novak, and AJ Juliani designed and facilitated last month, and have made accessible online free of charge, was a tremendous example of leaders responding to the needs of their co-conspirators in learning—and further nurturing the informal communities of learning they have fostered through innovative massive online open courses and other creative online learning opportunities. The event attracted more than 600 participants who engaged with Couros, Novak, and Juliana via a speed-of-light chat flowing down the side of the screen while their slides were visible and they were facilitating the session. It was a tremendous example of engaging, effective, memorable online learning in action. And if you’re still looking for thoughtful resources, check out the George Couros blog, which offers new, consistently high-quality posts with unbelievable frequency

Sardek Love, a cherished ATD friend/colleague/mentor who knows equally well how to work and play, has consistently been reminding all of us that it is during times of challenge or crisis that we can find some of our best opportunities, and that we need look no further than our own mirrors to see some of our best resources reflected back at us. I love, admire, and only partially succeed in attempting to emulate his commitment to pushing everyone as hard as he pushes himself. To remind us what we are possible of achieving. To remind us of how to nurture all that is most positive within us.  And to remind us that, through our actions—alone as well as collaboratively—we will respond to the best of our abilities. And come out of this with as much to celebrate as we might be left with to grieve.

–N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online. Next: Our Communities Are Smiling.


ATD ICE 2019: The Learning Room

May 21, 2019

When you attend a conference as well-organized and inspiring as ATD ICE 2019 (the Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition, here in Washington, DC), you quickly realize that every conference space is a learning space. To meet the highly varied interests of the more than 10,000 trainer-teacher-learner-doers present from all over the world, conference organizers offer more than 300 sessions over a four-day period—sometimes nearly three dozen simultaneously. To create our own learning opportunities, many of us also take advantage of the chance encounters we have in the conference exhibition hall, in the onsite ATD bookstore, in the membership and other special lounges, and other spaces to learn, in the moment, from cherished colleagues.

And then there is the Speaker Ready Room—the space reserved for those of us who have been lucky enough to have been chosen as session facilitators. It’s a relatively small, comfortable, well-lit, nicely set-up semi-private sacred space where we drop in as time allows to sit; review, rehearse, and fine-tune our presentations; and simply chat with our colleagues.

The first time I walked through the doors of an ICE Speaker Ready Room (a few years ago), I actually stopped, photographed the entryway, and tweeted out an honest admission before proceeding to an open seat at one of the round tables: It doesn’t matter how many times you serve as a presenter in learning and other venues; when you walk through that particular door at an ATD conference, it’s a special moment.

It’s an invitation to share space and time and ideas with my peers—colleagues whose work I read, watch, and admire. It’s wonderful to engage in conversation with them on the topics that drive our passions. Something on artificial intelligence and its potential effects on the job market here, something on creative ways to effectively evaluate how much our learners are retaining from the courses and workshops we provide over there, and something on personalized learning a bit further over on that side of the room. And it’s absolutely inspiring to recognize that all of us are here because our own commitment to learnng is never going to be completely satiated—and that if we’re not grabbing every possible opportunity to learn from each other, we’re ignoring one of our most valuable resources.

The combination of collegiality and professionalism that permeates that space fosters all-too-rare opportunities for us to learn from each other—if we’re smart enough to listen as much as we speak. Hearing colleagues talk about their latest work in our dynamic training-teaching-learning environment leaves me inspired and full of ideas that I can share with others as soon as I leave the conference. I hear the latest about the books they are writing or have recently completed through ATD Press, such as Paul Smith’s Learning While Working: Structuring Your On-the-job Training; Sardék Love and Anne Bruce’s Speak for a Living: An Insider’s Guide to a Building a Professional Speaking Career; and Jamie Millard and Frank Satterthwaite’s Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager. her publishing houses. I hear about the work they are doing through podcasts such as Halelly Azulay’s The TalentGrow Show.

And, at the end of the day, every one of us walks away better than we were before we gathered in that sacred space. More aware of resources we can share. More informed about topics we should understand if we want to better serve our learners. And bolstered by the reminder that, through ATD and other professional associations that support the work we do by bringing us together, we are part of a wonderful community of learning that contributes to the creation of a world that, as ATD has said for years, works better.

N.B. —1) Thanks, Jim Smith, Jr., for suggesting that I write this piece after our conversation in the Speaker Ready Room. 2) Paul co-facilitated the session “Implementing Machine Learning and AI in Learning—Global Cases and Best Practices” at ATD ICE Sunday, May 19, 2019, with Koko Nakahara and Evert Pruis. He is also currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019.

–21 May 2019


ATD ICE 2016: The Size of the Room, Revisited

May 22, 2016

As several thousand members of ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) from all over the world gather in Denver for our annual International Conference and Exposition (ICE), it would be easy, at times, to forget how large the rooms in which we are meeting are.  The myriad ways in which countless members of this spectacular community of learning are helping to expand our concepts of what it means to “attend” a conference or participate in other learning opportunities. And how inclusive we can be with just the slightest bit of creativity, innovation, and effort.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoOur ability to draw people in, as I frequently note in conversations with colleagues and in learning opportunities I design and facilitate, has increased exponentially through increasingly far-reaching and widely available tech tools. There is the obvious use of a Twitter backchannel to somewhat blur the lines between onsite and offsite participation in conferences and other learning opportunities like ICE. There are the moments shared on Facebook in ways that strengthen our already strong sense of community. There are Google Hangouts and numerous other tools to turn huge geographical distances into virtual spaces that make us feel, at a visceral level, as if we are all in the same room even if that room extends over hundreds or thousands of miles. And there are even the much older, more familiar, and often overlooked vehicles (including telephones) that we can turn to when we don’t want to be left behind or don’t want to leave cherished colleagues behind. The result, of course, is a richer, deeper, more nuanced level of participation in our associations and with our colleagues than has ever before been possible.

I think about how much reaching out occurred today (Saturday)—the day before ICE formally opens—and I marvel at what all of us have accomplished together and how many people we’ve already drawn into our global conference room. Seeing that Maurice Coleman (a colleague in Maryland) was already active on Facebook early this morning, I called him from Denver for a brief conversation, mentioned that we will have a very active Twitter backchannel (#atd2016) here, and invited him to expand the room by skimming the feed over the next several days, retweeting what appealed to him, and, most importantly, reacting to the tweets he saw so he would, as I have already done numerous times, become part of the conversation and the overall conference experience in which so many transformative conversations take place in our blended onsite-online environment.

...using every possible means to draw others into the conversations...

…using every possible means to draw others into the conversations…

Lucky enough to be part of inspiring, thought- and action-provoking conversations throughout the day with some of the most creative, innovative, and passionate trainer-teacher-learner-doers I know (including a couple who live in Denver but are not affiliated with ATD), I looked for every possible opportunity I could pursue to draw others into those increasingly dynamic and inspiring conversations while also sharing thoughts from those non-ATD members with my fellow conference attendees.

It was obvious that everyone physically present at every table I joined was doing the same thing. At times it involved little more than calling out to someone who happened to be passing by a coffee shop, tavern, or restaurant where we were sitting. At other times, we would reach out or respond by Twitter to invite others to join us where we were or simply include them in on the conversations by tweeting out what seemed worth sharing. And at one point, when we were thinking about a colleague who had recently experienced a personal tragedy that left kept him from traveling to Denver to be with us, we simply called him from the place where we were all sitting and passed the phone around to be sure he knew the physical distance did not at all represent a separation from his ATD family at a time when contact with other members of that family would be particularly meaningful to him.

I heard people colleagues excited about—and getting the rest of us excited about the ways in which they are working to produce results-driven learning in their workplaces. I heard colleagues talking about the innovative approaches they are taking to leadership training. I sat with Sardek Love, a cherished colleague who has done more than anyone else I know personally to mentor colleagues younger and older than he is so he strengthens us and our profession (and helps all of us better serve those who look to us for assistance) rather than giving even the slightest thought to the possibility that he might be creating completion for himself. We just don’t think that way; we revel in our own growth and in the growth of those around us, knowing that every step forward makes all of us better, builds a stronger community of training-teaching-learning-doing for all of us, and, as ATD so wonderfully suggests, creates “a world that works better.”

And as my day draws to an end and I already look forward to even more stimulatingly transformative moments over the next several days, I think back to that initial conversation with Maurice this morning. Savor the pleasure of being part of an amazingly dedicated group of learning facilitators who make a difference every day—every day—by doing all they can to be sure the doors through which we pass remain as open as they possibly can be. And hope that everyone reading this finds way to place a hand on the doorknob that just needs to be turned the slightest bit to make the door open to him or her, also.

 ATD_ICE_Speaker_Graphic_2016

N.B.: Paul’s participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.


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