This was a group that understood the importance of creating a welcoming tone and ambience at the beginning of any event, regardless of whether it is onsite or online. This was a group that didn’t overlook the small stuff behind any large, successful gathering. And this was a group that was using its commitment to engagement and interaction to be sure that participants would have few, if any, temptations to step away from “the room” before the event had reached its conclusion.
We often hear (and repeat) the idea that “the devil is in the details.” I would suggest that our ATD South Florida Chapter colleagues subscribe to the idea that “the angels are in the details,” and do everything they can to flood our virtual rooms with angels that beckon us to their gatherings. Those angels (volunteers, every one of them), during the weeks and days leading up to the conference, provided an appropriately steady stream of encouraging email messages designed to prepare participants—our co-conspirators in the learning process—for an event that focused on the content rather than the (virtual) setting and the technology needed to make that gathering successful. We were told that there would be a beginning-of-the-day session that included a “platform overview” for anyone wanting to explore the technology we would be using to interact with presenters/session facilitators as well as with each other. We knew the opening session would also give us plenty of time to interact with each other to, as much as possible, create the same levels of positive engagement we experienced at onsite gatherings before the shelter-in-place guidelines we have been following for nearly a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic pushed us completely into online interactions.
The series of pre-event email messages also included separate notes about each of the sessions, including the specific links we would follow to attend any of four breakout workshops and other events scheduled throughout the day; this gave us a chance to add those events and links to our own personal online calendars so, on the day of the event, we wouldn’t have to hunt through our archived email messages to find those direct links. And then, in an act that was possible because of the limited number of sessions, our “angels” resent those links, via email, shortly before each session began so that we could move directly from our email inboxes into the events. Recognizing that this would be an impossible and burdensome approach for organizers of much larger gatherings, I also recognize that this was yet another example of conference organizers thinking proactively of what they could do to make the virtual-conference experience—or any other online learning opportunity operating at a similar scale—as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
Opting for a morning workshop on “Awesome PowerPoint Tricks for Effective Presentations” (led by BrightCarbon Director Richard Goring) after the conclusion of the opening session/platform review, I was expecting to pick up a few tips on how to up my game in PowerPoint. To say that the nearly two-hour session exceeded expectations would be to unforgivably downplay the breadth and depth of what Goring offered all of us: an overwhelmingly positive and impressive overview of numerous tips and tricks that included demonstrations of what he was describing, and the all-important assurance that we would have plenty of opportunities to return to an archived recording of the session so we could more fully incorporate what he was describing into our own work, e.g., how to mask and highlight elements of an image to more effectively use that image on a slide; how to quickly align disparate elements and images on a slide with one command rather than a series of actions involving every separate element; and locating and using sites (including pexels.com, pixabay.com, and lifeofpix.com) that provide numerous free images we can incorporate into our work.
For many of us, the anticipated high point of the day was the combination of a celebration of local (South Florida) colleagues’ work as champions of learning—those who, by example, remind the rest of us of what our most innovative colleagues are doing to make learning more engaging and transformative—and a keynote address by Elaine Biech, who has inspired many of us through her numerous books and other work in talent development (aka teaching-training-learning). Again, the chapter angels turned a challenge—having to move what is normally an onsite celebration into the online conference environment—into a “champions of learning” success story by having each nominee for the 2021 Champion of Learning awards provide a short, from-the-heart video describing the project. The result was a celebration within the main celebration—our celebration of how engagingly our colleagues embraced the video-presentation format to describe the successful projects so that we were as inspired by the playfulness of the videos as we were by the actual content.
And then there was Elaine: Warm. Engaging. Inspirational, as always. And right on target with a presentation and interactions with conference participants that reminded us of how to “Develop Your Best Self and Tale Charge of Your Career.” When it comes to your career, she reminded us at one point, don’t be beige; be brilliant. And develop your best self. Which is pretty much where she left us by the end of that session, as we headed into an afternoon of additional learning and interaction centered on the champions of learning among us.
Following Anne Beninghof into her “Caffeinated Virtual Training: How to Keep Your Audience Awake and Learning” session, I again learned as much observing a presenter’s approach to presenting virtually as I did from the rich content offered. It was as if she were somehow reaching cross-country from Florida to where I was sitting (in San Francisco) and knew just when to switch things up—as she did, approximately an hour into the session, by telling all of us to get out of our chairs, move away from our computers for a moment, and simply move around to keep from falling into a complete state of torpor from having been sitting in that country-wide learning space for several hours. That, and her focus on making everyone in the room a co-conspirator in learning, produced another memorably playful session and led us to the final two sessions—one for closing remarks and door prizes, the other a virtual happy hour that left us right where we started several hours earlier that day. Reminded that virtual conferences, when well designed and well executed, are no hindrance to fostering a sense of community and engagement. Reminded that spending time with our colleagues in online environments is, in and of itself, a learning opportunity we cannot afford to miss—particularly in pandemic, social-distancing times. And reminded that, when we observe and promise to build upon the positive experiences we have with our colleagues in online learning environments, we and the learners we serve are the real winners.
The commonly-understood practice of “doing lunch” has, for some of us, quickly evolved through our efforts to adapt to shelter-in-placeguidelinesimplemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. Weekly meals with friends at a local diner switched over to weekly gatherings by phone on the same day and time of week as soon as shelter-in-place became the norm here in San Francisco four months ago; we began by preparing meals in our own homes and eating together virtually while having our usual conversations by phone, then moved those weekly virtual gatherings into Zoom when a key member of that Saturday Morning Brunch Club obtained a webcam and headset, and most recently recreated a bit more of those weekly pre-coronavirus meals by ordering food from the original diner—which recently reopened for take-out service—and picking it up in time for our Brunch Club gatherings.
A few of us have had family gatherings, e.g., for birthday parties, via Zoom; used FaceTime to stay in touch with people we cannot currently visit onsite; and have made arrangements with other friends to meet online for dinners where we all cook within our own homes and then eat together via Zoom.
And that’s where LunchClub—described on its website as “an AI [Artificial Intelligence] superconnector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career” comes into the picture. The unsolicited invitation arrived in my email inbox May 22, 2020, and the note is worth quoting as an indication of the approach taken by those running the service; I’ve added links to the key resources mentioned in that note:
“You’ve been selected to join Lunchclub, a free service that matches professionals for 1:1 video meetings. Lunchclub has a long waitlist, but we found your LinkedIn profile particularly compelling and wanted to reach out. We have been featured in TechCrunch and Forbes and are backed by Andreessen Horowitz.
“Every week, our users explore opportunities and collaborate with people they meet through Lunchclub. If you’d like to skip the waitlist and join them, click on your special link below.
“Not interested? Simply ignore this e-mail and we’ll stop reaching out.”
What intrigued me immediately was the combination of a lack of hard sell; the use of artificial intelligence to foster connections through the service; the financial backing it was already attracting; and the positive documentation provided through the TechCrunch and Forbes articles. The background I found on the three people—Vladimir Novakovski, Hayley Leibson, and Scott Wu—who founded Lunchclub also made it sound very interesting.
Accepting the offer and becoming registered was easy. I filled out a simple form online asking for information about my professional interests and goals in joining the service—in essence, making it extremely clear up front what I hoped to gain from Lunchclub. I responded to a follow-up message asking if/when I would be available for a Lunchclub match that week; how many 45-minute sessions I wanted to schedule—I’ve consistently opted for one per week to keep things manageable; and any preferences I had in terms of whether I would be connected to someone locally or someone outside of my own community.
The match came quickly. I had my first conversation (via Google Meet, which offered me the additional benefit of being introduced to that tool while actually using it for something potentially productive) a few days later, and had the fantastic experience of being in touch with a local writer and researcher working in UX writing and content strategy. My second outing did not go so well; even though we had both indicated times and days we were available, my match wrote twice to reschedule, then failed to show up at all. Things were quickly back on track with my third match—a copywriter who writes branded content about entertainment, tourism, and finance; blogs about films; had shared a strong interest in journalism, having served an internship with the Columbia Journalism Review fresh out of college. Next up was a writer, actor, and teacher creating socially-conscious, progressive entertainment—including a well-received, fabulous short film currently streaming on HBO. Week Five put me in touch with a freelance copywriter and content strategist who also is a musician. Week Six brought me together with a writer-producer helping companies with creative solutions. And my Week Seven conversation was with a product manager at Google who also works as an interview/career coach in addition to writing a blog, giving workshops, speaking at events, and painting.
All of this would simply be an interesting period-of-pandemic diversion if all we did was meet, chat, say good-bye, and then go our own ways—and there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it’s not was really appeals to me; I already struggle to stay in touch adequately with people I know through the various projects I do and associations I support. What really intrigues me is what these conversation might produce beyond the initial point of contact.
The results, after seven weeks, have been fascinating. I’ve already begun interacting with a few of those Lunchclub matches via social media postings (LinkedIn as well as Facebook). I’ve taken the time to look at some of the work they discussed during our online sessions. To go deeper into what they have posted online. Reading some of what they have produced. And even watching and loving the short film written by and featuring, in an acting role, my Week Four Lunchclub match. I’m in the early stages of collaborating with one of my Lunchclub contacts on what may become a new online course we would produce together.
Most importantly, I take a bit of time at the end of each week to prepare a short set of updates I can send to each of those people I have met—which, of course, has further seeded our ongoing conversations in ways that may produce positive results far beyond what any of us imagined when we first accepted that wonderful invitation to “do Lunchclub” in a time of pandemic-induced social distancing.
Effectively transformative humor, at its best, evokes a strong mixture of raucous laughter, anguished sobs of grief, and overwhelming outrage—something that has been on abundant display as we continue adapting to shelter-in-placeguidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic and as we attempt, once again, to collaboratively address some of our most divisively tragic challenges. Humor can bring us much-needed relief when it inspires the (currently muted) sense of optimism some of my most cherished colleagues display during our “face to face” online conversations via Zoom and Google Meet and through their social media posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. It can also inspire us to positive action when the brutal, over-the-top dark nature of that humor inspires action through outrage in response to overwhelming challenges including systemic racism and police brutality directed at Americans, as we see through the work of satirists like Roy Zimmerman, Shirley Serban, and Don Caron.
At a personal level, I’m deeply moved and at the same time frustrated by posts along the lines of what I have been seeing from one particularly cherished friend and colleague. He’s a bright, intelligent, very funny, very upbeat, very compassionate friend. His posts, focusing on what he refers to as “good news” during a time of pandemic, are wonderfully inspirational, provide much-needed humor, and remind me why I have considered him a cherished friend and associate over a very long period of time—a combination of relationships I very much look forward to continuing for as many more years as we have left to us.
My own mood, in contrast, has fluctuated wildly during this entire period of sheltering in place while maintaining strong social interactions and attempting to foster positive responses to all that we are facing. I try to maintain and inspire a sense of optimism and a commitment to fostering positive action in very small and very large ways in tragically discouraging and divisive times.
Humor as a catalyst to positive change is often at the heart of what my friend/colleague, many other friends and colleagues, and I attempt to promote at a time when I am relearning that humor comes in all sorts of sizes and shapes. There is the wonderfully optimistic spin my friend consistently manages to give to what he sees and hears. There is also the deeply poignant, sometimes bittersweet, and sometimes just kick-them-in-the-gut humor/satire that inspires that raucous laughter, those anguished sobs, and that sense of outreach I mentioned earlier—which is why I decided to write a version of this article to my friend earlier today and then expand it into this invitation to join the conversation and seek ways to reshape our world in a way that makes it more compassionate and more responsive to the pain, suffering, and inequality that many members of our communities continue to feel.
I wrote—and am writing—very much in the moment, with his two most recent posts in mind. But. With. The. Sense. That. This. Captures. Much. Of. The. Wonderful. Work. I. Have. Seen. From. Him. Over. The. Past. Couple. Of. Months. I’m seeing celebrations of what may be coming down the pike—mostly celebrations of what others are doing (e.g., working on vaccines) while we wait around (without doing something as simple as wearing a mask) and hope for the best. I’m also seeing some important much-needed call-outs against those who seem to want only to focus on bad news without acknowledging what very much is worth celebrating. What I’m not seeing—perhaps because I’m not paying close enough attention and perhaps because it’s not yet there—is a celebration of positive actions taken by the unsung heroes. Those who understand that wearing a mask and engaging in social distancing are ways of protecting others as much, if not more than, they are ways of protecting themselves/ourselves. Those who from positions of leadership encourage positive, collaborative, sometimes unpopular actions to attempt to address the challenges we face rather than placing individual liberty and rights above the equally strong needs of the community and holding (thankfully underattended) political rallies that encourage people to celebrate their unwillingness to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.
He accurately and justifiably points out that there are places in the U.S. where the spread of COVID-19 is not devastating communities. “It’s not, by the way, what the media would have you believe that it is,” he says in his latest post. “The cases are rising in a few states and that is painting a distorted picture of what’s happening nationally…Despite the fear-mongering that you’re hearing right now about the cases exploding…what we’re seeing is the death rate continuing to decline…the actual fatalities continue to decline…”
Looking at COVIDLY as a reliable tracking site for COVID-19 cases and deaths, on the other hand, reminds us that Australia had no reported deaths in the past 24 hours (midday, June 26-27, 2020)—a period of time when the United States had 834 deaths reported as directly related to COVID-19. Looking at the latest reports from The New York Times on June 27, 2020, furthermore, shows us that more than half the states in our country reported increases in cases and that, overall, ‘[m]ore than 2,509,400 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 125,300 have died.”
This hit home for me again late this week as I was in face-to-face-online meetings via Zoom with colleagues in Australia—where preventative actions have led them to halt the spread of the coronavirus much more effectively than we have so they can already be working on building a new and better normal. We might have been in a position to be doing this now if we had more aggressively taken the sort of individual actions they took rather than waiting for someone else to develop a vaccine—which, of course, doesn’t have to be an either-or choice! We can hope for development of effective treatments and vaccines while, at the same time, actively promoting and taking individual and collective action to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 now. We can, while celebrating the numerous calls to action in response to the displays of racism and the almost daily documented reports of police brutality directed at Americans, also be doing things small and large in our own lives to build the foundations for a new and better normal in our country.
This is one of our challenges: to find whatever common ground we share. To produce and benefit from humor/satire that produces laughter, grief, and outrage. And to work toward creating a time when our laughter celebrates our small-scale foibles with far less need for evoking grief and outrage.
There is something timeless about a virtual march/assembly designed to foster social change—something obvious to anyone watching/participating in the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and March on Washington today. The timelessness was felt in numerous moments, during the first livestream broadcast of that 3.5-hour event that drew more than 1.2 million of us to it through the Campaign’s event website and MSNBC’s live broadcast, that we came face to face with people—our fellow citizens—who are living in poverty. People struggling to survive. People who have been ignored for far too long. People whose faces we need to see. People whose voices we need to hear. And the timelessness is equally obvious when we return to a recording available online to live or relive part or all of that unifying call to positive action centered on a set of interrelated fundamental principles and demands.
It’s another powerful example of how much our world is changing around us as we continue adapting to shelter-in-placeguidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are learning, for the first time, how to work effectively from home. Or to learn online. Or to meet or celebrate significant moments (e.g., birthdays) or even engage in conversations over meals “face-to-face” via Zoom and other online platforms.
It was only a matter of time, therefore, that the need to continue pushing for social change through large-scale gatherings—even, if not especially—during times of incredible upheaval and tragedy at a personal, regional, national, and global level would force us all to become a bit more creative in our approaches. And its obvious that the organizers of the Poor People Assembly and March not only figured out how to do it online (after their original plans for an onsite assembly and March on Washington were derailed by the onset of social distancing), but how to do it effectively and engagingly online.
The stunningly beautiful result is that it worked. The ability to participate online undoubtedly made the event accessible to far more people than would have been able to join it if they had to be onsite. The adaptations required by the move from onsite to online interactions created unique opportunities for the faces to be seen and the voices to be heard through first-rate editing of recordings from well-known religious, political, social, and arts-and-entertainment leaders as well as those more important: those directly affected by poverty and numerous interrelated challenges. And even though it was, in essence, a “live” recorded production, there was a very real level of interaction made possible through the use of #PoorPeoplesCampaign on Twitter to capture and react to moments that struck many of us at a personal level. (When the event was at its peak, the hashtag was near the top of a list of terms drawing the highest levels of engagement on Twitter.)
Furthermore, the fact that the live/recorded event was scheduled for three livestreams over this particular weekend provided an interesting opportunity to participate in an extended synchronous/asynchronous way. Having to leave the initial broadcast and the dynamic, almost overwhelmingly flow of tweets during the initial event this morning, I was sorry I would not be able to stay for the final hour of the event. Doing a bit of post-event catch-up later in the day with a friend who was involved as an event volunteer, I realized I was free at the moment where the rebroadcast would be recreating the moment when I had originally had to leave. So, I rejoined it (several hours after the initial broadcast ended) right at the moment of my departure. And discovered, to my surprise, that it felt as if those intervening hours had not at all existed. Because a new group of participants was equally engaged. Equally active on Twitter. And helping to create the sense of continuity and engagement that accompanies participation in any well-designed event designed to draw us in; help us understand that we are part of a vital, vibrant action-oriented community; and inspire us to take the positive actions we know we need to take if we want to create a new and better normal to replace the far-from-perfect normal we had before COVID-19 and additional tragic deaths of our fellow Americans drove us to this moment of need for decisive action.
Because of my own tenuous connection to the Campaign (through the friend who has been actively volunteering for it for a considerable period of time) before today’s march and assembly, I had been watching for signs of traction during the weeks and days before the event. I was disappointed—but not at all surprised—to see that mainstream media coverage in anticipation of the event was, to be charitable, minimal; doing an online search for pre-event coverage via Google showed far more attention being given to the latest (onsite) rally (in a time of social distancing) scheduled by our president than was given to the Poor People’s Campaign event. Mainstream media representatives clearly remain woefully and pathetically unprepared for and unable to detect the significance and draw of events that are taking place online rather than onsite. But that doesn’t tell the full story, for the event was gaining plenty of attention in online environments and platforms, including on Facebook and on the event website, where people were being invited to and committing to attending not only by completing online RSVPs, but also putting a very real face to their participation by posting selfies and adding brief descriptions as to why they were committed to participating in the event and supporting the Poor People’s Campaign.
And now that the march/assembly has actually “taken place,” the relative lack of mainstream media attention seems to be dissipating a bit. A story posted earlier today by The New York Times is drawing more attention to the gathering and what it was designed to promote, and more coverage by others is bound to follow soon.
What all of this suggests for those of us tracking and writing about how social media and other online platforms are changing the face of social change is that our landscape is continuing to evolve quickly. There are possibilities that are tremendously under-explored. And we are still in the fairly early days of experimenting with and understanding the massive changes that our technology is capable of producing.
The march/assembly, as I write this, appears to be over. But it really isn’t. It continues anytime any of us takes the time to watch part of all of the event in any archived version. Opens his/her/their heart to what is being proposed/requested/demanded. And then takes whatever steps are possible to address and resolve any of the numerous challenges we are facing. Because we are all in this together.
Those of us immersed in training-teaching-learning-doing are, by nature, people who thrive on helping other people learn what they want and need to learn to more effectively deal with workplace challenges they face. We are lifelong learners who take great pleasure in supporting the efforts of other lifelong learners. We are, in many ways, happiest when we see the face of one of our co-conspirators in learning light up in response to having gained an insight or having developed an understanding about something that matters to that learner. So, the thought/fear/horror of not having that opportunity for interaction and success—and the pleasure that accompanies it for learning facilitators as well as for the learners with whom we work—is, at the very least, a bit distressing, as Hudson’s survey confirms.
The good news for many of us is that the creativity and innovation inherent in much of what we do has been amply on display recently while individuals and organizations have been struggling—and, in many cases, succeeding—to meet the challenge of quickly moving from onsite learning environments into online learning environments. Even better is the news that companies like San Jose-based whatfix and many other organizations have been stepping up to the plate to support us during our transition—something that the currently-underway Digital Adoption Summit is accomplishing magnificently—and providing yet another opportunity to avoid social isolation while engaging in social distancing.
What makes an undertaking like the summit successful is that there is something to be gained by everyone involved. Whatfix, for example, benefits from the opportunity to make many more people aware of what the company offers through a platform “which provides in-app guidance and performance support for web applications and software products. Whatfix helps companies to create interactive walkthroughs that appear within web applications.” Summit presenters have an opportunity to discuss—and, by extension, promote—what they are doing in the field of digital adoption at a time when enormous numbers of people are, with little choice and preparation—having to go online to accomplish what they have been comfortably doing face-to-face for years or decades. Summit participants—free of charge, thanks to whatfix’s decision to not charge a registration fee—have an opportunity to pick and choose from among more than 30 sessions, led by a total of 41 presenters, to learn more about topics that are important to them in their/our day-to-day work. And writer-trainer-presenter-consultants like me have yet another opportunity to both participate in and to step back from the action so we can reflect on what goes into making an online summit/conference successful.
This is learning that meets short-term (shelter-in-place) needs while also laying foundations for long-term positive transformations in the way we work and interact in an onsite-online blended/digital world. It is well-targeted and engagingly presented. It features presenters/colleagues who are learner-centric in their offerings. And it is presented in nicely-designed bite-sized chunks—sessions rarely last more than 30 minutes, with plenty of breathing/reflection time between each one, and the daily opening sessions highlighting what whatfix offers have been much shorter.
The online summit is a great example of how to make an online conference engaging even when participants have minimal, if any, contact among themselves. The decision to pre-record the presentations and then make each initially available during specific time slots does, in essence, transform a series of webinars into pieces of a cohesive three-day event—which, of course, suggests low levels of in-the-moment interaction between presenters and summit attendees. (This is something that Steve Hargadon avoided during his own daylong Learning Revolution“Emergency Remote Teaching & Learning” online conference by having presenters facilitate sessions live and engage in speed-of-light interactions via the chat function of Zoom—the platform used for that session.) The whatfix summit approach, on the other hand, offers the opportunity for live interaction if participants find their way onto Twitter and connect through the #DigitalAdoptionSummit hashtag—something, surprisingly, that few have done so far. But what is lost in synchronous interaction has provided other unexpected gains for any of us who do seek the social-media connections: each presenter whose sessions I have attended has been great about providing contract information. Some—like writer-presenter-entrepreneur Charlene Li, whose session was centered on applying the content to her book The Disruption Mindsetto the situation we are currently facing—have taken the extra step of posting materials on their own websites and, as Li did, fostering further engagement by providing a link to a site providing a free copy of her book so those of us who are so inclined can read that book while its content is fresh in our minds and, possibly, continuing the conversation in other online settings.
An additional unexpected benefit of the synchronously-arranged presentations through recordings has been that it’s possible to stop a speaker at any point when those of us who are tweeting want to capture a thought by composing a tweet, reviewing it for accuracy, posting it on Twitter, and then returning to the talk without missing a single word of what the presenter is providing. It’s yet another example of how our world of intertwined synchronous-asynchronous interactions offers us opportunities to more fully absorb what is available to us in terms and under conditions that let us bend time a bit to serve our training-teaching-learning needs. And whatfix is spreading the opportunity to providing post-session links to the recordings of any sessions we added to our schedules, and posting links on Twitter to places where those who did not register for the summit can gain free access to the session recordings.
Another positive aspect of the whatfix approach well worth noting is the high level of incredibly responsive online support company representatives are consistently providing to summit attendees. Initially distressed that I wasn’t seeing the live feed of the opening session yesterday morning, I took advantage of the open customer-support chat window that is continually available during all summit presentations. The response, delivered within a couple of minutes of my having posted a question regarding access to the session, was tremendous. “Sunil” not only provided a new link that immediately gave me access to the session from its opening moments, but also was very reassuring through his suggestion that there might have been a bug causing the problem (so I knew it wasn’t a problem from my side of the equation). A couple of hours later, he was just as cordial and helpful when I inadvertently closed out a session that had been underway for almost 25 minutes and was nearing its conclusion. Relogging into the session, I was briefly disappointed and frustrated to find that I was apparently going to have to rejoin it from the opening moments, so asked Sunil if there was a work-around—which, of course, there was, and I was soon back in the session exactly where I had left it. This is the sort of just-in-time response to a conference-related problem that is common at the best of the onsite events I attend, and it’s an example of how that level of customer service can easily carry over into online conferences/summits when organizers carefully think through what it takes to create that level of support and engagement.
We are not going to have the lovely, unexpected, and ultimately rewarding hallway conversations in this summit that we have at onsite conferences and some of the other online conferences I’ve recently attended. We are not going to have the in-the-moment presenter-audience interactions and collaborations I cherish. But what we will find, through approaches like the one taken by whatfix, is a different sort of opportunity that ultimately helps eliminate the sense of social isolation that concerns our colleagues in training-teaching-learning and in many other contemporary settings. And for that, we can be thankful as we leap at the opportunity to learn things we might not otherwise have learned and open doors to meeting people we might not otherwise have met.
“Family,” for me, has always been an expansive term—one that has only taken on even more importance and meaning to me during what is now about to become a third month during which I am gladly following shelter-in-place guidelines adopted in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. “Family” obviously includes spouse/partner, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, cousins, and much more. It’s something we are celebrating today through recognition of International Day of Families—a celebration that came to my attention quite accidentally as I was watching the latest in the wonderfully funny Pluto Livingvideos written and produced by Nancy Wight. And, for me, it includes the numerous friends and colleagues with whom I am in touch—sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically, but always in ways that involve trust, respect, affection, and a sense that my life would be far less rich and fulfilling if they were not part of it.
Sheltering in place and engaging in social distancing has not in any way left me feeling socially isolated; I’m lucky to have “family” as committed to working at maintaining strong, positive relationships as I am. In a pre-coronavirus world, I frequently came across those family members while walking around San Francisco. Or sitting in any caffè that served as a meeting place for us. Or during business trips that gave me an excuse to work in various places around the United States. Or while attending onsite conferences. Or while engaged in online gatherings such as the biweekly recordings for Maurice Coleman’sT is for Training podcast or monthly meetings and webinars facilitated by members of the ShapingEDU family. Or via Slack…or…or…or…
Maintaining an overly busy schedule has often resulted in my stepping away from some of those “family” gatherings, as has been the case with my involvement—or lack thereof—with a first-rate family in the form of a magnificent community of learning: #lrnchat, a family that has been meeting weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 – 9:30 pm ET/5:30 – 6:30 pm PT) via Twitter, in the form of a well-facilitated tweet chat that always is centered around a pre-announced topic of interest to trainer-teacher-learner-doers. I have, occasionally, taken the time to reflect on and write about what that family means to me. But I fell out of the habit of participating in those weekly gatherings a couple of years ago when shifts in my work habits made those meetings much harder to squeeze into my schedule.
Although being lucky enough to stay very busy while following shelter-in-place guidelines, I have used this unusual period of time to re-examine how I spend my time, and one of the changes I have made is carving out time to dive back into my #lrnchat-family gatherings on a biweekly basis—on those weeks when T is for Training isn’t recording within part of that same time slot. And, as is always the case with family reunions, it has been a wonderful opportunity requiring very little transition. I just show up. Others continue to show up—or rejoin after similar periods of absence. We spend a few minutes with introductions and in-the-moment observations. Then we get down to the heart of what draws us together: interactions with those we love and admire. Listening to (or, since this all takes place as an online typed chat, reading) what other members of our family want to say and share. Responding—sometimes seriously, sometimes with tongues deeply in cheek, but always with curiosity and respect. And, most importantly of all, learning. Together. In ways that make us better than we were before the latest family conversation began. And, as a result, make us better at serving those who, in turn, look to us, for support in their own lifelong learning endeavors.
The conversations, facilitated by family heads Jane Bozarth, Tracy Parish, and David Kelly, always draw us in quickly. Engage us from start to finish. And leave us with important questions, including “what did you learn from this conversation?” and “what will you do with what you learned?” Those are critically important questions for any trainer-teacher-learner-doer, and, because of what I have learned over the years from my #lrnchat family, those are questions I put to every one of my co-conspirators in learning at the end of classes, workshops, webinars, and other learning opportunities I design and facilitate. They are questions that continue drawing me back to #lrnchat and my other families. They are fruitful questions to ask every day that we continue following shelter-in-place and social-distancing guidelines. And they are questions that, when asked, serve as fabulous reminders of why we cherish our families. All they offer. And whatever demands they place upon us and the limited time we have. For if we don’t have time for family, for whom do we have time?
Every day seems to bring a new opportunity, and that certainly was the case less than two weeks ago when friend/colleague/collaborator/-co-facilitator and owner of PCI [People Connect Institute] WebinarsAndrew Sanderbeck and I met online via Zoom, ostensibly to brainstorm projects we could initiate and offer during the second half of this year—post shelter-in-place. The conversation began as most of our conversations do: talking with and listening to each other about what we are currently doing and how we are responding to our training-teaching-learning landscape. Andrew asked how I was faring in a shelter-in-place world, and I told him that a) it hasn’t been much of an adjustment since I do so much of my work in online environments, and b) that I recognized I am extremely lucky that an abnormally higher-than-usual percentage of my current work had already been scheduled for online environments during the first half of the year. The picture for Andrew was much different: he talked about missing face-to-face encounters; mentioned that online conversations even using the most highly-praised and ostensibly engaging of tools weren’t offering him the same level of satisfaction and pleasure that onsite interactions do; and told me a bit about what he had been finding and reading online.
“A few years ago, Michael Michalko, a former US army officer, came up with a fascinating idea to sharpen creativity,” Matthew Syed writes in that BBC News article. “He called it ‘assumption reversal’. You take the core notions in any context, subject, discipline and then, well, turn them on their head.
“…suppose you are considering a new taxi company. The first assumption might be: ‘taxi companies own cars’. The reversal would be: ‘taxi companies own no cars’. Twenty years ago, that might have sounded crazy. Today, the largest taxi company that has ever existed doesn’t own cars: Uber. Now we are living through a disruption (you might even call it a reversal) of unprecedented scale….”
“Reversal techniques are typically used by people working in the creative industries to come up with new products or innovations. I wonder if we can all use it to seek out a silver lining or two amid the grey clouds.”
Without even reading the article I just finished quoting, and thinking only about Andrew’s brief description of Assumption Reversal, my mind was already racing.
“You gonna use that?” I immediately ask, and Andrew temporarily appears to be uncertain as to what I am really asking.
It is, I continue, exactly the sort of opportunity we were looking to explore when we set up this particular conversation online. We and many people we know are trying to figure out what the world is going to look like after shelter-in-place ends. We know that trying to predict the future usually produces lousy results, but taking steps to help shape the future can be very productive and rewarding. At a time when so many people are struggling to identify ways to even cope with what to them appears to be a bleak and extremely uncertain future, a workshop or a webinar proposing Assumption Reversal as a potentially useful tool might be a game-changer for some of those people.
Quickly displaying an increasing amount of interest in the possibilities, Andrew asks what I have in mind. I suggest that we could design and develop something for roll-out for late summer or early fall.
“I’m thinking about something a little sooner,” he teases.
“Doesn’t it take a while to set things like that up, schedule them, and get the word out?” I respond with what was meant to be rhetorical rather than real curiosity.
“You forget I own a webinar company,” he coyly answers, obviously relishing my surprise at what he is suggesting.
Less than two weeks later, he had filled the webinar to the capacity we had set—a maximum of 75 participants, so we could foster high levels of interactivity among the participants; had identified resources including Michalko’s description online of the Reversing Assumptions technique and a Joker News video on “Assumption Reversal in Pandemic Crisis” connecting the process to ideas for responding to our evolving landscape during the coronavirus pandemic; had a waiting list of people interested in attending a similar session; had loaded up the slides on the PCI Webinars site so we had a visually-stimulating set of images to inspire conversation during that hour-long session; and was ready to roll with me for what turned out to be a very stimulating, positive learning experience for all of us.
Participants reacted, at the end of the session, with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity we had provided to explore positive, creative action in very challenging times. One of our colleagues who serves as host/producer for PCI Webinars and generally stays in the background during the live sessions became an active and tremendously valuable contributor to the entire conversation. And Andrew and I, once again, walked away having learned quite a bit about how we can best serve our clients, colleagues, and friends in the best as well as the most challenging of times.
There are obviously numerous buildings with “closed” signs on them as many of us continue to follow shelter-in-place guidelines in effect because of the coronavirus pandemic. But “closed” remains a relative term for many, e.g., libraries and other learning organizations, because the buildings may be closed, but the learning is continuing online. In offerings that sometimes are arranged so quickly that everyone’s head is spinning. And, sometimes, in offerings done effectively enough to leave learners with useful, memorable, engaging learning experiences that they can either immediately apply or can begin incorporating into learning opportunities with buildings once again sport open doors.
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, through all of this, to have had several projects underway that were primarily set up as online learning experiences. And one that was scheduled to begin with a daylong series of onsite sessions (in Tampa, Florida) and then continue with three subsequent one-hour online sessions. That train-the-trainer course, for learning co-conspirators (aka “adult learners”) through the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, was charmed from the beginning. Our onsite time together in Tampa took place less than two weeks before shelter-in-place suddenly became an all-too-familiar experience and temporarily put on hold most face-to-face training sessions. The first of the three webinars was held a week after shelter-in-place went into effect, and offered us an opportunity to begin exploring what trainer-teacher-learners could—and have to—do when their world suddenly goes topsy-turvy and many long-held beliefs and expectations fly out the window in a rapidly, ever-evolving learning environment. And the final webinar, completed earlier today, brought us full circle through explorations of how to design and facilitate online, onsite, and blended learning opportunities—by engaging in onsite, online, and blended learning opportunities using whatever tools we have available.
Some things, we confirmed together through a highly-interactive and collaborative approach, remain constant at a time when “emergency remote learning” is all around us: Following a learning model such as ADDIE (Assess, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) and USER (Char Booth’sUnderstand, Structure, Engage, and Reflect) continues to provide strong foundations for effective learning. Preparation, flexibility, confidence, empathy, attention to detail, and humor all remain essential elements of what we do. Collaboration produces magnificent results, as we frequently saw when the learners were participants in shaping sessions in the moment; there were times when learners’ questions and suggestions inspired me to set aside activities I had planned and, on the spot, replace them with activities the participants themselves helped create and implement. And there were times when delivery/facilitation of a session changed on a dime, as when a slide deck I had planned to use for the first webinar wasn’t loading properly through screen-sharing—so we set aside the deck and simply covered the material in that online environment through virtual “face to face” conversations that pretty much replicated the spirit of what we had achieved a few weeks earlier in the physical learning space that was our initial meeting place.
Learners had a variety of options available to them because a well-designed infrastructure. They had an online asynchronous meeting place—the Bridgelearning management system—where they could easily find materials, updates, and guidance as to what they needed to be doing. They had an easy-to-use online platform for meetings—Zoom. They had a wonderful organizer/liaison/host/–TBLC Manager of Programs and Services Kelly McDonald. They had the opportunity to participate in the live webinars or participate asynchronously by viewing archived recordings of those webinars. And they had access to all PowerPoint slide decks, which included copious speaker notes so they could review topics of special interest to them.
Because they were engaged in further improving their own training-teaching-learning skills, they also had—and created—ample opportunities to practice what they were learning. While onsite, they engaged in impromptu presentations that helped them experiment with different ways to use their learning spaces. While online, they sometimes became presenters themselves by picking up themes from the typed chat and explaining and exploring those themes with their online collaborators. If there were missed opportunities for engagement, we would be hard-pressed to identify them because we jumped at those opportunities whenever we could.
The series concluded with plans for how that particular community of learning might continue through learner-directed interactions and collaboration; with reminders that the series had formally concluded but the learning would continue as they applied what they had absorbed; and with reminders that taking time to reflect upon our shared experiences would provide an additional platform for gaining all they could from all the effort we all expended together.
Following my own guidance and longtime commitment to reflective learning, I took a few minutes, after logging out of the final session, to reflect on what the time with those learners inspired. And those moments of reflection rekindled memories of previous training-teaching-learning experiences, including one that began more than a decade ago when I had the unexpected pleasure of being paid to attend a TED conference. A friend who owns a bookstore here in San Francisco was the official onsite bookseller for the conference, and he offered me a last-minute chance to attend the conference as one of his employees in the bookstore. It was every bit as fun and inspirational as I expected it to be, and there was the obvious thrill of watching that spectacular live feed of TED talks on a screen in the bookstore and chatting with some of the presenters as they wandered through onsite bookstore.
One of the more memorable encounters was a brief face-to-face conversation with Matt Harding, who at the time was receiving tremendous, well-deserved attention and praise for his “Where the Hell is Matt?” videos showing him doing a brief, playful dance with volunteers in settings all over the world. (A video available online shows him explaining how he created his work.) I loved Matt. I loved the videos. And I loved the sheer joy that flowed through his work.
A year or two later, working with a training partner on a series of classes and workshops on a challenging topic, I was looking for a playful way to end one of the most difficult hour-long workshops, so suggested to my partner that we end that session with a “victory dance”–which, of course, involved showing one of Matt’s videos to the learners as a way of leaving them smiling.
We had no idea whether it would be successful, but we tried it. And we knew it had worked when, at the end of a subsequent workshop (the following day), someone smiled and said, “What? No victory dance today?”
I still love those videos. I still return to them occasionally. When I want to smile. Or when I want to celebrate something that has just occurred. And so, after facilitating the final webinar in the four-part blended (partially onsite, partially online) set of Train-the-Trainer sessions for the Tampa Bay Library Consortium earlier today, I decided to celebrate in private by watching a Where the Hell Is Matt? video and do a virtual victory dance to celebrate the successful conclusion of the latest successful collaboration with the learners who continually enrich my life in ways that surpass anything I will ever be able to offer them. And at the end of all of this, I’m left with one of the best suggestions I can offer to any training-teaching-learning colleague: let’s dance.
I engaged in what I’m going to call a “not-so-guilty pleasure” this morning: I joined approximately 30 colleagues for coffee and conversation in an intimate, wonderfully welcoming caffè while attempting to follow shelter-in-place guidelines which remain in effect for many of us in response to the coronavirus pandemic and which may last for at least another month. I have to admit that I had begun to forget the pleasures of walking into a coffee shop that serves as a community meeting place—Ray Oldenburg’sThird Place. Hearing inviting music in the background. Looking around to see familiar faces. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Sitting face-to-face with inspiring friends/colleagues who form the heart and soul of a tremendous community of learning. And discovering, once again, the hidden gems that/who are within that community, just waiting to be discovered.
We met. We talked. We laughed. We learned. And we adhered to the best, most stringent social-distancing practices possible. Because writer-trainer-presenter Joshua Fredenburg, the person at the center of that “Virtual TD [Training & Development] Talks” gathering of ATD [Association for Talent Development]South Florida Chapter members, created the feeling of a face-to-face caffè gathering online through a combination of creative use of Zoom, his first-rate presentation and facilitation skills, and his commitment to fostering a conversation rather than placing himself at the center of a stage in a virtual learning space. This was a virtual caffè extending from South Florida all the way to where I was sitting, in San Francisco—a 3,000-mile wide caffè which managed to feel as small, intimate, and welcoming as any caffè, virtual or otherwise, that I have ever entered. We could see each other. We could hear each other. And we could even pass virtual notes under the virtual tables via the chat function within Zoom.
ATD South Florida Chapter leaders deserve a lot of credit here. For effectively and positively responding to shelter-in-place and the potential disruption of our community. For quickly and creatively organizing and hosting a dynamic, flexible, informal set of online gatherings. For providing ample opportunities for interactions, during these sessions, that create a sense of presence (telepresence) through brief (45-minute) online sessions. And for making us aware of the “hidden gems” like Fredenburg who routinely draw praise for the way they operate at the national level while those of us “at home” remain (tragically) unaware that we have people like that nearby—until our Chapter brings us together.
And presenters like Fredenburg deserve a lot of credit for creatively and positively exploiting the possibilities created by the online TD Virtual Talks format. When I logged into the online session this morning, I expected to be joining a presentation on and conversation about “Keeping Yourself and Team of Remote Workers Engaged & Productive During COVID-19.” And I certainly wasn’t disappointed; Fredenburg’s expertise and excitement about best practices in leadership was on display and fully engaging from start to finish. But, as so often happens, there was as much to learn from a colleague’s—Fredenburg’s—presentation/facilitation style as there was to learn from the content he was sharing.
Joining the session approximately 10 minutes before it was scheduled to formally begin—I always like getting my coffee and getting settled before caffè conversations, onsite or virtual, are fully underway—I was pleasantly surprised to see Fredenburg (whom I had not previously met) using a Zoom virtual background that made it appear that he was sitting in a wonderfully inviting coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #1: Provide plenty of surprises; they can help make a learning session more memorable/effective.) And I was particularly surprised to hear background music exactly as I would hear if I had been walking into a physical coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #2: Create an inviting learning space online as well as onsite; it adds to engagement and keeps us alert.) Fredenburg, who usually is suited up and ready to roll for his onsite presentations, was dressed casually—which, of course, added to the informal nature of the caffè conversation he was about to facilitate. (Presentation Tip #3: Details—e.g., what you are wearing, how you “set the space”—can help make or break an online as well as onsite session.) And he, like any good host, immediately reached out to me online with a warm welcome as I virtually entered the room. (Presentation Tip #4: Warm up the online room just as you would warm up an onsite room; create the sense of a virtual lounge or virtual gathering of colleagues around a water cooler to foster social learning.) He, the host (Chapter Director of TD Talks Selen Turner), and I immediately began chatting about how he had created that ambience—using a jury-rigged green screen that allowed him to incorporate the caffè background into his teaching-training-learning space, and having music from a YouTube video audible in the background. (Presentation Tip #5: Make every moment a learning moment—without making learning in any way seem like a chore. It’s all about being ready to engage learners in terms of what they want to learn as much as it’s about making sure you foster learning that the session is designed to nurture.)
There was plenty to learn and admire from the session. And much of it revolved around the way that Fredenburg treated everyone as co-conspirators in learning. The result was another spectacular example of turning-challenge-into-opportunity. Community members supporting community members in time of need. Colleagues supporting colleagues by simply doing what they/we do best: working with what we are given. Learning from each other. And remaining committed to, as ATD so often suggests, making a world that works better. Because we can. And because we will.
On a day when friends and colleagues are feeling isolated by current shelter- in-place guidelines designed to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic), I’m feeling lucky. I have been immersed in plenty of live, stimulating, rewarding, interactions with dozens of teacher-trainer-learner-doers attending a global conference. We have been listening to and asking questions of a first-rate set of presenters. We have been chatting with each other about what we are seeing and hearing. We have been sharing resources we can all begin to use—or continue using—with the learners we serve. And we have been doing all this, without needing to wear protective masks and by abiding with shelter-in-place guidelines, by maintaining distances of hundreds, if not thousands, of miles between us—because the fabulously innovative “Emergency Remote Teaching & Learning; Survive, Thrive, & Plan for What Comes Next” daylong miniconference organized and facilitated by Steve Hargadon and his Learning Revolution colleagues has been entirely online.
One of the most interesting responses I’ve seen to cancelled face-to-face learning opportunities among trainer-teacher-learners is the rapid, often positive transition from onsite face-to-face to online face-to-face interactions through the use of Zoom and other teleconferencing tools, as I have noted in previous blog posts. (The transition obviously works best for people who were already comfortable working online, and obviously is problematic where people lack online access and/or lack laptops or mobile devices.) At least two of my favorite learning organizations have made the decision to move their popular, well-attended onsite conferences into onsite environments this year: the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Virtual Conference and the American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Conference). A glance at news updates suggests that ATD and ALA are far from alone in following this innovation-in-response-to-necessity approach to supporting members of their communities in times of need.
As we consider the gargantuan task of implementing such massive change within short timeframes, it’s worth returning to the Learning Revolution miniconference to see what made it work. It helps, of course, that Hargadon, his longtime partners, and his colleagues are hardly new to this endeavor; they routinely organize and facilitate global worldwide virtual events, including the Global Education Conference (since 2010) and Library 2.0 online conferences.through collaborations with the spectacular Learning Revolution project. And it helps that the presenters were uniformly engaging and well-prepared.
In a day full of ideas and inspiration, it’s impossible to try to summarize the content in a meaningful way, so I’m left with recollections of moments and themes that somehow capture the overall beauty, creativity, and fun of the entire endeavor. Like opening session presenter Candy Mowen’s reminder, during her “Engaging Online Learners” webinar, that enhancing online learning flows from the creation of great learning environments. Or Zaretta Hammond’s commitment, during “Culturally Responsive Teaching Through Remote Learning,” to the idea that culturally responsive teaching “focuses on improving the learning of diverse students who have been marginalized educationally.” Or Steven J. Bell’s opening comments, during “Let’s Commit to Making Webinars Better,” about the importance of being relaxed, being ready, and taking your time getting started when working with our online learners. Or John Spencer’s sharing of numerousresources during his “Empowering Students in a Distance Learning Environment.” Or the opportunity to see George Couros, Katie Novak, and A.J. Juliani do wonderful variations on the themes they explored in an earlier webinar a few weeks ago and add updated material, including a very short, very funny video in which a music teacher performs a song she wrote to demonstrate her process of making the transition from onsite to online learning.
I didn’t try to attend every session; extensive experience attending conferences has helped me to realize that creating some time for reflection between sessions is an important and integral part of learning through the act of being a conference attendee. And I didn’t make the mistake of thinking that I would remember more than a few of the numerous points made or more than a few of the numerous links and other resources shared by presenters and participants; I took more than a dozen pages of hand-written notes and actually took the step of copying the extensive chat from a few of the sessions and then pasting it into a Word document—a document that ended up running more than 80 pages—that I can later review, in a more leisurely fashion, to jog my memory and help me continue my learning far beyond the day of the live event.
There’s plenty to learn from the miniconference in terms of how to successfully create and facilitate an online conference. It was, first and foremost, very well organized. Registration was easy; it simply involved applying for membership in the Learning Revolution for those who were not already members (a straightforward process that results in an amazingly quick response). Information was easily accessible online through the Learning Revolution website. A page on the Learning Revolution website itself served as the program book, with session descriptions and links to each online session. The presenters themselves were uniformly engaging and learner-/participant-focused in their approach to leading their sessions. Bandwidth issues did, at times, temporarily make the presentations a bit choppy, but Hargadon was there to smooth the gaps and help presenters and audience members quickly reconnect and move beyond those momentary blips. Interactions among participants was lively, and the numerous question-and-answer sessions between presenters and audience members were well-supported by the presenters themselves as well as by Hargadon in his role as producer/co-host/trouble-shooter. And best of all, the conference didn’t end when the live sessions formally concluded. Archived recordings are scheduled to be posted on the Learning Revolution website within a day or two after the conclusion of the live event, so the training-teaching-learning-doing can and will continue as long as any of us continue to call attention to those recordings and continue the conversations in any onsite or online setting we care to use for that purpose.
I’ve seen—and disagreed with—numerous comments I have seen online about how the cancellation of onsite conferences is creating a gap that simply can’t be replaced. I’ve seen—and disagreed with—numerous comments about the irreparable losses those cancellations are causing in terms of missed opportunities for interactions. I am not at all suggesting that onsite and online conferences and other gatherings are completely interchangeable. I know and recognize that going online creates barriers—particularly for those who don’t have adequate (or any) access to online activities; I also know and recognize that onsite conferences create barriers—costs of food and travel, the amount of time it can take to travel great distances to attend an onsite conference. But I am suggesting, based on my own short- and long-term experiences, that online conferences are far from the death knell for community gatherings as we know them; they have been and are increasingly becoming fascinating, engaging opportunities for communities to survive and thrive.
Observing and participating in today’s daylong virtual conference offers plenty of hope and guidance for anyone interested in sustaining strong communities of learning that thrive on online as well as onsite engagement. The conference is providing yet another example of the benefits and challenges of taking a conference online. And it suggests that if we positive approach our challenges collaboratively, we can sometimes produce positive results far beyond anything we might have ever imagined.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.