On a Bit of a Rant: Motivating Our Learners…and Ourselves

April 3, 2015

“I was on a bit of a rant the other day…” may not seem to be the most auspicious way to begin a dynamic, wide-ranging, and inspiring conversation about fostering self-motivation among learners. Nassau Library System Outreach Services Specialist Andrea Snyder, however, may have hit upon a training-teaching-learning truism when she made that admission earlier today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training—the unspoken truism being that we are often motivated (to rant as well as to learn) by our levels of passion about a given topic or situation.

T_is_for_Training_LogoSnyder’s alleged rant—and the entire T is for Training discussion—was inadvertently inspired by one of her colleagues who not only seemed completely unaware of an important element of contemporary librarianship, but displayed little interest in plugging that knowledge deficiency. Listening to Snyder’s description of the situation, we couldn’t help but understand the underlying challenge: how do trainer-teacher-learners help their colleagues in learning fill critically important gaps in their knowledge when those learners don’t even seem to be aware that those gaps exist?

The underlying problem for so many of us, as Coleman noted at the beginning of the discussion (available online in an archived recording and briefly described on the T is for Training site) is that we don’t know what we don’t know. That, as we all agreed during our discussion, is where trainer-teacher-learners play important roles grounded in our own passions about learning—our own learning as well as the learning of those we are committed to supporting.

“It’s tough because there are students who are self-motivated…and then there are students who come into a program…and think ‘You’re going to tell me what I need to know,’” T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl suggested. And it becomes even more difficult when contemporary learners don’t seem be aware of the need to commit to a program of lifelong learning: “You don’t just come out of a degree program and stop learning.”

ccourses_logoFor me, it begins with acknowledgement of and commitment to fostering collaborative learning—the type of learning where everyone has a role to play and there isn’t necessarily a single person serving start-to-finish as the primary mover in the process. It’s the type of learning that we see in connected learning settings, in the best of our connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses), in well-nurtured communities of learning, and so many other settings where the role of learning facilitator is shared in an ever-changing way between the person or people designing and delivering a course or other learning opportunity and the learners themselves. In terms of workplace learning, it’s the difference between a learner showing up to a mandated two-hour “Preventing Sexual Harassment” session online (where the learner passively absorbs canned lectures and then completes the learning experience by taking a quiz) and the same learner showing up for an interactive onsite or online session that provides essential information, includes discussion and chances to absorb and immediately use the information through deeper and richer explorations, then extends to opportunities back in the workplace to demonstrate an ability to apply, in a positive way, the lessons learned. If we’re serious about supporting our learners, nurturing their self-motivation to learn, and gaining the most from the time and resources invested in learning opportunities, we need to passionately and with great dedication show that appropriate application of learning is more important than simply attending a session and passing a test.

What is abundantly clear from that T is for Training discussion and numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues in training-teaching-learning is that the best of those colleagues really do care about the learners they serve and are motivated to support their learning—which is why we spend relatively small amounts of time ranting about the sort of situation Snyder described and much larger amounts of time seeking and implementing ways to help learners identify what they need to know and then supporting their efforts to fill their knowledge gaps. Again, this is collaborative: if we make ourselves accessible to our learners by visiting their worksites, listening to their concerns and watching for gaps they themselves might not have identified, and working with them to create effective, creative, engaging learning opportunities, we all rise together in our learning efforts.

Jill Hurst-Wahl

Jill Hurst-Wahl

It’s far more than an attempt to justify the time, energy, and money that goes into workplace learning and performance/staff development/staff training programs; it’s an acknowledgement that those who aren’t self-motivated and well-supported are not going to survive in contemporary workplaces: “We’re in an economic environment where if you’re not a self-directed learner…you’re going to get left behind,” Hurst-Wahl observed. “That being left behind may not happen immediately [but] in some way, you’re going to be left behind. People are going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know that thing? Huh. OK. I’m moving on.’”

None of which is to say that learning facilitators don’t have important roles to play and that a commitment to the learning process is anything less than an essential element to be cultivated by all parties in the learning process: “I talk about things that I have at least some sort of feeling about,” Coleman noted. “When I’m out presenting or training, usually I feel some affinity for the material…I’m energized; I’m buzzed by it. I want people to be energized by it, too [and talking about it]. If you’re talking, you’re engaged”—and, I would add, cultivating the passion that fosters self-motivation among learners as well as among those of us supporting those learners.

 


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Radical Meeting, Learning, and Collaboration

February 5, 2015

You didn’t have to be in Chicago from Friday, January 30 to Tuesday, February 3 to avoid being left behind. American Library Association (ALA) staff, members, and presenters, during the Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting, displayed an amazing, noteworthy commitment to bringing colleagues together regardless of geographic, economic, and temporal barriers—and, in the process, provided an example every trainer-teacher-learner can benefit from exploring.

alamw15--LogoAssociation staff began the process, in the days before the conference began, by reaching out to members with a set of tips on how to be part of the conference whether onsite or offsite; they also carried the popular ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony to offsite members through a live webcast of the event. This is clearly not an association that cares only for those paying registration fees and booking rooms in conference hotels.

Onsite individual Association members helped augment these efforts connecting offsite colleagues to the conference in a variety of ways, including the use of a Google Hangout and an extremely active Twitter feed that fostered plenty of back and forth. The Hangout, designed to serve as an episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series for those involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries, was a successful experiment in creating a gathering that, through the discussion of “bringing offsite colleagues into the room,” engaged colleagues in the moment and produced a 30-minute archived recording demonstrating how Hangouts work (and, in their weaker moments, don’t work) to extend live conversations beyond the barriers of physical rooms and to further extend them beyond their initial synchronous interactions. And the multi-day #alamw15 flow of tweets from onsite and offsite Association members was so heavy during the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony Monday morning (February 2) that it completely overwhelmed the feed from the social media tool (Twubs) I was using to monitor the exchanges; new tweets appeared to pop up at one-second intervals, and a notification at the top of the Twubs page confirmed, at one point, that more than 480 tweets were waiting to move from a queue into the actual Twubs feed I was observing on my mobile device—which means the feed was, at that point, a full eight minutes behind what all of us were producing. The fast, steady pulse of tweets flowing into the feed made me feel as if I were watching a heart monitor somehow attached to an Olympic athlete engaged in a sprint.

Lankes--Radical_Guide_to_New_LibrarianshipIt seemed that the ALA community’s commitment to inclusivity never faltered. When Atlas of New Librarianship author R. David Lankes began setting up for his hour-long “Radical Conversations on New Librarianship” session Monday morning, for example, he obviously was fully immersed in extending the conversation (and the size of his room) through the same efforts others had pursued. Using Adobe Connect to reach out to offsite participants and using a projector to display the chat feed so those of us inside the physical space at McCormick Place in Chicago could see what our offsite colleagues were saying, Lankes made it possible for us to at least be aware of both sides (onsite and offsite) of an ongoing, intriguing conversation about how librarianship is continuing to evolve to the benefit of all whom it serves. It was clear—as was the case with that Google Hangout Sunday afternoon—that the conversation would continue after the formal session ended: several entry portals to the conversation remain on Lankes’ blog, and the book that will come out of those conversations is sure to inspire additional exchanges long after the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting begins fading in our memories.

ALA_LogoAnother extended no-one-left-behind conversation that was easy to join during the conference was the Association’s current efforts to update its strategic plan. We often hear, from ALA staff, that “the conversation starts here” at the Midwinter Meeting and the Annual (summer) Conference, but the current strategic planning process shows the conversations are also continuous—beginning before we arrive onsite, continuing (rather than starting) while we are face to face, and extending far beyond the few days we have together during those meetings and conferences. Three town hall meetings had been held online from November through December 2014, and archived recordings remain available for those who don’t want to be left behind; several 90-minute onsite “kitchen table conversation” sessions facilitated by Association members during the 2015 Midwinter Conference were open to anyone interested in helping shape the strategic planning process and, by extension, the near-term future of the Association itself. Conversations are scheduled to continue as the planning process proceeds, and anyone paying attention knows that this is yet another example of an association keenly aware of a foundational tenet: without membership engagement, there is no real association in any sense of that word.

Those of us involved in training-teaching-learning—and nearly everyone in libraries falls into that category at some time during day-to-day library work—are far from unfamiliar with what was on display at the Midwinter Conference. The nurturing of community that took place there (as well as before and after the event) is what we strive to nurture as we develop and maintain the valuable communities of learning that provide meaningful experiences for those we serve. It’s what connects conferences. Workshops. Webinars. Courses. And every other learning opportunity part of our overall dynamic learning landscape. And I, for one, am glad to be part of associations that do more than understand that idea—they transform the concept from idea to reality in ways that make a difference to everyone they/we touch.


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Bringing Offsite Colleagues Into the Room

February 1, 2015

With informal help and encouragement from our staff colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA), several of us successfully managed, this afternoon, to reduce the number of people “left behind” during the current ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting being held here in Chicago. And, in the process, we produced a learning object designed to help members of ALA and other associations achieve similarly rewarding results.

ala_leftbehind“ALALeftBehind” has been a bittersweet movement for quite a while now: those unable to be onsite for the Midwinter Meeting held early each year and the Annual Conference held early each summer contact onsite Association members via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for news about what is happening onsite. They also, via the #ALALeftBehind hashtag, comment on how much they wish they could be part of the onsite action.

This was the year we reduced the onsite-online gap a bit more. Largely thanks to the efforts of ALA staff, those who could not attend the conference received tips about resources that could help connect them to onsite activities and colleagues. That commitment to offsite members as well as to the onsite members who could afford the time and cost of traveling to Chicago inspired at least a few of us onsite to seek ways to support that effort and find ways to further draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite rooms.

ALAMW15--LogoAs we were meeting (during the first day of the conference) in the Midwinter Meeting Networking Uncommons—a wonderful space meant to facilitate unplanned encounters and conversations at a significant level—a few of us were expressing the same sort of comments expressed by those left behind: sadness that familiar faces weren’t present for Midwinter 2015 conversations. One person who is particularly important to us is our training-teaching-learning colleague Maurice Coleman, who brings us together online through his biweekly T is for Training conversations/podcasts and has been making audio-recordings of live face-to-face T is for Training sessions at ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences for the past few years. Without Maurice onsite, we realized we would miss our semi-annual face-to-face session—until we decided that if we couldn’t bring Maurice and “T” into the Uncommons and the rest of the conference, we would bring the Uncommons and the conference to Maurice.

We were lucky enough to be sitting with Jenny Levine, the ALA staff member who remains the driving force behind the Uncommons (and much more), as our plan began to develop; she quickly confirmed a reservation for the final 30-minute slot remaining for formal use of the Uncommons during the 2015 Midwinter Meeting. We then contacted Maurice and a few other T is for Training colleagues who were offsite to see whether they wanted to participate in a unique T is for Training session via a Google Hangout rather than the usual audio-only format we use through TalkShoe.

There was a conscious decision that we weren’t going to make the Hangout appear too well-rehearsed, and we also agreed that we would rely on our improvisational skills to address any unexpected problems that came up during the session. Having experimented with blended onsite-online conference attendance via Twitter and blended learning opportunities via Google Hangouts, I saw this as an opportunity to pull a session together with minimal planning, preparation, and rehearsal so that #alaleftbehind colleagues would see how easily similar gatherings could be arranged while also seeing what can go wrong with this sort of impromptu erasing of the Left Behind brand.

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

That’s exactly how it played out during the live session earlier this afternoon. The opening segment with guest host Kate Kosturski, T is for Training colleague Jules Shore, and me in the Networking Uncommons began right on time and featured a decent quality of audio and video. Our first (not-unexpected) glitch occurred when Maurice was unable to join the Hangout in its recorded version, so came in through a virtual back door: my tablet. Figuring that low-quality Maurice was better than no Maurice, I took the only action I could imagine taking: I held the tablet up to the webcam and hoped for the best. Watching the archived recording shows that it was a gamble that paid off: the audio and video feed captured from the tablet was even better in the recording than it was for those of us in the Uncommons—which doesn’t mean it was great (far from it), but as a spur-of-the-moment solution, it worked. Better yet, it added the sort of levity to the session that is such a valuable and valued part of all T is for Training sessions.

The experiment gained momentum about12 minutes into the session with Jill Hurst-Wahl, another key part of the T is for Training community, was able to join the Hangout from her home. After a moment or two of trouble-shooting, she was completely integrated into the exchange and the conversation resumed where it had stopped when Maurice first came in via the tablet.

Our moment of success came just after the halfway point, when Maurice was able to switch from the tablet feed to the version visible in the archived recording. And, for the remainder of the program, we once again showed how a conference room can quickly expand from being a small onsite space to a space that extend across entire states.

It could have been better; we should have been able to include other participants via the chat function in Google Hangouts. But as an example of how low-cost, high-impact technology can help us redefine our meeting and our learning spaces and how it can further reduce the size of our Left Behind groups, it offers an effective case study. And it will continue reducing that Left Behind group person by person as more people view the recording and use it to create their own no-longer-left-behind experiences.


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

August 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


Presentations on Presentations: Levels of Engagement

February 14, 2012

Given the strong belief that a fear of public speaking is the greatest fear most people have, it’s probably no surprise that we’re surrounded by presentations on presentations. Or that we can’t seem to be around our training-teaching-learning colleagues without finding ourselves engaged in conversations on the topic.

Looking at upcoming events for members of American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) chapters recently, even I was surprised to see how many, without formally coordinating their efforts, had scheduled keynote addresses on presentation skills and how to engage learners. (I’ll be attending one with ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues later this month, and just missed one at the ASTD South Florida Chapter earlier this month.)

Diving into a live online discussion with colleagues on Maurice Coleman’s latest T is for Training podcast late last week brought the topic to center stage again as we spent most of our time together talking about the challenges of writing training materials for other trainers. And during the discussion, a colleague mentioned a newly-posted and completely fascinating TED talk, by Nancy Duarte, on the structure of highly effective speeches (Steve Job’s introduction of the iPhone, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech).

All of this comes right at a time when I had the great good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jerry Weissman, one of the most highly respected presentation coaches in the corporate world, and author of several books including Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story.

You have to be good if you’re going to sell more than 100,000 copies of a book about how to be a better presenter. Jerry Weissman is good. And he gets to the heart of great presentation skills by reminding us, throughout this wonderfully engaging book, of the importance of story if we want to hold the attention of audiences at a time when attention spans are as ephemeral as yesterday’s tweets.

Whether we’re new to the art of presentation or are experienced presenter-trainer-teachers benefitting from the useful reminders Weissman provides, he carries us through the presentation cycle with lots of guidance, including warnings of how we can go wrong: not offering clear points, not offering a clear benefit to our audiences (what’s in it for them, not us), not creating a clear flow of thought and information in our work, offering more details than an audience can absorb, or creating presentations that last too long.

He also offers the structure that telling a good story provides: taking listeners from where they are (Point A) to where they need to be (Point B) in ways that focus on them rather than on us. He provides a concise survey of structures we can incorporate into presentations to make them flow and reminds us of the importance of “verbalization”—rehearsing our work out loud “just as you will on the day of your actual presentation” (p. 164) numerous times so that the story that is at the heart of all we do will flow naturally from us to those who are depending on us to make that all-important journey from Point A to Point B. Furthermore, he models the very skills he is trying to develop by incorporating presentation stories throughout his book in an effort to help us understand the process viscerally as well as intellectually.

It’s often the lines that seem to be most casually tossed off that take us most deeply to the heart of presentation professionalism. Writing about his attendance at investment banking conferences, he tells us that he is there “because they let me observe many presentations in one place, in a short time.” And if someone of his experience and reputation is attending presentations to pick up tips, it makes us ask ourselves why we aren’t equally engaged in seeing what others are doing if we’re at all serious about continually honing our own skills.

There’s no mistaking the seriousness with which Weissman expects and encourages us to approach the art of presentation: “…every presentation is a mission-critical event” (p. 168). With that as our guiding light, we should all be on our way to successful and engaging experiences for those we serve.

We have plenty of great role models out there, including Cliff Atkinson and his Beyond Bullet Points, and Garr Reynolds and his PresentationZen. And we’re all aware of the syndrome known as “Death by PowerPoint”—those dreadfully painful moments when someone fills a slide with incredibly dense blocks of illegible type—and then insists on reading every word of the text as if that somehow is going to engage us in the topic rather than make us wish we were dead.

With so many resources available, we need to remind ourselves that help is on the way. In fact, it’s all around us. If only we’re willing to grab it and run with it.


Social Learning Centers: When Fourth Place Is a Winner

March 23, 2011

The creation of social learning centers as the important fourth place in our lives took another wonderful leap forward today with a successful attempt to create a blended—onsite/online—fourth place extending from Washington DC to San Francisco.

It wasn’t flawless. And it wasn’t always pretty. But, as colleague and co-presenter Maurice Coleman noted to appreciative laughter from participants, we learn as much from failure as we learn from our successes.

For those of you who feel as if you just walked into the second act of a play in progress, let’s take one step back before making the obvious leaps forward: Ray Oldenburg, more than two decades ago, used his book The Great Good Place to define the three important places in our lives. In that pre-World Wide Web period, those places were physical (onsite) sites: home as the first place, work as the second place, and our treasured community meeting places playing the role of the third place—the great good place.

The idea for a fourth place—the community gathering place for social learning—sprouted from a rapidly planted seed in August 2010 during an episode of Maurice’s biweekly T is for Training podcast. By the end of that T is for Training conversation, we had decided that a perfect place to spread the idea was the annual Computers in Libraries conference—which we finally were able to do today.

Our experiment onsite in Washington DC was far from perfect. But by the end of the 45-minute session that Maurice, T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, and I designed, we had in many ways exceeded our goal, for we not only described the fourth place, we created an onsite-online fourth place that, with any luck, will continue to exist and expand. (Jill’s summary of the session is included on her Digitization 101 blog in a posting dated March 24, 2011.)

Maurice and Jill were onsite; I planned to deliver my portion of the presentation, via Skype, from San Francisco. We talked about how libraries as social learning spaces could be developed in existing library buildings or online. Or in outdoor settings (gardens, if gardening was the object of a learning lesson). Or even in refurbished shipping containers if an organization wanted to combine recycling with learning. We also talked about the various ways learning is delivered online these days: through formal well-planed courses and webinars as well as informally through chat, through Twitter, and through Skype.

The denouement was to be the moment when we called attention to how Skype and Twitter were being used live, during the presentation, to draw our online colleagues into the onsite learning venue at the conference. And it almost worked out that way—except that the Skype section was far diminished by an unexpectedly bad Internet connection at the conference site.

And that, surprisingly enough, was when all the planning and creativity that went into the presentation paid off, for when we realized that the Skype section wasn’t going to work, Maurice used his copy of the slides and script I had prepared and he delivered the live portion of my presentation. And while Jill was moving forward with her part of the session, I turned to the conference Twitter feed to see if anyone was actually tweeting what was happening. Which, of course, someone was. So by using Twitter to reach that audience member, I was able to determine what was happening onsite; Maurice and I established a typed-chat connection via Skype since my audio feed was less than what was acceptable to us; and Maurice used the webcam on his Netbook to allow me to see and hear the two of them in action for the remainder of the session.

The result was that we jury-rigged exactly what we had set out to do through our rehearsals—a learning space that combined onsite and online participants; a combination of live presentation, Skype, and Twitter to allow all of us to engage in a learning session; and a demonstration of how this particular fourth place might continue to exist if any of us decide to come back together via Twitter, Skype, or face to face.

There were signs, even before our time together ended, that we were on our way to having made a difference. One participant wrote, via Twitter, that he is “gonna get an empty shipping container (for free), set it up in Brooklyn Park, & invite community to make it a 4th learning space.”

For more of the conversation, please visit the overall conference Twitter record at #cil11 and look for postings during the second half of the day on March 23, 2011. Tweeters included @librarycourtney, @meerkatdon,  @mgkrause (who posted, from a different session, “This was so basic—wish I had gone to the 4th place talk to hear about tech shops!”),and @jeanjeanniec. Slide and speaker notes from the portions Jill and I prepared are also available online for those who want to explore the idea of social learning centers as fourth place.


Community, Collaboration, and Learning: Time for the Fourth Place

August 15, 2010

It appears to be time to further develop what Ray Oldenburg initiated with The Great Good Place. That wonderful and still-influential book, first written and published more than twenty years ago in a pre-World Wide Web era, suggests that our first place is our home, our second place is where we work, and our third place is the treasured community meeting place where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go. The idea of the third place has been embraced by many, and has a counterpart in “the Intersection,” which Frans Johansson describes in his own more recently published book, The Medici Effect, as a place where people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

What seems to be ripe for development now is a complementary fourth place: a community gathering place for social learning. The idea for this version of a fourth place (more about other versions in a moment) came out of a discussion two days ago with colleagues participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training podcast—which, in its own way, has become an online third/fourth place for an ever-expanding community of learners comprised of those involved and/or interested in workplace learning and performance in libraries.

The potential development of the fourth place as community gathering place for social learning is worth exploring in and of itself since it embraces all that the concept suggests and it serves as an online example of what both Oldenburg and Johansson describe in face-to-face settings. Coleman’s latest podcast began with a handful of us discussing what we would love to see discussed at the annual Computers in Libraries  conference, to be held in Washington DC in March 2011. Because T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, who serves as Assistant Professor of Practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and is involved in planning the conference, was participating in the discussion, we quickly started dreaming about topics that have been on our minds, including the idea that “Computers (and Humans) in Libraries,” with a strong emphasis on listening to what library users want from libraries, might open some doors and eyes. As if on cue, the remaining participants—Coleman, Library System of Lancaster County Training Coordinator Stephanie Zimmerman, Statewide MarylandAskUsNow! Coordinator Julie Strange, and I—were joined in our Intersection by a contributor who had not previously called in during one of the live online sessions: someone who identified himself as Rutgers University student Walter Salem.

Salem was exactly what we were seeking: a person who is not involved in training but who expressed a passion for what libraries are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. While he was commenting via the audio portion of the program, a few of us noted via the typed chat that he seemed to be describing Oldenburg’s third place, and we actually suggested that to him. At that point, he corrected us by emphasizing that what he really loved was the sense of a place where he was surrounded by learning and the potential for learning, and that’s where we started translating his thoughts into something concrete for libraries and any other onsite or online community willing to use all the tech and human tools available to us.

“Maybe we’re looking at a ‘fourth place’: the educational community meeting place where members of the community gather,” I suggested via the typed chat.

“The interesting thing is that this ‘fourth place’ can be anywhere,” Hurst-Wahl immediately typed back. “It needs to be a ‘place’ where there are resources (people, books, computers, etc.) to connect people to the knowledge that they want to acquire.”

It didn’t take long for all of us to agree that this is an idea well worth nurturing and promoting, and Coleman had, before the live discussion ended, provided the refined fourth place definition with which we are working: “a community gathering place for social learning.” And while all of us were specifically thinking of the roles libraries could play as this sort of fourth place, it’s obvious to me that there’s room for fourth places of this level in almost any onsite or online setting where learners come and go, where they seek a community of support and a chance for Intersection-level exchanges, and where the place itself serves as and inspires communities of learning.

Curiosity, of course, compels us to immediately ask whether others have already toyed with the idea of a fourth Oldenburgesque place. The answer is yes, and one of them appears to have made its online debut just a month before we had our own Intersection moment: Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other more recently published books, proposed his own version of a fourth place as a mixture of commerce and engagement. And writer-consultant Doug Fleener was actually five years ahead of us with a proposal of fourth place  as “a gathering place inside a store for customers who share a common interest in the products and services the retailer sells.”

So perhaps what we are working with are sub-sets of Oldenburg’s original third place—communities with specific interests. Or an entirely original version and description of the important places in our life. Or, perhaps with yet another nod to the brilliance of the entire Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 phenomena, we’re looking at Place 4.0, and an acknowledgment that there is room for all three proposals described here: a series which begins with Place 4.1, Place 4.2, and Place 4.3, then continues with the infinite possibilities of places that are different, yet intrinsically connected to, what Oldenburg has set in motion.

Let’s see how many interesting Places this might take us or produce.

Updates: Jill Hurst-Wahl, on August 17, 2010, has continued the conversation on her Digitization 101 blog (at http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2010/08/community-collaboration-and-learning.html).


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