Sarah Houghton-Jan: Tech Training That Works for Anyone

August 12, 2010

Sarah Houghton-Jan, whose work as Digital Futures Manager for the San José Public Library and as author of the Librarian in Black blog has earned her justifiably large amounts of attention and praise, has produced a dream book that is well suited for audiences far beyond its stated target.

Technology Training in Libraries sparkles with Houghton-Jan’s well deserved reputation for jargon-free, plain-talking, and humorously honest help for readers: “…having staff members who are not adequately trained in technology trying to support library users is like having a cardboard egg carton holding up an SUV,” she suggests (p. 5) in a statement that could easily be applied to workers in many other organizations. She also provides at least a partial answer to a question I heard a few years ago: what can corporate knowledge management and training professionals learn from library and information science professionals, and vice versa? Plenty, if we read Technology Training in Libraries and don’t limit ourselves by applying the information solely to those who work in libraries.

Early on, for example, Houghton-Jan provides a list of “essential technology training topics in libraries” and other potential training topics—nearly all of which could just as easily be adapted within a nonprofit or commercial organization looking to develop a cutting-edge workforce (pp. 6-7). Employees in libraries are clearly not the only ones who need to master technology terminology; understand how to effectively use email, web browsers, and online search skills to the benefit of the customers they serve; and be able to avoid ergonomic problems caused by improper set-up of employees’ (and customers’) work stations. And the writer’s list of areas of future growth—cloud computing, surface computing, open source software development among them—are equally applicable and important to workplace learning and performance programs and knowledge managers in nearly any professional setting today.

She also focuses on and acknowledges common-sense elements that are often overlooked, including the importance of providing learner-centric training: “Ask yourself—how would attendees have a better learning experience?” (p. 9).

The remainder of the book is equally useful and well organized as she devotes pithy chapters to planning, implementing, marketing, establishing best practices for, and evaluating the delivery of effective technology training. She doesn’t skimp on the basics: she includes plenty of tips for how to develop a list of skills to be addressed through training (pp. 13-20); a suggested list of “five key elements to keep in mind” when deciding what to include in training (customer demand, organizational goals, immediate return on investment, training effectiveness, and consequences of not providing training—pp. 34-35); and suggestions on how to establish peer training and train the trainer programs (pp. 65-70).

Online training resources receive generous attention throughout the book, particularly on pages 80–86, and there’s even a brief description (p. 83) of an innovation in online delivery that I still remember fondly—the use of Skype as a delivery tool for a segment of the 2007 offering of the annual Future of Libraries conference sponsored by a local San Francisco Bay Area training consortium now known as the Pacific Library Partnership Staff Development Committee. That Skype session was described online at the time both by Houghton-Jan and her Skype co-presenter, Char Booth.

The extensive recommended resources listings and bibliography at the end of the book, furthermore, are icing on a well baked cake, leaving readers with plenty of useful resources—including several used as links in this summary of her work. Those in search of dessert as well as a substantial main course will find both in Technology Training in Libraries, and we all owe Houghton-Jan and her publisher a round of applause for making the information available in such a concise fashion (103 pages of text, followed by the additional resources already mentioned).


Technology, Trouble-shooting, and Seeking Creative Solutions: Wherefore Art Thou, Google Chat?

August 5, 2010

Having just finished reading Jaron Lanier’s good-natured rant against those who fall into the trap of mistakenly believing and acting as if technology is human (You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto), I caught myself falling into the trap.

Because I have been successfully using Google Chat as a tool for conducting interviews for writing projects as well as for delivering just-in-time learning, I’ve come to rely on it—which in and of itself is not a bad practice. The ability to type questions and receive written responses in a way that immediately produces a complete and printable transcript of interviews is a great way to assure accuracy and avoid misunderstandings.

It’s when it first began to let me down—note the insidious way the words “let me down” so easily sneak into this discourse, as if Google Chat were a friend instead of a sophisticated gadget—that I first felt the sense of betrayal usually reserved for sentient beings: “Oh, Google Chat, how could you let me down?” (Actually, the question was much more expletive-laden when it popped into my head, but there’s no need to be overly graphic here and offend both of you who are reading this.)

The problem began in the middle of an interview for the book Lori Reed and I are co-writing for ALA Editions. The colleague who was sitting across the country from me and responding to my typed questions seemed to be taking longer than usual to respond. After several moments of silence, I shifted my attention to an incoming call—which was, of course, from the interviewee to determine whether I had seen a response he had sent moments earlier. Realizing that our online conversation in the live chat box was showing up less than complete, we stayed on the phone as we attempted to continue, and soon realized that the onscreen version wasn’t conveying everything that was being stored in the transcript in our Gmail accounts. Relieved that we weren’t losing anything, but puzzled by the anomaly, we finished as quickly as we could, assumed that we had somehow angered the tech gods (clearly lower case deities), and soon went our separate ways. (An aside, out of fairness to Google Chat—see, there I go again, anthropomorphizing the tech tool; Lanier would be laughing at my plight if he could see me now—I should admit that the technology of fountain pens has failed me in the writing of the first draft of this piece; my pen just ran out of ink, forcing me to resort to the back-up technology of having a second fountain pen in hand. Let’s chalk it up to user error since I’m the one who forgot to refill the ink cartridge this morning, and return to the point of my own Lanierian rant.)

Returning to Google Chat a few days later for an interview with a different colleague, I warned the interviewee that we might need to use our (old technology) phones as a back-up if the earlier problem repeated itself. Which, of course, it did. With a vengeance.  About 30 minutes after we began, some of our transmissions stopped appearing in the live chat box, but continued to appear in the chat history. Then delays started occurring in the postings to the chat history—just a moment or two, but enough to be annoyingly disruptive. Then the chat history stopped picking up lines in no discernable pattern, but the live chat box retrieved some of what was missing from the transcript. If we hadn’t been laughing so much at our own plight, we probably would have wept. But we persevered by seeking the creative solution of combining the live chat, the incomplete transcript, and the phone conversation, and were lucky to eventually end up with the complete transcript we both needed.

This is where Lanier’s could have served as a voice of reason and good counsel if I had already been reading his book. I began turning to what he variously refers to as “the hive”—that faceless group of online collaborators whom we sometimes mistake for a single online intelligent entity rather than a loosely knit group of individuals contributing to an ongoing conversation—or  “cybernetic totalists,” or, more humanely, “the tribe.” I posted a brief description of the glitch and sought advice from others in a couple of very active discussion groups, but received no response. The hive, apparently, was asleep. I then tried to reach Google representatives online, and still had no success.

Turning to Yahoo! Messenger as an alternative, I at least was able to determine that my (non-sentient) computer was not preventing me from using any form of online chat as a way to continue my interviews. But I still haven’t completely resolved the problems Google Chat is causing. And I know Google Chat is not an enemy. Nor is it a friend. It just is. And I, apparently, am not a gadget. But I am a writer in search of solutions for the problems that the gadgets in my life present.

Now, back to the draft of that book in progress. With our without the gadgets.


Rework: Collaboration, Creativity, and the Spirit of Wikinomics

July 25, 2010

The commitment to improvisation, collaboration, and sharing that runs through all successful workplace learning and performance efforts is at the heart of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s recently released book, Rework, a wonderful collection of very short essays about how we need to rework much of what we currently do.

It’s a book very much of its moment as those preferring Web 2.0-style collaborations and those who feel territorial about everything they produce attempt to find common ground. The writers suggest that we avoid the complexities and turf wars which so often hold many of us back from achievements we might otherwise produce if we weren’t trying to do too much, trying to recreate what others are doing rather than pursuing our own vision on behalf of those we serve, and allowing ourselves to “obsess over tools instead of what [we]’re going to do with those tools” (p. 87).

Readers familiar with Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, will find themselves on familiar ground here as they encounter Fried and Hansson’s suggestion to “sell your by-products” (pp. 90-91)—a suggestion rooted in the idea that if we find applications for everything we work on rather than focusing only on what we set out to do and leaving untapped resources as waste material, we become more effective at what we do. Trainers, for example, might take parts of something already finished and find a new use for it, as Gwinnett County Public Library Training Manager Jay Turner did by using video clips from a live staff recognition event to create a new half-hour virtual staff day video which more than 90 percent of staff voluntarily watched after he posted it online for them; Turner found another way to rework the material by writing, for other trainers, about the tools he used to produce the piece.

Another familiar aspect of the book is the light and playful approach the writers take—which also carries over to the promotional videos posted on their website for Rework. The simple graphics which are interspersed with the text throughout the book seem to take a page—or many pages—from Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin, which help trainers and other presenters see that we don’t have to display the artistic skills of Michelangelo or Rafael to be able to reach others. The use of the graphics and the stylistic device of providing short sections on dozens of interrelated themes—most pieces are no longer than a tightly written blog posting and have the same sense of informality—make the book a pleasure to peruse and easy to absorb. Which means it again offers a great model for trainers who are tackling complex topics and trying to find ways to break the complexity into small, digestible chunks.

It is not the content that is revolutionary here. Reminders to improvise (pp. 18-20), produce something tangible rather than engaging in endless discussions about producing something tangible (pp. 33-45), undertake a few achievable projects rather than trying to pursue every possibility and ending up completing none (p. 83), ask what problems we are solving through our undertakings (p. 100), and learn by doing rather than always trying to duplicate what others have accomplished (pp. 134-136) simply take us back to basics we should already know but all too often set aside in a frenzy of trying to respond to all constituents without serving any of them effectively. And if we can relearn and rework some of these lessons, just imagine what the learners we assist will gain.


Leaders Emerging

July 5, 2010

One of the great pleasures of attending the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last week was seeing Emerging Leaders Program participants display and discuss the year-long projects they completed.

Projects on view during a two-hour poster session held on Friday, June 25 in the Washington Convention Center showed a great amount of planning, creativity, and practical application. Among the topics were web-based leadership development; a free-links project “to identify and select free web-based tutorials and professional development information for librarians in other countries to access via the Internet,” with the links being posted on a wiki; a survey of ALA members to determine how interested they were in having the Association adapt Web 2.0 tools into its new content management system;  and revising and updating an online staff development resource center so that individuals and organizations can “share policies, manuals, materials, and other information related to library staff development,” according to printed material distributed  by members of the Emerging Leaders group that completed that project.

Two projects which quickly caught my attention were sponsored by the ALA Learning Round Table (formerly CLENE), an ALA group which serves as an online and conference-level home away from home for me and many others involved in workplace learning and performance. The first, providing a recipe for planning successful staff day activities, drew from responses provided by nearly 600 ALA members and resulted in creation of a wiki which includes a variety of resources for those interested in developing their own staff day successes and a short video documenting their work. The second, creating and documenting the process of offering a sustainable webinar series for workplace learning and performance professionals in libraries, provides information for others interested in developing a similar series and is also described in two separate short online videos.

There really wasn’t a bad project among the more than 20 that were on display, and it’s a credit to those who each year facilitate this dynamic project for library staff members who are either under 35 years old or who have fewer than five years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level within libraries.

What was somewhat surprising to me was how few of the sponsoring ALA divisions and round tables actually had members onsite to work alongside the Emerging Leaders during their presentations. Discussions with program participants provided food for thought: although they were tremendously grateful for the opportunities they had under the Emerging Leaders program, many of them said they had not been approached about becoming members of the groups, were not sure whether they would continue their relationships with the groups which sponsored their projects, and wished they had been able to work alongside members of those sponsoring organizations during the  two-hour session on June 25—a clear call to action for those of us who want to support the efforts of these and the other emerging leaders in our lives.


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 2 of 2)

February 15, 2010

“Many…won’t be able to simply pick up where they left off when growth returns—they’ll need to retrain and find new careers,” Deputy Managing Editor Don Peck tells us in his thought-provoking, in-depth, and beautifully written article “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” which appears in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic and on the magazine’s online site.

There will be new jobs, he predicts—“But many will have different skill requirements than the old ones.”

Which is awful news for those who thought they were finished learning after they graduated from high school. Or college. Or finished earning a Master’s degree. Or a second or third Master’s degree. But for trainer-teacher-learners, this is nothing if not an absolute calling to rise to the challenges of our profession.

It’s been clear to a lot of us that learning has been a life-long necessity for many years now. That’s why we spend so much time continuing to hone our own skills, attend workshops, and occasionally return to more formal academic programs at times when our predecessors were reaching the peaks of their careers or even winding down in anticipation of retirement.

What Peck does masterfully is take a relatively long view of jobs and joblessness stretching from the Great Depression to the current devastating recession, catching us up on sources ranging from Mirra Komarovsky—a sociologist whose work on the Depression included The Unemployed Man and His Family—to Gary Burtless from the Brookings Institution, who is quoted as saying that “every time someone’s laid off now, they need to start over. They don’t even know what industry they’ll be in next.” And in the course of his explorations, Peck indirectly reminds us that the need for first-rate trainer-teacher-learners is far from limited to times of economic distress: “the recession has merely intensified a long-standing trend,” he writes. “Broadly speaking, the service sector, which employs relatively more women, is growing, while manufacturing, which employs relatively more men, is shrinking.” If we’re not there to provide training and support for those in what we all-too-dispassionately call “transition,” we’re missing a life-changing opportunity to make significant contributions to the communities we serve.

Peck seems to be thinking globally when he concludes that we “are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one which could stain our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come. We have a civic—and indeed a moral—responsibility to do everything in our power to stop it now, before it gets worse.” And if those of us with training-teaching-learning skills take that message to heart, we can be part of a much needed solution.

Which brings us back to the experience that inspired this two-part article: by continually educating ourselves, exploring new tools which become available to us, and sharing what we learn through online social networking tools including Google Buzz, we contribute to and help develop the communities of learning we so desperately need.


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 1 of 2)

February 13, 2010

Being the pseudo-troglodyte that I am, I have not joined Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking services that friends and colleagues enjoy on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’ve found LinkedIn, Ning, and a few other tools to be tremendously effective for what I value: using online tools as tools rather than letting them demand minutes and hours I simply cannot spare.

Google, this week, shifted my thinking a bit by pushing a new free and easy-to-use add-on into my Gmail account: Google Buzz. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the theme of microblogging a la Twitter and LinkedIn updates by allowing participants to connect to each other very easily through the posting of short messages back and forth over a shared network.

What really drew me to experiment with Buzz over the first few days of its existence was the realization that I could view—or not view—Buzz entries as time and desire allowed. Friends who use Twitter tell me that if I don’t want to check for updates frequently and respond rapidly, there’s really no point in using Twitter; Buzz, on the other hand, approaches me as I love being approached: it’s available, but not demanding.

Twitter, on its own website, bills itself as “a real-time information network powered by people all over the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now…[w]hether it’s breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favorite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend.” The result is that users post an overwhelming amount of personal information which can quickly drown readers in minutiae.

Facebook clearly provides a playfully social gathering place for people looking for the online equivalent of the “third place” away from home and work that Ray Oldenburg described so well in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community more than 20 years ago. With the online Facebook community comes an expectation that responses from community members will be swift and plentiful.

LinkedIn offers a relatively unobtrusive business- and career-oriented variation on the theme, serving as a way to “find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” Controlling the flow of incoming information is easy to manage, which is one of its most attractive features for me.

And now we reach Buzz, which attempts to provide a way to “start conversations about the things you find interesting,” according to the introductory video posted by Google. It’s already clear that much of the information overload seen through other microblogging tools is possible, and it’s equally clear that its success as a valuable information source depends on how we all use it.

While it’s far too soon to know how it will play out, I have to admit that I’ve already been delighted with a few of the results. While several people are posting exactly the sort of personal ephemeral updates which keep me away from Twitter and Facebook, a few are exploring the possibilities of sharing useful resources along the lines of meeting notices and professional print and online resources we might otherwise overlook.

UC Berkeley E-Learning Librarian Char Booth, for example, posted a link providing information on her forthcoming book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators right at a time when I had been exploring and writing about the need for more reflection in learning. Writer-instructor-librarian Meredith Farkas initiated an exchange soliciting recommendations for “a really good book (or books) with concrete suggestions for engaging library instruction activities.” And ALA Learning colleague and co-writer Lori Reed posted a link to “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic, a fascinating article with interesting repercussions for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning.

So I’ve been Buzzed. And I’ve already absorbed that wonderful article from The Atlantic. And am now ready to Buzz others with thoughts about what that article suggests to the trainer-teacher-learners among us.

Next: What the Atlantic Article Suggests for Trainer-Teacher-Learners


Transformative and Reflective Life-long Learning (Part 2 of 3)

January 27, 2010

Bamboo Project blogger Michele Martin’s recent lament about how little time we provide for reflection in the learning process was far from the entire story for her. In talking with Maurice Coleman in the T is for Training interview he did with her, she also returned to a theme she has often written about: the need for learners to take personal responsibility for their own continuing education and creating their own personal learning environments—or, as Stephanie Zimmerman writes in an ALA Learning post, engaging in “feral learning.”

Those who rely on their employers to direct their training-learning opportunities are, Martin maintains, missing one of the most important lessons of all: “We need to take control of our own learning…When the company is in charge of your learning, then you are always learning what they want you to learn…We need to say, ‘What is it that I want to learn? How do I want to develop?’…The people who left it up to companies: at the end of the day, they were obsolete.”

This is far from a theoretical proposal, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt suggest in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom: “The traditional educational model, based primarily on the concept of the school and the teacher in a classroom as islands, standing alone and not interconnected with society or other educational institutions, will not generate competence in a knowledge society” (p. 166).

Workplace learning and performance professionals who serve as leaders within their organizations assure me that they are as eager to provide and facilitate learning experiences as they are to encourage the development of the sort of communities of learning which grow when we direct our own continuing education.

Martin as well as Palloff and Pratt see tremendous opportunities through effective online learning and the use of Web 2.0 (online social networking) tools: “Not only are we helping to shape the creation of empowered, lifelong learners, our participation as equal members of a group of learners supports us in our own quest for lifelong learning,” Palloff and Pratt write (p. 168).

Another element of this process, they note, is that we don’t frequently enough ask whether learners are adequately prepared for or ready to engage in online learning and take advantage of the opportunities which exist for transformative and reflective life-long learning. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them along on their individual paths toward this level of creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning; De Anza College Distance Learning Center staff actually provide a great example for all of us through the “Distance Learning Questionnaire” they adopted many years ago from the PBS-Adult Learning Service (p. 154) before it ceased operating in 2005.

It’s clear that none of this is particularly new. It’s also clear that it’s an important element of training-teaching-learning which is far from universal. If we embrace the opportunities provided through creating personal learning environments and exploring feral learning, we move one step closer to teaching by example and producing the sort of results which all too rarely are documented within the organizations we serve.

Next: Reflective Preparation—The De Anza College Questionnaire


Transformative and Reflective Life-long Learning (Part 1 of 3)

January 25, 2010

Listening to Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training interview with Bamboo Project blogger Michele Martin about learning, Web 2.0 (online social networking), and a variety of other topics, I was struck by a passing reference she makes to the need for reflection in learning: “One of the things that I find from a learning perspective that is often missing is the whole notion of reflection. We’re just not really great with reflection…and social media, to some extent, can support it…”

What’s notable is not that someone is lamenting the lack of reflection in contemporary learning, but that so many of us recognize and comment on it yet somehow don’t seem able to foster it to a large degree in workplace learning and performance programs.

It’s not as if we’re unaware or it or even unsure as to how to proceed. Those of us familiar with Fort Hill Company’s efforts to create comprehensive leadership training opportunities which draw managers/supervisors and learners together before as well as after learning events take place know that there are great models to be followed and adapted. The Fort Hill Company model is also well documented in Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results; a follow-up manual (Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training & Development) written by Jefferson, Pollock, and Wick is designed to help managers/supervisors and learners better apply what is offered through face-to-face or online learning opportunities.

But the moments of what Jack Mezirow calls “transformative learning” and “critical reflection” seem few and far between in most programs we see and oversee today. Learners often have to fight to obtain release time from work—the very idea that learning is somehow disconnected from or not an integral part of work hints at how deep-rooted a problem we face here—and then often return to worksites where what they learned is not accepted, nourished, or supported. Worse yet, the time to even practice what is learned is seen as a luxury rather than an essential element of the learning process.

As Martin says in different words in her T is for Training interview, one benefit of online learning is that course participants can “engage with and reflect on the course content,” Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt note in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom (p. 129)—a book which is as fresh and timely as when it was published more than a decade ago. (An updated version was published in 2007.)  The process of making reflection a part of learning, they add, “is a vibrant, dynamic process that is typically not completed when a course ends…the first experience with this process creates a hunger for more and sets the stage for participants to become lifelong, reflective learners” (p. 130).

It all becomes personal—as learning should be—and transformative when we immerse ourselves in a combination of face-to-face and online learning experiences, as I did over the past couple of years. Regardless of whether the courses were online or onsite, the best were the ones that left me hungry for more. Made me continue reading and thinking about books like Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations and Lon Safko and David Brake’s The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success long after the courses and projects requiring them had ended. And make me appreciative that trainer-teacher-learners like Martin, Palloff, Pratt, and the others mentioned in this article are still among us to remind us what we can accomplish when we are reflective.

Next: Personal Learning Environments and Feral Learning


Skype and Low-Cost E-learning Delivered at the Moment of Need

January 22, 2010

Delivering low- or no-cost e-learning at the moment of need seems to become easier every day through the use of Web 2.0 (online social networking) tools. Having written earlier this month about using Google Chat to deliver a dynamic, interactive, and effective online lesson to journalism students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I found myself experimenting on short notice with Skype as a live delivery tool yesterday for basic Excel and PowerPoint lessons.

The good news is that it worked; the even better news is that the immediate payoff for the learner might be a job she would very much love to have.

Our online learning experience developed after she received a call yesterday afternoon to let her know that she was being invited to interview for a position this afternoon. This appeared to be great news until the interviewer told her that the company needed someone with good Excel and PowerPoint skills. The interviewee/learner in this case had a basic familiarity with both programs, but felt less than confident that she could display proficiency during an interview. I assured her that I would be happy to meet with her face-to-face that evening to cover the basics of both programs, but scheduling conflicts and the fact that we live in different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area made that infeasible. We were at a momentary loss until a wonderful intermediary suggested that we attempt to conduct the lessons via Skype—which proved to be a godsend for both of us.

Making this work required little more than the (free) Skype connection; (inexpensive) webcams and audio-visual capabilities (built into her laptop, add-ons to my PC); a bit of creativity; and a lot of patience from both sides. It also obviously helped that we’re both comfortable with Skype and that she is an incredibly fast learner. We decided we would tackle Excel first, so established the Skype connection and kept the Skype window visible in the lower right-hand corner of our individual computers while we talked back and forth. We then each opened a blank Excel spreadsheet and created a sample budget together in the program so we could use and review the basic functions she would need to understand in her prospective workplace. Each time we completed something together, we would explicitly describe what we were seeing on our screens to be sure that we were creating identical documents. By the end of that hour-long session, we completed the rudimentary sample budget and reviewed the steps we had taken to create it, and she had a working document which she could use for further review, study, and explorations of the program.

After taking a break for a few hours, we returned later in the evening to create a sample PowerPoint presentation comprised of just a few slides with a Beyond Bullet Points approach so she again would learn by creating something useful and, at the same time, visually striking. Following the same procedures proved very effective; when she arrived for her interview this afternoon, she received compliments for having creatively crafted something which highlighted the products produced by her prospective employer.

Although many of us still remain convinced that there is a strong case to be made for face-to-face training in an onsite-online world, it’s equally clear that the term “face-to-face” is rapidly evolving as tools such as Skype create extremely effective opportunities for virtual (and virtually) face-to-face learning if trainer-teacher-learners are willing to experiment and those they help are willing to reach across the rapidly shrinking digital divide with their own equipment or through libraries and other gateways to Internet access.


Viral Learning (Just in Time)

January 15, 2010

Forget about viral marketing, the contemporary version of word-of-mouth promotion combined with Web 2.0 social networking tools.

Let’s popularize a relatively new, rarely encountered phrase—“viral learning”—and acknowledge San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard for unintentionally providing an example of how easily we can use this to the benefit of those working in libraries.

The story begins with a lunch Marti and I had. We were talking about articles on the topic of “Training, Story, and PowerPoint”; Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points; and how to make training and learning sticky. I had read both editions of Atkinson’s book, was using the ideas with Infopeople webcast and webinar presenters, and was about to do my first bullet-less PowerPoint presentation. Marti had not read a word of Atkinson’s book, but was intrigued by what she was hearing.

When we met again a week later for lunch, she proudly told me she had tried a bullet-less PowerPoint presentation and was delighted to receive enthusiastic, unsolicited comments about her slides from those who were present—which leads us to the idea of viral learning and how easy it is for anyone working in a library to put it to use. As Marti demonstrated, it is not difficult to informally exchange word-of-mouth descriptions of lessons we have learned so that they are immediately adapted, applied, and shared at the moment of need with others who might repeat the process in a quickly expanding group of learner-trainer-teachers.

This really is no different than the experience I had as a result of taking Michele Mizejewski’s “Web 2.0: A Hands-On Introduction for Library Staff” Infopeople workshop. I knew very little, at that point, about wikis, blogs, or RSS feeds. It wasn’t long before I was using Netvibes and iGoogle to read RSS feeds; writing articles on training and Web. 2.0 for two different blogs; experimenting with a rudimentary form of wikis with colleagues in Canada by using Google Docs; and, most importantly, engaging in viral learning by describing my successes (and failures) to others who might pass this learning-training on to others in our libraries and beyond.

Let the viral learning spread!

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.


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