Training, Leading, and Creativity

June 19, 2010

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert earlier this week wrote about how those who helped cause the worst financial crisis we’ve faced since the Great Depression remain “unfazed by reality” and are attempting to make it worse. They are, he suggested, creating reductions in the state and local services that are instrumental to building the economy.

He quotes a Northern California school district chief who, rather than seeking creative solutions to a terrible situation, is trying to balance a budget by laying off teachers and health aids, increasing the number of students within classrooms, decreasing the number of days students spend in school each year, and closing school libraries.

“Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other, “ Herbert writes. “For the federal government to stand by like a disinterested onlooker as this carnage plays out would be crazy.”

That’s all too familiar to those of us watching vacancies in businesses and nonprofit agencies go unfilled; watching first-rate trainer-teacher-learners losing their jobs or struggling to find work when the organizations for which they work lose their funding; and watching those who remain behind, employed and overwhelmed by increasing workloads and decreases in pay and benefits.

But we can’t afford to hunker down—we never could, and we certainly don’t have the luxury of pulling back now and waiting for things to improve before we seek creative responses to the challenges our communities are facing. The need for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance to step up to the plate and assume roles of leadership within the organizations we serve remains as strong as it has ever been. We need to position ourselves to be leaders seeking solutions rather than part of the crowd sitting so high in the bleachers that our voices cannot be heard and our actions cannot be seen.

If the companies, agencies, and groups we serve can no longer afford to hire outside instructors to meet our colleagues’ learning needs, we need to find innovative, inexpensive ways to draw from the expertise of those already within our organizations. If organizations continue to struggle to free up employees to attend training sessions with “release time”—an awful term when you think of it; it implies that learning is a perk, something less than essential to every employee’s efforts—then we need to find ways to provide learning opportunities which are stimulating, rewarding, productive, easy to deliver and attend, and offered in ways which keep our colleagues growing in ways that serve themselves as well as the organizations for which they are working.

There’s nothing magic about trying to incorporate learning opportunities into meetings which have already been scheduled for entire work groups, nor is there anything tremendously challenging about setting up optional learning opportunities during pre- and post-work hours as well as during (staggered) lunch breaks—something as simple as a series of “lessons at lunch” in which colleagues share valuable tricks and tips on how to better function in our ever-changing workplaces or view and discuss podcasts (webcasts) and other online offerings. Let’s set up LinkedIn discussion groups to allow for the sharing of learning opportunities when learners are ready to take advantage of those opportunities, not just when we are available to provide them face-to-face or in synchronous online learning sessions. Let’s use Skype and Google Chat and other innovative online resources to quickly reach those who are not geographically accessible. And let’s draw from the expertise available from organizations including the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and blogs such as ALA Learning.

Workplace learning and development remains as important as ever. We are in a position to make a difference even in the worst of times. For us to stand by as onlookers would, as Herbert said in the context of his recent column, be nothing short of crazy.

N.B.–Those attending the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington DC are invited to join Paul and colleagues Maurice Coleman, Sandra Smith, and Louise Whitaker for a discussion of “Library Trainers as Leaders” on Sunday, June 27, 2010 from 10:30 am – noon in Washington Conference Center Room 201. Paul will also be participating in the ALA Learning Round Table Training Showcase that afternoon from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in the Washington Conference Center Ballroom.


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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