Archive for January, 2009

It’s a simple fact of human existence that we learn every day. 

I think it can be very helpful if we make everyday learning a more conscious effort.  My to-learn list has helped to keep me focused.  But now that I think about it, the list has helped me mostly in terms of some of my learning activities (books I choose to read, what I choose to write about, people I seek out, conferences I attend).  I also need a concerted effort to solidify and apply what I’m learning.  Appreciative inquiry offers a couple of interesting principles that can guide that effort.  One principle says that we move in the direction of the questions we ask.   Another observes that what we anticipate changes the way we experience our lives. 

So here are a few activities I’m going to try:

> Start the day with a simple question… what do I intend to learn today? 
I think it might be helpful to take a look at the appointments on my calendar and the tasks on my agenda and focus for just a moment on the learning opportunities they embody.  I know I sometimes cross something off the list and regret that I didn’t take that opportunity to try something new, or pay attention to a particular aspect of the process so that I could learn from it.  

> End the day with another simple question… what have I learned?
In my experience, this isn’t always a simple question.  I often marvel how something just worked really well, or fret that something else just missed the mark, but surfacing the rights and wrongs isn’t always easy.  Asking the question is easy, though.  And appreciative inquiry research has shown that asking the question does move us in the right direction.  In addition, there are plenty of obvious lessons to learn in a day and making note of them will help to ensure we take those lessons forward.

> Read more intentionally.
Before starting a book (or after reading the opening chapter that tells me what the book is about), write down one to three things that I hope to learn from reading it, along with noting the situations in which I hope to apply its lessons.  I also want to do a better job of making a deliberate plan to take the learning forward once I’ve finished reading.  Having been subjected to fairly long ruminations on some of my reading (via this blog), you might think I do that all the time.  But I read far more than what I take the time to write about.  And I’m ashamed to say that sometimes writing about it is as far a it gets…  I’m sometimes so intent on opening the next book (so many books, so little time), that I’m not taking enough time to savor each one.  My reading certainly becomes part of my background, but I wonder what would happen if I made it more a part of my foreground as well.

> Engage with others to talk about what I’m learning.
Oh, how I miss my doctoral cohort!  In that world, talking about ideas, sharing interpretations, and pushing the envelope on applying deep thinking is all part of the process.  In the business world, I’m sorry to say, practicality reigns and deep thinking is done in the background before one offers suggestions or makes a case for a new approach.  Business leaders tend to want to cut to the chase (the five key points or action steps that come from the thought leaders) rather than enjoy the full journey.  Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of people wrestle with ideas and bring their new-found clarity to the table in the business world… but we tend to engage at the level of discussing a plan for achieving a specific goal rather than at the level of sorting out what the ideas mean and how they might be applied even before we have a concrete situation in which to apply them.  I really enjoy ruminating, and I enjoy hearing others talk about their ideas and experiences, but I don’t often take (or make) the opportunity to engage in learning conversations.  I need to do more of that.

I need to recommit to living my department’s motto:  “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”  (Abigail Adams)

Note:  I’ve adapted some of these ideas from an approach offered by Jacqueline Kelm in her book, The Joy of Appreciative Living.  Finding more joy in life is also a noteworthy goal, and I recommend the book if you’re in need of a more joyful outlook on life (and aren’t we all?).

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The late Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) described the role of professor as being a fitness instructor for the mind.  As I have been considering ways to improve my own skills as an instructor/facilitator and as a mentor/coach, that image haunts me and inspires me.

There are two kinds of fitness instructors.  One kind you just hate.  They’re mean-spirited, demanding the next-to-impossible as if it were easy, and they’re dismissive of your genuine efforts, scoffing that you’re not trying hard enough.  The other kind you love to hate.  They push you, stretch you to your limits without breaking you, cheer you on, build on your strengths.  They tell you, “you can do it.”   They explain technique and tell you why it’s important.  They set demanding but reachable goals, and work with you to achieve them.  They don’t let you get away with slacking off.  It’s not easy working with this kind of fitness instructor, either, but you leave your workouts feeling good about yourself and ready for the next challenge.  As a fitness instructor for the mind, that’s the kind of professor and coach I want to be.

Becoming an effective fitness instructor requires two things:  knowing what it means to be fit, and knowing how to work with people to get them there.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been clarifying both for my own role as a fitness instructor for the mind.  I’m defining the skills and knowledge base that I want to strengthen, and I’m considering a different method of challenging my students and my colleagues to get there. 

In doing some further reading on 21st century work skills, I’ve come across a starter list of the skills that need to be the focus of our mind fitness exercises.   We should be working to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills; collaboration and influencing skills; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication skills; the ability to access and analyze information; and  – best of all – curiosity and imagination.  (List from Tony Wagner.)  These skills can be honed through course assignments and through work-based coaching if we do our jobs well.  I’m also a strong advocate of a scholarly, evidence-based approach to workplace learning, and we can enrich people’s understanding of the theoretical and research base of our field – and why it’s important – as we coach on projects.  In our field, we can focus on designing learning strategy as a core skill as well.  I’ll be continuing to clarify what I think are the critical few areas of focus.

As to how to strengthen the mind without sapping the spirit…  The strengths movement and appreciative inquiry perspective both talk about how to take strengths and leverage them.  Both approaches remind us to ask questions that move us in a positive direction rather than highlight what is wrong and fix it.  I want to develop that approach.  Being able to identify what is missing from a project or an assignment and provide feedback is an important role.  But I’m considering that another way of approaching that role is to spin the feedback around the good that can be found in any effort.  Together with an employee or student, I can ask:  What positive features can we bring forward and expand?  What message is intended and how do we strengthen it?  How is this effort reflective of the characteristics of the ideal, and what changes could we make to have it be more so?  What learning do we want to take from this experience that can be applied in later efforts along these same lines?  I’m hopeful that I can become more encouraging but no less demanding, and I’d welcome any additional suggestions in this effort from fellow fitness instructors of the mind.

I see the role of professor/mentor as an important responsibility and opportunity.  Teachers and coaches can have a tremendous impact on the people around them – either for good or for ill.  It’s well worth considering how to be among the best in these roles, and it’s one of my personal commitments for 2009 to become more fit myself in this area.

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If you read some of the predictions for 2009 that were compiled by Lisa Neal Gualtieri at eLearn Magazine, you may have noticed that people foresee a resurgence of informal learning, especially in new, e-mediated forms.  But let’s be cautious.  At the top of the eLearn Mag list, Alison Rosset predicts “More technology, but not necessarily more sense about how to use it.”  For every learner that’s ready to “go rogue” as Janet Clarey predicts, there are may more learners who are poised to be left in the dust if we are not careful. 

Fans of the millennial generation tout their ability to use the internet to research, connect, and collaborate.  But I am not quite so sure.  While I agree that many people have developed some savvy with really cool tools, using those tools for learning is a different skill set.  One of the challenges I think we need to address is the need to teach people a new way to learn.  Seems an oymoron, I know, but I have company in this concern.  Tony Karrer posts on this topic regularly, and he’s been doing a series of posts lately that explore the issues.  Many schools are not teaching new work skills, and many employees are well beyond school and could use some help in developing these skills as well. 

What exactly are we talking about here?  I’ve been doing some research on the subject.  Based on Tony Karrer’s Knowledge Work Framework and other posts (see Tony’s post for some of those links), articles, and even some book references on the subject , here’s what I think those new skills look like.  As you read down the list, you might be moved to comment that these skills (left column) aren’t really all that new – and that’s quite true.  But how we actually engage in these skills is dramatically different (right column).  Those of us who remember doing research by browsing the big green citation index reference books can clearly see the difference between that work and an academic database search (and thank goodness!).  The skills ARE different.  Here’s what I mean:

Learning Skill

Learning 2.0 Dimension

Research, locate information, identify appropriate data sources

While the internet is a treasure trove of information, finding the right sources is tricky.  Selecting the appropriate search engine for a need, determining the best keywords, using advanced search filtering techniques, and – here’s a novel idea – identifying and consulting non-electronic sources are all important aspects of research skill.  If we want learners to do more than a Google search, we need to give them some pointers.

Manage incoming data

I don’t need to explain this one to anyone who has an e-mail account or a feed reader.  All of us can get better at pulling the right information to us and weeding out what we really don’t need.  Organizing feeds to ensure we are receiving the information we need to know as it becomes available is not as easy as it sounds.

Interpret, evaluate, critique, narrow

While it’s always been important, evaluating the quality and relevance of information becomes critical when there’s no control mechanism for making information available on the web.  We need to learn to identify and vet the sources of information, and we need to be tuned into cultural differences that impact what is posted and how it is read.

Organize, store, re-find, notate, tag

Anyone who has been unable to re-locate an interesting web page understands this dilemma.  I’ve even had some trouble finding my own blog posts!  Learning how to effectively tag data, and where and how to store electronic information are real skills.  Luckily, our storage dilemmas no longer result in warehouses of files we never look at again, but our electronic storage systems can get pretty dusty and useless as well if we are not careful.  And those of us who store documents inside a firewall also need to pay attention to the problem of storage space – servers are not free!

Reflect, synthesize, innovate, engage creativity and imagination

These are by no means new skills, but facilitating these actions with electronic tools such as blogs, wikis, and other public and collaborative technologies is a different approach.  And there are non-web electronic tools that are helpful here as well – mindmapping software is an example.

Leverage, present

One of the results of learning is to turn around and present our findings and conclusions back to others.  Communication skills have always been critical.  What’s new is the ability to create mashups (web pages, wiki sites, social network sites, links) to share ideas.  I’ve noticed that there are design elements that can enhance the impact and ease of use of these kinds of presentations.  Another important aspect of leveraging others’ work is making sure that we recognize other’s contributions, intellectual property rights, and copyrights, which is pretty murky water right now.


Learning to identify and connect with others, build and maintain a network, identify and follow thought leaders in your field, and access informed people quickly are all skills greatly facilitated by a variety of electronic tools if we know how to use them effectively. 


One of the promises of web 2.0 is collaboration, but we’ve noticed that actually using e-mediated tools for collaboration is a little uncomfortable for many.  Still, getting connected and communicating electronically greatly facilitates collaboration if we know how to effectively interact that way.

Learn, improve

To benefit from the power of electronic tools in supporting learning, we need to be effective at setting personal goals and crafting a personal learning environment.


Online communication often uses a different language and different protocols.  I had to learn to interpret a whole new set of acronyms (idk, imho, btw) and to understand that instant messaging doesn’t follow the same rules of conversation as does face-to-face communication (e.g. no “how are you?” to open and no “good-bye” when the conversation is done). Facebook, Twitter, and other tools have their own vibe as well.

Utilize internet and computer-based tools.

Threaded throughout this list is the use of a huge variety of internet and computer-based tools, and one can be a novice or an expert in the use of every one of them.  Understanding the possibilities of these tools is critical (for my colleagues a work – eMagine the possibilities J).

There has been some terrific work done in trying to identify and promulgate these skills:  Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals, Route 21, Jane Hart’s Guide to Social Learning, along with countless articles and workshops.  But the feedback I’ve heard is that what we’ve been doing to help is still quite overwhelming to those who aren’t tech savvy (and even to some of those that are). 

So before we let loose and embrace informal, self-directed, e-mediated learning as the way to go, let’s pause and make sure that we’ve prepared our learners so that they can be effective in using new tools to that end.  Everyone’s learning can benefit from savvy use of technology and some good old fashioned instructional design might be useful to craft courseware and resources that can support learning how to learn in these new ways.

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I’m been having trouble deciding what to write about for the first post of a new year…  Should I venture a prediction for 2009?  Or maybe contribute a response to the “seven things you don’t need to know about me” post that is going around?  Should my first post be something profound?   How about a little bit of all three?  

The prediction…
A very old idea has come back to the forefront:  people learn more through informal means than they do from our formal training and development activities.  That doesn’t, however, mean we (professionals in workplace learning) are out of business.  We can make it easier for people to learn on the job, and we can help them to be more efficient and effective in their efforts.  My prediction is that we will spend the next few years trying to figure out how to do that.  The new tools have everyone excited – blogs, wikis, social networking, tagging, customized “push” technology, personal learning environments, podcasts, rapidly-developed e-learning – the list goes on.  But I see people everyday struggling with how to incorporate these tools into their learning approaches.  My worry is that we will abandon formal events before we have ensured that learners have the wherewithal to learn on their own.  On the one hand, learning is a natural process; on the other hand, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  I’ve run across occasional commentary about how the new generation of learners, while savvy in the use of these tools for their everyday lives, aren’t quite sure how to use them to learn.  And if they don’t know how to manage their own learning, what about the folks who have spent their careers in a world that revered formal learning?  We’ll be spending a good part of our energy in the coming years helping learners to develop e-enabled self-directed learning skills and applying design concepts to informal learning environments and resources.  I think.  🙂

The seven things you don’t need to know about me…
This brief list is in response to Michele Martin’s “tag”

I grew up in Media, Pennsylvania (USA) – “everybody’s hometown” – and lived in the same house until I went to graduate school at age 20.  Over the next fifteen + years, I lived in 9 different places in 5 different states, but since then, I’ve become kind-of attached to my cute little house in Delaware.

I’ve had every career setback you can name and lived to tell the tale… I’ve been laid off, downsized, demoted, reorganized, and even fired (very early on…).  And I’ve managed to position myself in the best possible career for me right now.  Who’d have thunk it?

Some of my favorite people are little kids (or grown up people I met when they were kids).  My nieces and nephews, and my friends’ children make me laugh and keep me on my toes. 

If you can’t tell already, I’m pretty much a book geek.  I read between 60 and 70 books per year (I’ve kept track since 2002).  My favorite fiction is in the fantasy genre, and I have enjoyed memoirs, spiritual books, business books and many, many books on learning and development as well.  Reading is a big part of how I learn.

If you read “about me,” you already know I love games… my favorite ones are Rummikub and Canasta… I don’t care much who wins, but I do enjoy playing!

I “Googled myself” the other day and found out that I’ve been quoted in blogs that are written in Dutch and Chinese (hopefully, they’re saying nice things), and I’ve heard from blog readers as far away as Australia and Taiwan.  I’m just enough of a baby boomer to think that’s pretty cool for a gal from Media, Pennsylvania who won’t even get on an airplane (perhaps another thing you don’t need to know about me).

My favorite vacation place on the planet is Cape Cod… I am convinced the National Seashore is a glimpse of heaven on earth.  It’s where I go to think and recharge my batteries, and I’m already planning an annual trek for late September.

The profound…
Not from me… I collect interesting quotes, so there are lots of choices.  This one is from Katherine Graham and seems a good thought for a new year:

“To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything else be more fun?”

I’m planning on having fun this year, are you?  Happy new year (a week late)!

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