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I’m picking up and moving Learning Journal to a new home, integrated with my personal web site, Learning 4 Learning Professionals. Please follow me there; it will be lonely without you!  New URL: http://l4lp.com/blog/

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Beginning next week, I am participating in a collaborative online event called Connected Courses. It is a cMOOC organized to discuss practices on creating effective open online learning. I’ll be posting to my new Out Loud Learning blog, and you can follow along there if you like.

If you teach online, design corporate MOOCs, or are interested in open learning – you might want to join the Connected Courses community as well. We need to do more cross-discussion between corporate L&D practices and academic practices for learning facilitation. I’ll be keeping one foot in each of those two practice areas for the duration of the course myself.

This post is a copy of my initial post for Connected Courses.

Not ready, get set.

We have something of a dilemma in the learning and development world these days. On the one hand, the vast resources of the internet, the reach of social media, and the availability of videos, webinars, free courses, and MOOCs make learning easy to access. On the other hand, many people have neither the time nor the learning skills to pursue the learning they really need. They simply aren’t ready to take advantage of new tools and strategies for learning.

Whether in the corporate L&D space or in the academic world, there are challenges to changing our strategies for facilitating learning. Open, self-directed learning can be hard. Learners have to find helpful resources, which can be a daunting task with the world wide web as a database. Even when we curate the resources, many people are not accustomed to facilitating and processing their own learning activities.

We’ll get better at all this, I am sure, but in the meantime, we need to scaffold open, self-directed learning. I am convinced that there is more that we can do as designers of learning activities to help people get set up for success in the world of open learning.

That’s what is prompting me to join the Connected Courses active co-learning course over the next few months. I am looking forward to learning from and with all the folks who are joining in. I recognize some of the participants as people on the leading edge in developing open learning strategies, and I’m seeing posts from fellow participants who are thoughtful explorers like me.

To introduce myself, I am a consultant to folks who work in corporate L&D and a faculty member teaching designers, human resource development specialists, and learning technology folks. I design and teach courses for those who design and teach and consult on learning strategies. I am also actively promoting a learning environment design framework that I believe can help us to set learners up for success, even when they’re not quite ready to manage their own ongoing development. So learning more about connected learning is a priority for me. (More About me)

I am not immune to the challenges of participating in a loose “course” like this one. Like many, I have started and not fully engaged in a variety of open learning offerings, so I know that unless I have some pressing goals for staying on top of the conversation, this, too, will get buried by other priorities. (Self-directed leaning 101) To begin, then…

My goals for Connected Courses (not in any particular order):

  • Observe facilitation and learning in the course and leverage strategies that might work in the environments for which I design learning.
  • Deepen understanding of underpinning strategies and theory to better discern what is essential (and not essential) and how to customize approaches effectively.
  • Connect to people whose ongoing work I find interesting (and who may be interested in my work).
  • Curate resources useful in the context of courses and topics I currently facilitate.
  • Strengthen my skills in engaging in connected learning in an open learning context.
  • Actively apply what I’m learning in Connected Courses to the redesign of my e-collaboration course for January 2015.

So I’m in. I’m gearing up and scheduling time to engage. I look forward to working with you all.

Get ready, get set.

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In my last post, I advised that declaring your intention to learn is one of the most important developmental steps you can take.  In that spirit, let me share what is on my “to-learn-list” for 2013. It’s interesting to me that what winds up on this list are not the things I know little about, but the topic areas that I know fairly well – enough to know that learning more will be valuable and energizing.

Collaborative learning spaces.
I believe collaboration and social media engagement are important tools for all learning professionals – for our own learning and for the work we do supporting others. We need to help curate the best of what’s out there, and better still, we need to help our learners become highly effective at finding and filtering material for themselves. We need to help build collaborative spaces where learners can meet up virtually and engage the problems of their work together.

I want to understand better what makes that kind of space tick, and to understand more deeply the individual tools that are employed in the effort. Collaborative learning is particularly important for my work in learning environment design, especially for those learners with complex knowledge bases and skill sets whose work practices are being reinvented every day.

I’m teaching a course on e-collaboration that begins this week, so I’ve already been doing a lot more reading in this arena. There’s no better way to learn a topic than to engage with a lively group of students to explore it deeply. In my course, we’re reading some theoretical material on collaborative learning and communities of practice as well as practice texts on using social media for learning.  (I assigned Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers and Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Our third text is A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, who lay out the case for why this is such a relevant topic for learning leaders.) Better still, we’ll be looking at a variety of social media tools and the students will be supporting one another in designing online collaborative learning spaces for topics/audiences of their choosing. I imagine the discussions will be pretty intense, and we’ll run into many of the very real challenges and surprises of social learning.

I’ve also taken a more hands-on approach to learning about how to tap into the learning affordances of social media. I’ve had a private Twitter account for a few years now (I follow people, but don’t tweet myself). I have found it invaluable in terms of making me aware of interesting conversations, great articles, new conferences, and smart people to follow. Last week, though, I launched a Twitter account for my consulting practice – @L4LP – and I’ll be trying to enrich the Twitterverse with relevant tweets of interest to learning professionals. I’m looking forward to using Twitter as a two-way communication tool as well. At the moment, my exploration of social media is being coached on the side by Dave Kerpen’s Likeable Social Media and a bunch of new Twitter feeds and blog subscriptions.

Perhaps because my day-to-day work is in a solo consulting practice, I’m recognizing more and more how highly valuable it is to engage with others when making sense of the world, thinking through problems and inventing approaches. Figuring out how to enrich my own collaborative environment is a priority for me.

Constructivism.
Last fall, I worked with a terrific group of students as we explored the many varieties of and contributions of adult learning theory. I strongly endorse constructivism, but I wish I were more widely read on the subject. Constructivism appeals to me because so much of the learning that I support is related to complex knowledge bases and skills that can’t be reduced to a collection of courses. I’m surprised by the relationships I find between seemingly unrelated topics, and how drawing from one knowledge base helps me to more deeply understand another. How we learn from experiences, from relationships, from reflection… these processes intrigue me.

I have been truly inspired by Ken Gergen’s Relational Being, and by other readings in the constructivist school of thinking and I want to continue down that path. I want to be able to answer my students’ questions a little more confidently, especially related to how to craft constructivist approaches to support specific learning challenges. I’m a book geek, so I always start with a reading list… So far, I’ve added two books to the queue: Social Constructionism: Sources and Stirrings in Theory and Practice, by Andy Lock and Tom Strong and Relational Reality by Charlene Spretnak.

And…
I have a few smaller learning goals as well – polishing my conference presentations, becoming more efficient at facilitating my online learning classes, fine-tuning systems to keep all my various projects on track, and developing my writing in a variety of forms (blogging included). Growth in these areas comes from planning, practicing, and noticing outcomes, and I already feel like I’m making real progress.

If you have ideas on books, articles, web sites, bloggers, or other resources on any of these topics, I would love to hear about them. Over the course of the year, I’m sure I’ll be sharing what I learn along these lines, so stay tuned.

What about you?  I’m always interested in what other people want to learn as well! What’s on your to-learn-list?

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Blogging 101

This is my 101st post to the Learning Journal blog. A milestone of sorts.

I started blogging as an experiment in web 2.0 technology, and now see my blog posts as something of a professional calling card. But above all, blogging has been a tremendous learning activity for me.

One exciting aspect about posting some of my ruminations online is that I have received feedback and responses from all over the world. Readers have been generous enough to send me links to additional materials and to provide comments that have pushed my thinking in new directions. While I have colleagues who often act as sounding boards and co-creators of knowledge, it is energizing to have input from others outside that circle. Thank you for commenting!

Even if no one ever commented, or if I chose to journal more privately, the act of putting my thoughts in writing has proven to be an invaluable exercise. I can’t tell you how many times I started a post with one idea that I wanted to share, but wound up some place completely different. Writing forces me to think more deeply and crystallizes my thoughts about a topic. Having those thoughts captured has proven to be important, as I have often gone back to review my own posts when the subject came up again. Better still, occasional forays into my archives has reminded me of ideas that need to be taken further.

I have been especially glad to have taken the time to write so much about Learning Environment Design. This approach to thinking about learning strategy has become more and more important to me as I help learning leaders address needs in their organizations and help learning professionals think about how we best support learning in this fast-paced, hyperconnected world. I’ve recently organized my posts on the subject on the Learning Environment Design page, and I think I’m ready to “write the book” on the subject. Readers’ and students’ reactions to these ideas have been both encouraging and constructively critical – and I am grateful for the input.

101 posts is no doubt few in the overall scheme of things…. I know many of you have far more than that in your own archives. But since WordPress was so kind to announce my post count, I thought I would just take a moment to reflect.

“How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” 
– E.M. Forster

No truer words ever spoken. Thank you for following me. I hope my reflections help you move your practice forward in some way.

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A few months ago, I mused that online learning might be an interesting delivery strategy in the workplace, and I spent the better part of last week preparing that “pitch” for colleagues at work. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been thinking about…

Based on the kinds of online learning that universities have been doing for years, I see online learning as a highly flexible electronic delivery mode that organizes as set of activities (primarily asynchronous if not completely self-paced) to achieve a specific set of learning objectives. It’s a way of taking the structure of formal learning (objectives defined by designer/company) with informal learning that is more self-directed.  Through this mode, we can provide detailed suggestions for learning resources as well as exercises and activities to help the learners make progress.  (It’s a mode that is possibly ideal for one-at-a-time new hire programs, advanced skill development, and topical overviews.)

One amazing feature of this delivery mode is just how flexible it can be.

Who is the instructor?  There are a lot of possibilities for online facilitation, including having no official instructor at all.  Instructors/faciltiators could be drawn from among full-time trainers, a select group of business leaders, or designated subject matter experts.  Facilitators could work individually or in teams. You might even set up a course where the learner is expected to draft a senior colleague or supervisor as his or her learning facilitator or coach through the process (and you can provide detailed roles and responsibilities for that individual to follow).  Or you can set up social networks wherein learners are teaching and supporting each other. 

How large is the group?  You can design a program to be followed individually, in small groups, or in cohort classes.  (Or you can design it to be workable for one person or many.)

In what medium should the course be delivered?  You can aggregate and enable a set of materials and activities through any of a wide variety of tools – a learning management system, web page, wiki, social networking site (e.g. Ning) – or through links embedded in more mundane documents like PowerPoint or Word.  Learning components can be e-learning, or wiki sites, or discussion boards, or web links, or even text books (how novel!).  Instructors can work exclusively through electronic medium, or occasionally live (occasional class sessions or webinars, or one-on-one meetings).

How should the course be scheduled?  Your online course could be held in a defined period of time with required completion dates for activities, much like an academic course.  Or the schedule could be driven by independent learners.  It can be designed to be completed in a few hours, or a few weeks, or a few months depending on the complexity of the content and the time allocated by the learners.

Is there any validation of learning?  You can offer knowledge tests, or provide some behaviorally anchored demonstration of competence to validate learning.  You can let learners assess whether the course met their needs.  You can offer some sort of credit for completion. Or you can do some combination of the above, or none of the above.

How much opportunity is there to interact with other learners or with facilitators?  You can design required touchpoints as frequently as you like.  You can design ways for learners to interact with one another, either live (a learning partner) or online (a discussion board).  You can create assignments that encourage learners to talk to people not involved in the course (e.g. interview an expert, ask for feedback from a peer). 

I suppose you have a lot of the same flexibility in designing a more traditional course in a classroom or e-learning mode.  But online learning seems so infinitely variable.  As I think about it more, I’m finding the possibilities very exciting!!  The research has given me some additional ideas for my academic online learning courses, which I have designed rather traditionally up to this point. 

Wish me luck with my “pitch.”  🙂

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I spent a good part of this weekend updating an online course that I teach.  It got me thinking further about how this format might be adopted to work in the corporate environment.  When I’m designing an online course, what I’m trying to create is an intense guided learning experience with a robust online community to share ideas and learning.  That sounds like a good formula for some of our corporate learning needs as well. 

To support online learning, I aim to select readings and to create online briefings (a.k.a. e-briefings, narrated slide presentations) that are robust and thought-provoking (sometimes even – egad! – theoretical or research-based).  Activities include engaging exercises to solidify understanding of complex topics, challenging application projects that can be done in stages so that I can coach learners through them, and complex discussion/reflection questions to help solidify learning for each individual learner and to generate discussion of multiple perspectives and insights that benefit all learners.  When it works, the students benefit both from going at their own pace and from interacting with other learners and with me.  Because everyone has to post, I get to monitor more intensely how well each student is grasping, reflecting on, and applying the material.  It’s time-consuming from my perspective, because I’m commenting very specifically for many students posting every week.  But it can be a very enriching experience for both students and me.

I dont’ think we would want to replicate everything the academic world has done (what business person will agree to write a paper?), but we can certainly borrow a number of techniques.  For learners who need more structured approaches, an online course could strike a balance between scheduled learning and completely informal learning.  If we’re already aggregating resources for a learning environment, it won’t take much to map out a path for learners to follow to a specific end.  An online course can have the additional advantage of time… learners are able to move between a learning mode and an application mode, and they have a cohort of people with whom to share their experiences, successes, and missed opportunities.  The best projects for this mode of learning would have these characteristics:  the learing goals should be complex, either a knowledge base that needs a deep dive, or a management or interpersonal skill that requires ongoing development.  That may be hard to find.  🙂

We don’t have to purchase new software to be able to experiment with this.  (Don’t tell the good folks at Blackboard I said that.)   An online course can  run inside the firewall using internal wiki technology or intranet frameworks, or even within an LMS that supports multiple components for a course.   And those of you who don’t need to worry about security or proprietary content can set up courses in Moodle or Ning among other free tools.

Imagine, for example, a three-month program on the manager’s role in developing employees, or a half year invested in learning more about your company’s industry or about general business acumen.   Just-in-time learning could be accommodated with a year-long course on a performance management process, or longer term course on the sales process.  We might even consider creating this kind of course for on-the-job training.  Activities can be designed to be completed with the support of a manager or senior peer rather than with a cohort taking a course all at the same time.  Mmm…  I’d love to hear from anyone who has had success with this kind of online courseware in a corporate environment.

Perhaps it’s a format whose time has come.

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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.

Network

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. 

Collaborate

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.

Communicate

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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