Visualize a solution that not only allows you to chat with other participants, but also enables you to view their social profiles and “friend” them. Imagine a solution that also lets you add your own links and related information, which then become part of the final archive.

-David Wilkins, Learning 2.o and Workplace Communities
T&D Magazine, April 2009

Social learning paradiseGuess what? WebJunction already has those essential elements to build a rich social learning environment. Back in March, I announced an e-learning experiment at WebJunction, in which we focused our social tools on an online course about customer service. The results are in and summarized in The Social Learning Puzzle: Putting the pieces together.

Wilkins and I share a vision of “establishing a true learning culture where all employees are actively engaged in both the teaching and learning processes.” But what the Wilkins article misses in its enthusiasm is the reality that providing nifty tools is not enough. There are barriers to the adoption of the whole notion of engaged online learning. As I said in my summary,the active participants in the cohort had an enriched learning experience, but the majority of the initial group did not engage.

I believe in the vision and I’m taking it step by step toward social learning paradise. If you have anything to share on the topic, please let me know. (info (at) webjunction.org attn: gutsche)

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to participate in an online chat about e-learning best practices with our own Paul Signorelli.  As I answered questions for Paul, I had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences in introducing blended learning at Gwinnett County Public Library, an organization, that until a couple years ago, relied almost solely on classroom-based ILT for training.  In my ferver to get e-learning off the ground, I took a few lumps along way that could have been avoided had I taken more care to address early on a few fundamental questions in implementation regarding physical assets, supervisory needs, and administrative concerns.  I volunteered to Paul that I would be happy to compile and share a general e-learning preparation checklist for libraries considering e-learning, or for those that are relatively new to it.  Here goes (or visit the Google group T is for Training for a printer-friendly version):     

E-Learning Preparedness Checklist

Physical

□  Does each work unit have an adequate number of PCs to be used primarily for e-learning?

□  Are the PCs in an area away from potential distractions?

□  Does each training PC have the necessary equipment and configuration for e-learning?

  • Consider equipment such as:
  • Headset microphones for webinars
  • Webcam for video conferencing
  • Browsers correctly configured (i.e., Java, Flash Player, Active X controls, popup blockers, software applets, etc)

□  Is there a Help Desk/Tech Support system in place?

□  Are there bandwidth bottlenecks during peak times of PC use in the branches?  

Supervisory

□  Do employees have scheduled off-desk time to participate in e-learning?

□  Is training viewed as an essential job function and supported as such?

□  Are policies/guidelines in place to restrict hourly employees from accessing e-learning off the clock?

□  Will concepts taught in e-learning be modeled and reinforced in the workplace?

Training Administrator

□  Will e-learning offerings conflict with branch/department scheduling?

□  How will new e-learning opportunities be advertised?

□  Which, if any, e-learning classes count toward CEUs for your professional staff?

□  Have you communicated your vision for e-learning so that staff know what to expect?

□  Do you have the buy-in of key stakeholders, such as the Director, the IT department, line managers, etc?

□  What evaluative criteria will be used to determine the success of e-learning initiatives?

Webinar: Libraries as Learning Organizations
When: Tuesday, May 26, 2009, Time: 2:00pm – 3:30pm (EDT)
Co-sponsored by CLENERT and WebJunction
Registration Link: http://evanced.info/webjunction/evanced/eventsignup.asp?ID=1592

What makes a library a learning organization? What does it take to build an organization-wide commitment to team and individual learning? Why make the effort, especially in these economic times?

Our panelists, representing libraries at different mileposts on the road to becoming learning organizations, are finding their own answers to these questions and will share challenges, strategies, and successes about the four Bs of the journey:

  • BENEFITS of a learning culture
  • BUILDING the environment
  • BEING a learning champion
  • BEYOND to sustainability.

Hear ways to use technology appropriately to enable faster, more personalized learning and to institutionalize knowledge sharing. Because most learning occurs on the job, at the point of need, you will discover ways to create a positive performance environment.

Even if your library is not yet moving in this direction, you will take away ideas that you can use immediately to implement learning solutions individually and organizationally.

Panelists:

  • Sandra Smith, Training and Development Manager, Denver Public Library
  • Michele Leininger, Information Experience Director,Pierce County Library
  • Elizabeth Iaukea, Learning Manager, Pierce County Library
  • Julia Lanham, Human Resources, Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Registration Link: http://evanced.info/webjunction/evanced/eventsignup.asp?ID=1592

I finally seized the opportunity to see Edward Tufte deliver his one-day workshop Presenting Data and Information. Due to his rockstar reputation, I had some overblown expectations—something more theatrical, with flashy graphics, head stands, perhaps a light show? I spent the first two hours feeling a bit let down until I realized how antipodal his message is to the marketing flash of someone like Seth Godin. Tufte’s presentation is all about delivering substantive content that is cognitively engaging—an approach that he modeled expertly, sans bells and whistles. While I had overestimated Tufte’s histrionics, he did not underestimate my (his audience’s) intelligence.

The workshop is directed more toward those in the business world who need to present data and information to address engineering problems, inform budget decisions, and the like. However, I found a couple of take-aways for trainer-facilitators.

1. The Super Graphic (or Return of the Handout)

There is a tendency (especially in online learning) to reduce data and information to a minimal amount per screen, or to stretch data sets out over a series of screens. This is driven necessarily by the compact pixel real estate of the computer monitor, but the outcome is to shrink information toward meaninglessness or to confound the viewer’s cognitive ability to make comparisons and draw conclusions by scattering the inputs and forcing super-human acts of memorizing.

Enter the SUPER GRAPHIC! This is a printed, efficiently annotated graphic, dense with data, legal size or larger, that allows the learner to scan the entirety of an information set, make comparisons from proximal visual, numerical and textual information, and derive informed, self-propelled conclusions. This kind of information presentation could/should accompany most online training. Many courses include downloadable handouts of resources as more of an addendum than an integral part of the learning. Why not design a course around a super graphic, using the online portion to direct the learner’s attention, inject probing questions, and allow interactions to demonstrate the successful intake of knowledge?

2. Give the learner time to think

Several times during the workshop, Tufte asked the audience to study a data set or super graphic in one of his books, which we all had stacked in front of us. And then he stopped talking. Attention was not focused on the stage but on the pages of our books. There were some low murmurs of people sharing observations but the room of 400+ was otherwise quiet. This went on for five minutes—an eternity of “dead air” in broadcast parlance.

This was an aha! moment for me. Not only is it okay to give learners some studying-thinking time during instruction, it empowers them to absorb, reflect, and contribute to the formation of knowledge. It allows real learning to take place. Isn’t that more important than filling up every second of audio space?

Do I recommend going to see Tufte’s presentation next time he’s in your neighborhood? Sure! Yes, you can buy all the books for approximately half the price of the workshop, but you would miss the directed tour through the material and you would miss Tufte’s modeling of effective delivery.

 

 

Library directors and managers, colleagues have been assuring me recently, play a critical role in the success or failure of workplace learning and performance programs in the organizations they oversee. It goes beyond supporting and approving budgets: if they show an advocate’s interest in what is happening through training programs, check with their colleagues and their staff to see what effect those programs are having, and actually participate in learning opportunities offered within their organizations, they are setting a standard which encourages effective learning and the development of communities of learners.

 

It was no surprise to me, then, that these comments came to mind repeatedly when I was lucky enough to attend the awards ceremony for the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients here in San Francisco last night. The awards honor people who, by the act of living and acting on their beliefs in spite of significant challenges, time constraints, and, occasionally, threats of incarceration and death, train the rest of us to believe that we, too, can make a difference.

 

The usual high profile environmental activists were there: Al Gore and Robert Redford provided opening comments which (globally) warmed up the crowd and reminded all of us that we have a role to play. Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman provided entertainment by singing one of her own songs (“Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”) and doing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”—“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

 

But the real stars and trainers were those being honored, including Maria Gunnoe. From her home in the heart of Appalachia, in West Virginia, she stood up against the removal of mountaintops to expedite coal mining because the byproducts of that process are creating toxic wastes which are destroying the area where her family has lived for more than a century. Although neighbors were afraid to testify, she did, and a court ruling halted one particularly damaging mountaintop removal project which was affecting her property. The joy all of us in the audience felt as she accepted her award was tempered by the image of the tall cyclone fence which was constructed around her house and the news that she needed  around-the-clock security protection to counter the threats she was receiving while she carried on her fight.

 

Then there were Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini, who successfully organized entire communities in the Saramaka lands in Suriname (within the Amazonian forests) to halt destructive logging. And Yuyun Ismawati, who helped implement community-based safe and sustainable waste management programs in Indonesian communities through her organization, Bali Fokus. And Olga Speranskaya, a Russian scientist whose community-based efforts have become a model worldwide for efforts to encourage the clean-up of toxic waste sites. And Syeda Rizwana Hasan, an environmental attorney in Bangladesh whose efforts successfully stopped toxin-laden ships from being allowed to be brought up on beaches in her country so the wrecks could be broken into scrap—a process called “ship breaking”—to be resold while the waste polluted the beaches. And, finally, Marc Ona Essangui, a wheelchair-using activist whose successful efforts to stop a massive government-approved mining project in Gabon’s Ivindo National Park (in west central Africa) led to his arrest and detention for several days earlier this year.

 

Each one of them received standing ovations from those of us who were there to hear their acceptance speeches. Hundreds of us joined them at a post-event reception in their honor to shake their hands and thank them for reminding us that significant effects begin with the efforts of individuals. And at least a few of us, in thinking about what we can do in our own lives to make a difference within the communities we serve, were reminded that some of the most effective training comes from those who live the lessons the rest of us still need to learn and follow.

For several years now – at least since the advent of Second Life – learning professionals have been intrigued by the prospects of constructing immersive 3d worlds (metaverses) for training.  It’s easy to understand why: one of the first things I learned in communication theory in undergrad is that aesthetics are powerful.  Even the most astute and discerning among us form initial impressions from outer appearances.  Ooh!  Shiny, shiny!  Let’s go buy the new tech-toy.  I’ll hand it to those wily coyotes at Linden Lab – even this roadrunner was attempting to fast track a Second Life implementation at my library.  Instead of diving off the cliff with nary a look, I decided to hold a magnifying glass up to the app first.  Well, the bloom fell off that rose pretty damn quickly.  I won’t air a laundary list of complaints here, although Wapedia does a decent job summing them up for me.  

 

I’m not here to skewer Second Life, or any of the myriad pretenders to the throne, such as There, IMVU, or Kaneva.  I firmly believe that immersive 3d worlds are a viable learning medium, especially when good rhetorical practices are utilized.  For example, I love the art gallery critique that Michael Connors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison set up a couple years ago.  Beyond teaching in a traditional sense, 3d environments add more interactivity to e-learning experiences, and we know that fully engaged students walk away better equipped to do their jobs.

 

If 3d training is indeed the way of the future, as experts have been extolling for the past few years, why aren’t more organizations taking the leap?  In my opinion, there are two fundamental flaws to most 3d metaverses: the clients needed to run the applications and the metaverse structure itself.  A typical metaverse requires that a client be downloaded and installed on the user’s computer.  For instance, Second Life requires a 21MB client download and then a PC that is decently equipped for gaming.   And let’s not forget that these 3d spaces are bandwidth hogs.  As students of Web 2.0, we have come to expect instant access, simplicity, and portability with online content – things that are conspicuously missing from online 3d worlds.

 

Aside from the technical issues associated with fat clients, the sprawling, unregulated structure of a metaverse is not congruent with fostering an environment for learning.  I acknowledge that you can restrict access to your piece of a metaverse, but the idiocy of a virtual world gone mad is still out there.  Seriously, who wants their 3d library orientation on ABC Island interrupted by some perv bunny rabbit avatar wanting to cyber???  In my estimation, the ideal 3d training environment needs to be self-enclosed and completely removed from a larger world. 

 

There are flickers of hope piercing the matrix.  Big brother Google made strides in tackling the fat client/wide-open world conundrum a little less than a year ago with its ephemeral Lively experiment.  Lively operated as a thin-client, strictly through a web browser.  There was no software to download to participate in this 3d world.  Simply sign in, customize an avatar, and hop into a room if you weren’t inclined to spend five minutes making your own.  If you constructed your own room, you could close it off and make it available by invitation only.  Finally, you also had the option of embedding your room into your webpage.  While Lively is offline (and sorely missed!), Vivaty is a thin service that allows users to create 3d chat rooms that can be embedded in other webpages.  Finally, VastPark has an open source toolset that empowers moderately savvy users to author self-contained 3d environments that can be accessed exclusively through a web browser. 

 

The products that have come from Google, Vivaty, VastPark, and their ilk demonstrate that significant changes have occurred  since Second Life launched six years ago.  Maybe in another three, 3d learning environments will be reality in many organizations.

 

It’s not as if trainer-teacher-learners—a group which includes nearly anyone currently affiliated with or using libraries—have any extra time on our hands. There are mornings when the act of opening our eyes and glancing at our to-do lists is enough to make us want to dive back under our blankets, close our eyes, and hope that visions of things to be done will somehow miraculously vanish before we move out of the comfort of our beds.

 

That, however, didn’t stop several of us from immediately rising to the challenge posed by our fellow CE Buzz blogger Peter Bromberg this morning when he noted–in much kinder and gentler words than I’m using here–that we’ve become somewhat slothful about keeping up our commitment to contribute to CE Buzz and the community of learners it represents. In asking us whether we wanted to continue as contributors and, more importantly, whether we were willing to commit to a fairly easy schedule of posting articles so that fresh content appears regularly, Peter inadvertently reminded us why we were so attracted to the site initially.

 

My immediate reaction was to call Peter; discuss what we’re doing and what we might be doing better; and promise that I would return sooner than later. Excited and encouraged by what we know will come of this, we both noted that there seems to be a rising wave of energy and excitement around the work CLENE is currently doing and the level of commitment CLENE members bring to the organization and to our parent organization, the American Library Association.

 

The blog, for many of us, is both an extension and an integral part of what CLENE provides and inspires—a 21st-century physical and online variation of the Third Place which Ray Oldenburg, in The Great Good Place, suggested we need in addition to home and workplace. It should and deserves to be nurtured. And it’s only going to grow if those of us who are committed to contributing to it meet our commitments, and those of you who are drawn into this community of trainer-teacher-learners become active participants through your responses and engagement with all that CLENE and CE Buzz can offer.

 

“It feels as if we’re right at a tipping point,” Peter commented, and I began to laugh, for even though I recognized the term “tipping point” as coming from Malcolm Gladwell’s book which uses the term as its title, my mind—in equal states of exhaustion and hyper-caffeination—began to latch onto the word “tipping,” picture things being tipped, and—for no reason I can offer other than my penchant for always enjoying word and visual playfulness—started thinking about things being tipped over. Like a glass of wine. Or a glass of milk. Or, in the oft-cited image which must hearken back to our rural roots and people with too much time on their hands, cows—as in “cow-tipping.”

 

Now please understand that neither Peter nor I are suggesting that we’re going to pursue cow-tipping as a learning technique or a fundraising effort on behalf of CLENE or any of its activities under the auspices of the American Library Association. (I frankly doubt that ALA and its incoming president, Camila Alire, would be very supportive of this kind of endeavor.) On the other hand, the trainer-teacher-learner in me did spend a little time this afternoon with Wikipedia and other sources to learn more about the alleged practice of cow-tipping and read the wikipedians’ report that “According to popular belief, cows can easily be pushed over without much force because they are slow-moving, slow-witted and weak-legged, have a high center of gravity and sleep standing up. Numerous publications have debunked cow-tipping as a myth. Cows do not sleep standing up, nor do their knees lock, making the act of cow-tipping impossible.” (See, you actually learned something by staying with me this far into the blog.)

 

Please, furthermore, don’t expect us to suggest that current efforts to find a new look and logo for CLENE’s materials might somehow involve the image of a cow being tipped over while engaged in learning—at least not unless other CLENE members and ALA’s wonderful membership director, John Chrastka, want to make a connection I’m not willing to make right now. (No, John, I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to take the lead on this one.)

 

But do understand that if we could take the time it took to have that conversation this morning and giggle over improbable images and apparently non-existent pastimes, we and our fellow CE Buzzers certainly can carve out the time to continue thinking out loud here on the blog in the hope that some of the more serious ideas and practices which we document and propose will somehow contribute, overall, to the improvement of the training-teaching-learning arena which we all so clearly cherish. And we hope you’ll join us here on the blog, as well as in CLENE, as we continue promoting creativity and innovation in workplace learning and performance to the benefit of libraries and all we serve.

 

For more information about CLENE and how to join the group, please follow this link.