Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Power to the PLN!

"When it comes down to it, there are really only two fundamental human activities. Learning is the other one."

PLN, you ask?  What the heck is a PLN?

Well, according to those in the know, it is a "Personal Learning Network".  Yeah, it's a nice term and all, but let's put this into perspective.

For those of you of a similar generation as me, think back to the people in high school that you might study with, or lean on for help in Calculus, Chemistry, or Physics.  Or maybe you were one of the bright ones who had people coming to you to explain things that made no sense when coming from your so close to retirement they could taste it teacher?  Well, that's a simple Personal Learning Network.

Taking (Online) College Instruction by Storm!

Well, I admit that I never thought it might happen, but as of today I am officially a College-level instructor because my two courses started today.

I found myself in this position by the purest of chance.  The backstory is that I live in a relatively major center with a nearby Community College.  As a product of the College system I have a certain amount of affection of the methods and approaches used therein.  This College runs a number of continuing education courses, including a certificate in adult learning (similar to the one I did years ago).  So, I figured I'd send out a general inquiry to say, "ya know, if you ever want/need part-time instructors for this gig I'd be, you know, interested.".  Based on my history with unsolicited resume submissions and the like, I didn't hold out a lot of hope for what I usually consider to be a pretty closed system.

Fate decided to keep me on my toes and I actually got a response to my query and eventually got an offer to teach not one, but two of the online editions of said certificate program.  That was back in October and I wasn't slated to teach until Feb., so it didn't seem quite real.

But, that was then, and this is now.  I've completed the edits to my course, and when I checked in last night I was pleasantly surprised to see that I even had learners enrolled!  So, things kicked off today. In my Adult Learning course I have 32 (!) learners, and in the Assessment & Evaluation course I have 12.  Of course, these numbers are likely to change as the course goes on, but I'm thrilled.  Lots of eager (and maybe not-so-eager) learners to mould, mentor, and guide.

I dug back through my online communities course from grad school and re-read Gilly Salmon's fine book, e-Moderating.  I tapped into some of my recent expertise and inspiration and I filled in what I thought were some of the gaps in one course, and worked with another new instructor to re-purpose and re-format another one because neither one of us could make head-nor-tail of the original approach (we also had learner feedback from a previous iteration to support our efforts).

So, I gave them a video introduction and I plan to do some of Salmon's "weaving and summarizing" as the content discussions progress.  I may even tap into some other activities through the 14 week run of the course, just to give the learners some other kinds of engagement.

While I find the thought of having to mark that many assignments a little daunting, I'm still excited about this new side activity.  I'll blog more as the courses progress.

The Unexpected leads to Energy

I probably should have written this post last night but sleep and prep took priority.

One occasional part of my job is that I get to go on-site with our clients and work with them.  In the recent past this has manifested itself as a mentoring/coaching session for our Rapid ID/Development platform because I'm ex-officio the resident platform expert and arguably the senior Instructional Design resource in-house.

Yesterday was a case in point.  I was tasked to do an on-site session for a client (something they were actually paying for as a professional service within one of their projects).  The original plan was to do some coaching on some specifics for managing updates to the courses we built for them, but through some fortunate happenstance, it didn't work out that way.

So instead of playing trainer/coach, I got to play Learning Consulant for the first half of the day.  The L&D Manager at the client decided that we should take a look at a Harassment & Discrimination document instead to see what we could or should do with it. 

I felt like an old war-horse pricking up his ears when hearing the sound of bugles or distant musket fire.  Excited, and chomping at the bit to get going!

So....as a small group we took the time to dissect the source content they were planning to put online, and I got the participants to mentally free themselves of constraints and put out different ideas.  (What I said to them, was this, "make your ideas so far out of the box you can't see the box with a telescope.")

And, wow...did we get some great ideas.

What did I get from it, you may ask?

Energy.  HUGE amounts of energy.  I revel in this creative process and stepping past the basics of content development and moving up a level to examine things as a program or continuous process.  We stopped thinking of this e-learning content as an event and they started seeing all the contributing pieces that support the learning (formal and informal).  I'm also encouraged when L&D professionals don't get all freaked out when the concepts of internal discussions or polling, or Social Media get raised as possibilities.  I'm equally encouraged when they see that there are other players in the learning process, like Internal Communications to promote and generate awareness/interest.

Yesterday reminded me that sometimes we do need to get away from event-based thinking and get way, way outside of the box.  Sometimes the "impossible" is really just "difficult, but do-able if we really work at it because it's worth it."

As Peter Block says, "change the conversation."

I felt inspired...and it was a day when I really needed it. Thanks to my clients and a little un-planning, we turned a predictable day into an energizing morning with lots of momentum for a focused, practical afternoon.