Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reflection of 2008: What did I learn?

This is a good time as any to reflect on what I learned in the last year. While I didn't answer The Learning Circuit's a "Big question" of the month, "What did you learn about learning in 2008?" directly, I did answered the question, but in a more general sense.

Learning can happen anywhere. This isn't a new thought, but I realized more than ever that I--or anyone else--cannot rely on only one or a few sources for information, education, new relationships, and new opportunities. We have to be ready and available for learning anywhere and anytime. If we are not subjecting ourselves of the opportunities for learning--we simply are not learning enough. Kevin Gamble says that this is being the ball. Some say this is the equivalent to "getting in the game".

Though the traditional ways of learning are still very important, being ready, able, and available to learn in other ways is imperative to surviving in our organization and in our competitive environments. This seems like such an obvious statement, but many people still don't get it well enough to effectively expand their knowledge resources.

Distance communications don't mirror our physical communications--they are all be the same (or they should be all the same). Some of my best learning occurs during one-to-one conversations. Of course, I find face-to-face conversations as great ways to learn and build relationships. During this past year, it has been conversations online that I have found most compelling and that have challenged my thought processes.

Through instant messaging and continuous email streams, I have been challenged, made to think through concerns, possibilities, and problems. Interestingly, I find that those at-a-distance conversations are the ones I seem to learn in more lasting ways.

Why? Many times these conversations forced me to listen (read), think, then respond. In some ways, particularly when an honest reaction is needed, it seems easier for the other person, and for me, to respond more honestly, yet professionally, online.

These provoking conversations were with people I personally know and respect.

The at-a-distance conversations were not only great learning experiences for me (and I believe for the others), the conversations were also a continuation of strengthening our working relationships. In the few instances where I "met" people online first, the later, face-to-face encounters were continuations of building of the relationships.

Our online conversations and in-person conversations become the life and work we do. One doesn't mirror the other. It's all the same. This thought was first introduced to me by Mark Federman when he referred to teenagers' online life and their physical life--he said "It's all the same".

We don't have to be teenagers to live it, but we have to be the ball or at least get in the game (take your choice in terms). Online and physical relationships become all the same. One does not mirror the other--it's all the same.

There isn't' one "right" tool. There isn't any single one tool that does it all. Once again, this isn't a new thought, but it is one that has become strikingly more evident.

When I describe the new tools, like Twitter or Google Reader, people often make statements that indicate that they must discontinuing using the tools that currently use. "But, I like reading the newspaper and my trade rags." or "I use Google to find information." "But, my clients don't use these tools".

My response is "Keep reading the paper--particularly your local paper, and keep using Google for searching, but expand your knowledge and your exposure to other ideas". And, "don't think that your clients don't use these tools. Facebook, blogs, online news, and forums are more prevalent than you think. And, if your clients are not using these tools, they soon will be. Why wait?"

For me, learning new tools has been the foundation for learning from more sources and with more diversity.  Using several tools in combination is the key to appropriately filtering and managing the information flow. I use Twitter and Delicious. I also use Google Reader to read feeds and Friendfeed as an aggregator.

Learning to collaborate and share in the open is essential. When I see organizations and individuals unwilling to develop content and ideas in the open, they appear to be hiding something. Educators should be willing to be open because learning can happen anywhere, even during the development of content.

Developing content and presentations online is, of course, but is also a great way to learn from others. I use whatever tool is appropriate (in house MS SharePoint, in-house wikis, Wikispaces, pbwiki, Google Docs, etc.). Over and over throughout the year, I witnessed and participated in collaboration efforts that develop ideas, content, and products better than any one person could have done.

Contributing and collaborating mean being the ball. Simply, we have to be present, participate, contribute, and develop ideas. Contributing can happen in lots of places online--blogging, commenting on blogs, using Friendfeed, Twitter, social bookmarking, wikis, Google Docs, instant messaging, chatting.

Collaborating in the open should be the norm, not the exception.

Developing an online reputation is imperative to survival for professionals and organizations. A professional online presence is as important for individuals as it is for the organizations they serve.

Developing an online presence means producing, contributing and connecting in communities. Ning is a good site for learning and staying connected within particular topics. LinkedIn is good place to connect with other professionals. Facebook is a good social site. Plaxo is also a good social site, as well. 

Being influential means that you make a difference to those who matter to you. Being influential doesn't mean that you have to have a thousands of Twitter followers and blog readers. When people indicate they are learning and passing on your thoughts to others, you know you are influential. When see that others have taken your thoughts and ideas and developed them into products, services, and better ideas, you know you are influential. The most gratifying moments have been when people have said that they find my blog, instructions, and conversations helpful.

We must go where the people are: Whether learning, teaching, marketing, or managing, being involved and connecting with others is essential to learning better skills and becoming more innovative. I find it is interesting to hear some marketing, public relations, and professional development professionals say "they" should lead the way into social media. It doesn't matter, within the organization, who is the first to use these tools, it matters that organizations jump in--learn, listen, engage, and collaborate. Then, relationships will develop , learning will take place, and marketing opportunities will (albeit different forms of traditional marketing) will develop.

Work should be fun; we should laugh more. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink talks about how laughter is a social activity and that people who laugh together have regular, satisfying connections, pg 203-204. "Humor can be a cohesive force in organizations." (pg 199) Laughter is more about relationships than about jokes. 

The first time I realized that laughter and having fun can be effective way to connect with others was at a ACE/NETC conference. The technology group has traditionally held a "404 Awards banquet" where the word "banquet" is an overstatement. There are no specific awards, a specific agenda, or a designated speaker. Awards are given to people who tell the funniest stories about their work as technologists. The funniest stories are usually those that make fun of the technologists themselves. As we laughed at each other, the stories, and the jokes, we get to know each other and trust each other just a little bit better. We connect. We remember each other. And, we have stories to tell in the future.

In organizations, we often discount the importance of "down-time"...time to enjoy each other and have fun with our colleagues. Research shows that laugher and having fun can be instrumental in developing creativity and innovation.

Having effective, honest conversations are needed at all levels of organizations. During the year, I had the privilege of attending a Crucial Conversations workshop. Also, I had read the books, Crucial Conversations and Fierce Conversations. The concept of these two books is that to get to the root of problems, we must have effective conversations. Some of what I learned from these books is covered in a web conference where I reviewed the two books and in the slide presentation, Conversations. Interestingly, the Slideshare presentation, Conversations, received over 700 views in its first 7 days. The views have leveled off, but interest in this topic is still high.

Personally, I want to get better at having conversations so that I can learn from others and understand others' perspectives. I hope that through effective conversations that necessary changes are designed and implemented, and creativity and innovations are invoked.

Other learning activities

This past year has been filled with trying new tools and learning new concepts. Here is a sampling of some I learned (and still learning):




Creative Commons

UCaPP -- Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate

The use of narrative and in understanding basic patterns which we make decisions.

2008 was a great year for learning, indeed.

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