What have I learned today?

That’s a question that at my core I believe each of us needs to ask every day.

I know this, I believe this, and I advised several other people to do it yesterday.  But I haven’t gotten into the habit of doing it.  Why?

Time constraints is the first, obvious answer.  I am really, really busy these days.  But I continue to believe that people can make time for the things that are important to them.  So is it not so important to me?  Yes, it is!  As a results-oriented person, I strongly desire to be effective and do consistently excellent work, and as a reflective person I’m always asking  “What have I accomplished today?”  I’m used to assessing my own work and wondering how I could do better.  I know that learning new stuff is an absolute requirement for sustainable accomplishment.

That leaves me with what I think is the right answer.  I just haven’t made it a habit yet.  Posting here should help.  I’ve already learned a ton about SmartSheet – one of my Top Ten Tools – this morning and I’m not even dressed yet.

More later.  Maybe not every day.  But I promise myself to make it a habit.

Recycling a Blog

I’m interested in portfolios – both for illustrating my work for possible employers/clients and for creating a space to witness my own learning.  So I took an online workshop with Jane Hart of the Social Learning Centre in the UK about creating a Professional Learning Portfolio as a way to organize self-directed learning.

It made sense.  Define your long and short term objectives, identify possible learning methods and ways to measure progress, and then make a time commitment.  Narrate your progress and invite others to collaborate in your learning.

But where to start?  I explored several of the tools introduced in the workshop and even started a portfolio on WordPress using a template Jane created for workshop participants.  Nothing felt right.  Then I remembered this blog that I’d created a few years ago, and how using it had helped me learn exponentially more in that course than any other in my master’s program.  I re-read my posts and comments from classmates and re-ignited many ideas and insights I’d gained.  After adding a few pages and posts, this was the start of my PLP.

Now I’m ready to share – with my fellow PLP workshop participants and Jane’s 10 Tool challenge, with any professional colleagues who are interested in the ride, and even at work where I want to demonstrate how self directed could work.

Good enough or personal best?

No good deed goes unpunished.

A while back I agreed to quilt a charity quilt made by a group that includes the mom of one of my daughter’s college friends.  They make a quilt each year to raffle off to raise funds to make quilts for foster children – a cause I can believe in.  Typically they tie the quilts since no one is skilled in machine quilting.  Somehow, someone figured I could use the practice as a novice with my longarm quilting machine and I agreed.  I have learned a lot, but both the design and execution of my quilting are at the advanced -beginner/intermediate level and I’d love to get really good at it.  So I thought I could practice my skills and do some good at the same time.

Then I got the quilt.  It is probably one of the ugliest quilts I’ve ever seen.  Made of garish, cheap fabric in an incoherent design with, let’s just say, not the best workmanship.  I puzzled over what to do with it for weeks and decided to try a meandering all-over feather design, changing feather type every 18 inches or so in order to get maximum feather practice.  Well, I loaded it up (backing fabric less than an inch wider than the top) and made my first pass.  It was terrible, both in design and workmanship.

As I stood and stared and tried to figure out what to do – rip out and start over or just keep on going – two conflicting foundations of my personal philosophy echoed in my brain.  One side believes that all work that I do is a reflection of who I am, and that to do less than an excellent job is a poor reflection on me as a quilter/worker/person.  On the other hand, it often makes no sense to put more effort into something than it’s worth.  Like my husband getting every single leaf from under every single bush before all the leaves have fallen from the trees.

It took a while to determine my approach.  I left the first pass of stitches in the quilt and modified the design to be more pleasing on the next passes.  I took more time and stopped frequently to check.  In the center medallion where the stitching would show more clearly, I created a design that echoed the motifs in the fabric, and took more care to execute them.  Now, surrounded by better stitches, the first part doesn’t look so bad.

I still don’t love the quilt, but I think – and hope – it will raise more funds than if it had been tied.  I hope they’re pleased.

Commencement

Today begins my life with a master’s degree.  It has been a long time coming, and I learned so much in the past three years.  The best of what I learned, though, had nothing to do with what I had intended to learn.

I started this journey in September 2009, planning to get a certificate in instructional technology, so that I could develop eLearning courses using a variety of development tools.  I had enjoyed my amateur efforts in this along the way and had hoped to become proficient enough at it to do some freelance work.  I was disappointed in the content of the instructional technology courses.  I found them shallow, uninspiring and insufficient preparation to independent work.  I signed up for courses on Lynda.com and learned much more about designing eLearning and use of development tools there.  Still, there was something very satisfying about being a part of a community of learners that made the experience worthwhile.  I found, to my amazement, that the courses where I developed the strongest sense of community were the asynchronous online courses.  The opportunity to acquire new knowledge, reflect on how it made sense in my own context, and then share my thoughts with others was much more satisfying than the more superficial conversations that happened in my face-to-face classes.

Then I took the course that launched this blog and a myriad of new concepts opened up for me.  Workplace learning can – and will – change as a result of the availability of technology and the rapid rate of change in knowledge and information.  The idea of “power to the learners”  appeals to my aging hippie sensibilities.  The idea of harnessing technology to enable elegant melding of work and learning appeals to my inner geek.  And the thought of making the question, “what are you learning?” become more common than “what are you doing?” will, I hope, become my mantra in the next phase of my career.

Good bye, graduate school.  Hello, personal learning network.

The Food Network, my PLN, and my brand

One of the few TV shows I watch fairly regularly is The Next Food Network Star.  Aspiring TV chefs compete on their cooking skills as well as their personality and presentation potential; the winner is chosen to host an entertaining and educational cooking show.

One of the criteria the judges use to separate the potential stars from the pack is the candidate’s point of view.  Some contestants are all over the place.  One great chef lost points early in this season because he sometimes presented himself as “Mama’s Boy” and other times as “Vegas Vic.”  The judges explained that viewers want a consistent, predictable point of view.  The winner had a consistent point of view all season:  “Every sandwich a meal, every meal a sandwich.”  I’m sure he could cook many other dishes than sandwiches, but his clear point of view helped his audience understand and accept him.

Each of our guest speakers this semester had a distinct point of view that was reflected in her/his tweets, blogs and conversations with us.  I’ve been thinking that point of view is really critical to building my own brand so that I can add more value for the people in my PLN.

And I’ve also been thinking how cool it is to find nuggets of professional development in the most unexpected places.

“ADDIE is a good idea. But it’s not dogma…”

This was one of the most memorable points from our discussion with Aaron Silvers.  The week before, Cammy Bean suggested that sometimes people with ISD backgrounds can be arrogant; they may seem to believe that they have the one true way to approach learning design.

I couldn’t agree more with both of these suggestions.  Though the traditional ISD methods and tools we’ve learned in the UMBC program have validity and utility, understanding how to use them is not sufficient for successful instructional design. I’ve seen many excellent learning experiences created by people who had never heard of ADDIE, and I’ve seen painfully inadequate ones created by people who have studied it extensively.

So often, it’s the context that matters.  With time and resources becoming scarcer while the speed of change escalates, there often isn’t time for a full ISD approach.  Even when there is enough time, it might not be worth it.   A quick scan of the performance gap to be bridged and another quick scan of available tools, solutions, interventions or whatever we call them could well be enough to get started with creating an approach.  A faster, iterative approach to prototype-test-revise could arrive at a solution more efficiently – and effectively – than a more formal design-develop-implement-evaluate system.  And our deliverables may be more effective if they leave some of the content, methods and practice to the joint wisdom of the learners and facilitator, rather than prescribing every word and action.  (If I’m teaching a course designed by someone else, I’ll typically throw the leader’s guide out the window.)

That’s not to say the ISD professionals can’t use ADDIE to create exceptional solutions to performance problems.  We certainly can and do every day.  But the ones who are exemplary view ADDIE as a set of tools and techniques that can be mastered and used within a context, not as a rigid rulebook.  The real pros are open to other approaches that work.