Nine Seven Best Practices on Learning 2.0 & Two Additions

Program Note: In reviewing my earlier posting, I can't believe I left out two important best practices. Yup, I guess my withdrawal symptoms were worse then I thought. :) See list below, it's updated now.

It's been a week since the finale of Learning 2.0 and I think I've finally gotten over RSS feed withdrawal. For the last 13 weeks the participants in L2 have overloaded my Bloglines account so much so that when the program came to abrupt end last Wednesday it actually felt odd to not have 80-200 new posts to skim through each night. :)

Anyway, the good news is that my family is now relieved to have clean laundry back on regular weekly schedule and my withdrawal symptoms have ceased enough over the last few days for me to jot down some thoughts about this whole experience -- that is before I forget everything. :)

In the past few weeks I've had several libraries contact me asking for guidance in creating their own Learning 2.0 programs and while I can't say that I have all the answers, what I can offer is a list of my Best Practices or Lessons Learned from my experience. So here they are in no particular order. Note: I'll apologize in advance for this lengthy post but I don't want to cut out any thoughts that might be useful to someone else duplicating the program, so if you're interested read away ...

Learning 2.0 Thoughts & Best Practices:

  • Don't confuse learning with training - In the ideal world training and learning are linked together, but as anyone who has stood in front of a classroom and looked at sea of blank stares can tell you, this is not always true. In order for participants to learn, they must be a) engaged and b) have motivation. These were two elements that Learning 2.0 took advantage of the most. Encouraging the participants to engage in their own learning discoveries and providing motivation (via the incentives) as way to jump on board.

    The breakthrough of the program itself is that it did not involve one bit of classroom or workshop instruction nor were any handouts or cheat sheets designed to support the exercises. Instead, it was purely built upon the notion of lifelong learning and encouraging self-discovery and fun. And the biggest plus to it all was that the program itself was built using the very same free tools that it encouraged staff members to explore. :)

  • Design the program for late bloomers - One of the things that I built into the program was an extra month of discovery time at the end. This was initially done to assist staff who might run into time commitments along the way, but in retrospect it offer the greatest benefit in allowing staff to jump on board late in the program and still have ample time to complete it. Let's face it, the majority of your staff that need the exposure to the tools and technology introduced through Learning 2.0 program probably aren't your library's early adapters. Instead they're late bloomers - and valuable staff members at that. From my experience, the vast majority of the participants didn't jump into the L2 pool until the 4th, 5th and 6th weeks. In fact at week 9 & 10, I still had new staff steadily joining in at a rate of 6-8/week. Also of equal importance to adding extra time at the end, was my decision to use the first two weeks of the program to build excitement and gently reintroduce the concepts of self-discovery and lifelong learning to staff before they were encouraged to jump into the deep end.

  • Allow participants to blog anonymously – Keeping in mind that many staff members might not feel comfortable posting their thoughts openly on worldwide web (especially if they had to have their name associated with it) it's good to allow participants to jump into the 2.0 pool with a cloak of anonymity. Well over 80% of the participants chose this option and it in fact added to the fun of the program as staff tried to figure out who was who. For tracking purposes participants did have to post their progress in a log file contained on our staff intranet, but this information was not shared with other staff and was only used to track eligibility for earning incentives.

  • Use 1.0 methods to continually communicate. - Most participants kept up with the exercises either through the links provided in a weekly emails or through the staff Intranet. Don’t expect participants to use 2.0 technologies (RSS) to keep up with the program. You need to use technologies that they are already comfortable with in order to continually reach and encourage them.

  • Focus on “discovery” & offer challenges – Since many staff might not have the technical skills or equipment to “upload a picture to Flickr” or “insert a LibraryThing widget” in their blog, the basic exercises within Learning 2.0 tried to focused merely on easy discovery and offered optional challenges for those who wanted to do more. This allowed participants to explore but not feel so pressured to do the hard stuff. But even so, I gotta tell ya that most participants tried to do the challenges -- yup, this confirms it -- libraries are full of high achievers. :)

  • Encourage staff to work together – This was the singular reason, I think, for the high staff completion rate at many of our locations. At branch locations, like Steele Creek, University City and Myers Park (just to name a few) staff pulled together and paired up to make their learning and discovery process more fun. Through the learning and knowledge exchanging process, self-proclaimed tech novices became experienced discovers and Learning 2.0 tutors and in turned gained confidence in their own skills. This was a great outcome and one that would have most likely never happened in the traditional teacher/student environment -- and to think it was all from just a little bit of encouragement to have fun and play!

  • It’s not about “doing IT right” - One of the most important things that I had to keep in mind throughout the 13 weeks of the program while reviewing all the blog posts by participants was that it wasn’t about doing the exercises correctly. But rather Learning 2.0 was really more about providing staff with “exposure” to these new tools and just encouraging them to get out their comfort zone. I don't think this core idea discounts the notion that staff should also have knowledge about how to use these tools, but the first step in gaining knowledge is really exposure. Once you have a little bit of information behind you it's gives you the confidence to seek and learn more.

  • Practice transparency & enable radical trust - I think of these as being two of the cornerstones to the whole Library 2.0 movement, and in a learning environment designed to introduce staff members to these new technologies that empower library users it also means that your library needs to trust your staff and practice transparency when it comes to communicating with them. Allowing them to blog openly is a huge part of radical trust and from my experience with Learning 2.0 it's been a win-win for library employees and administration all around. :)

  • And last not but least … Continually encourage staff to “Play” - For some reason this is very hard for most librarians and staff to do and it seemed to be the learning habit cited as being “most difficult” by the majority of participants. You might chock it up to library staff having strong work ethics, but the truth is that librarians really do need to adopt a “continuous play strategy” in order to keep their skills and knowledge fresh. So encouraging “play” was very important to the program because after all, everyone learns better when they’re having fun!

As for the “two additions” noted in the title of this post, they are a “how-would-I-do-things-differently-the-next-time.” item and an observation:

  • If there was one thing I would have done a bit differently in this self-discovery program it would have been to define the blogging requirements a bit more. Over all, most of the participants (85-90 %) did use their blogs to provide meaningful posts about their discoveries, but like any initiative there were some staff that did the bare bones minimum (like just include a link to a photo or a website). In retrospect I would have defined the blogging requirement a bit more these participants... “Your discovery posts for each exercise must contain substance and provide insights into what you’ve learned. And if you don’t know how to measure “substance”, then make sure your posts are no less than 100- 125 words."

  • It seems that you can never allocate enough “time” for library staff to complete the program, for it didn't seem to matter if the participant completed the program 6 weeks ahead of time or 6 hours before the deadline, almost everyone said they would have liked more time to complete the program (even though there was extra 4 weeks of discovery time added on at the end).

    Throughout it all, I think most of the requests for additional time were in regards to having more "work time" on a daily basis to participate in the program rather then extending the length of the program, for even among the 112 that completed by the L2`early bird date of Oct 7th (3.5 weeks early) there was a trend in staff members 23rd things posts (this was the last post that asked them to reflect upon their learning and the program) that they wanted more time.

    Reflecting on this trend, I think Procrastination is one of those adult habits that are hardest to break and I have come to the conclusion that even if participants had been given a year to complete the program, it still would have not been enough. The truth is that with these web 2.0 tools “Life comes as you fast!” And if the announcement of the Invention of the Year by Time magazine this week is any indication (it’s YouTube btw) then we need to realize that continuous discovery and learning needs to be an integral part of every staff member’s day-to-day activities and not something we can just put off because it's not convenient. Being knowledgeable of trends, tools and new information channels IS a part of our business no matter what form they come in, and as general rule I think librarians need to be more proactive in forging their own learning habits and continually challenging themselves to keep up with the curve. And if there's one Web 2.0 tool that librarians should be knowledgeable of it's RSS & new aggregators, for they are a godsend at meeting this challenge. :)

Anyway, those are my thoughts – all nine of them at best. If you’ve made it to the bottom of this long and lengthy post, thanks for sticking with me. And if you’re thinking about doing a Learning 2.0 program of your own, I’ll leave you with the invitation to feel free to use the site and contact me for suggestions ( there are a few exercises that might work better if you de-PLCMC-ize them) And last but not least, think seriously about offering incentives because ... Yes, “they do work!!”

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