These last four years have indeed been a journey, and my blog has been a way to capture post card greetings along the way. It has been fascinating to read back through it from January 2010 until now, finding the recurring themes and watching the evolution of my blogging prowess.
My journey actually started in September 2009 when I first learned about this M.Ed. program from a friend of a friend (my PLN – Personal Learning Network – was hard at work long before I knew it had a name). She suggested I meet Dr. Terry Carter, and one meeting with her was all it took to convince me to enroll. Beyond the excitement she created for what I would learn in the program, I have to admit feeling an instant connection with Dr. Carter when I saw the pictures of her Goldens – Carolina and Georgia – prominently displayed in her office.
So, four years later, where do I start with this end-of-program reflection? I have considered several formats, but the one that feels most appropriate is to share some of my favorite aHA! moments from my blog (and other writings) that changed my thinking, coalesced my thinking, or got me thinking about completely new things.
Changing my view of what I consider learning
In the fall of my first year in the program, we were assigned to write an educational bio. As I wrote in an assignment later that same semester,
I had a hard time writing my educational biography earlier this semester, and I felt as if I did not have very many informal learning experiences to include. Yet when it came time to map out my time line for life learning, there were so many events that I included that I had not thought to include when I wrote my biography. For example, I referenced in my biography that I am divorced, but I did not talk at all about my marriage. I also did not mention any of the events that were part of what I call my mid-life crisis. When I asked myself why I did not include them in my bio, the answer came quickly – I had not considered them “educational” experiences. I had not yet realized how important adult development is to adult learning.
I am glad I came to this understanding of adult development early in my masters program, because that led me to be looking for learning everywhere… and everywhere is where I found it!
I found it while on a webinar at work about the marketing concept of “storyselling” and immediately realizing it is akin to creating significant learning. It’s in the post my sister shared on Facebook from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace that I can tie into my readings about connectivism. It comes when you enhance your digital literacy so you can tell fact from fiction. It’s in my meditation practice that enhances neuroplasticity that leads to lifelong learning. The opportunity to learn is all around you, as is the opportunity to gain from what you have learned in unexpected ways.
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
Watching the learning come together
The Design and Delivery class was my first opportunity to create a real training program. This class fell at the midpoint of my time in the program and allowed me to “… [think] back not only on what I’ve learned in this course, but on how what I’ve learned in this course has brought up some of the themes I’ve been thinking about over the last two years.” Some of those recurring themes were setting clear objectives, ensuring transfer of learning, and creating opportunities for the teacher/facilitator to learn along with her learners.
Jane Vella’s book On Teaching and Learning will forever guide my instructional methods. The Four I model – induction, input, implementation, and integration –
appeals to me because it provides just enough structure to get you started in developing your instruction, but it affords plenty of room to be creative and flexible with your approach. As I was developing the instructional plan [in this class], I would find myself thinking while driving to and from work about what questions I could pose to draw out the learners’ previous experience (inductive work), or how I could design a task that would be fun and useful (implementation). While out walking the dogs, I would think about ways to transfer the learning beyond the workshop (integration). It was much more than sitting down at one time and listing out the information that I wanted to impart to the learners… [D]eveloping effective learning is not just about covering the content…
as Vella so vividly demonstrated when she literally sat on her book during our Skype call that semester.
Over the course of the next two years in the program, I relied on many of the things I practiced during this class, especially as we revisited the concept of dialogue in Consulting Skills and in Capstone. My teammate and I followed Vella’s model when we tackled the creation of a hybrid learning class for adult educators in Design Challenges for eLearning for Adults, which was a capstone-like class in my technology track.
It was in the Design and Delivery class that I came to understand all that goes into program development – from the politics of the stakeholders, to the forethought needed around how to set up the room, to the painstaking process of creating meaningful assessment tools. It was also during this class that I came to understand
how an instructor can teach the same course over and over and over again, year after year, and still make it new and fresh for each class. Well, at least the good instructors do! What I learned this semester is that, for the good instructors, it’s never really the same course… Each time you teach a class or facilitate a training session, there are new learners in the class who bring new experiences and thus new opportunities to work with the content.
A new way of thinking about learning
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
I chose the technology track on the advice of a friend I met through the Richmond chapter of ASTD. Four years ago, she said eLearning was definitely a hot area, but nobody was doing it well. If I could learn how it should be done, I would be a hot commodity. However, I had my doubts about eLearning which I explored in my first semester. I further examined my concerns about the acceptability of online degrees in my project for Research Methods. Even during the first of my technology track classes, I blogged about
hanging on to my preference for traditional classroom learning. I love being on campus and having the face-to-face interactions with classmates and the professor. I appreciate the effective use of technology in the classroom, and I am addicted to the myriad information online that supplements my learning. But… technology AS the “classroom”? I’m still warming up to that idea, and for that reason, I’m glad this semester’s class is a hybrid class. Ease me into the transition.
By the midpoint of the semester, I was drowning in my new-found love of online learning, or rather learning online. (Thanks, Dr. Watwood, for that lesson in the power of semantics!) There is no doubt it was during these technology track classes that I found my learning groove.
In the Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Learning Environments class, I was introduced to and became enamoured with George Siemens’ theory of connectivism and the ideas that “learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and that “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” These ideas were definitely part of what shaped my thinking when I wrote, “by being a lifelong learner, you are open to unlearning what you know in favor of learning something you can’t even imagine now.”
As I had already come to discover in Groups & Team, “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity,” and Siemens goes on to say that “when knowledge… is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill,” thus prompting me to blog:
It is that peer-to-peer interaction that, for me, defines my graduate education experience. It’s realizing that when I walk into a room at the beginning of the semester, I am meeting, or more often now re-connecting with, a room full of instructors from whom I will gain contextual learning from perspectives I never imagined — nurse, doctor, army officer, corporate executive, academic staffer, teacher, community activist, IT guru… the list goes on and on…
During the second of the technology track classes – Exploration of Digital Media – I chose to explore Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget as my individual project. I chose this book because I was seeking a counter balance to what I had referred to in the previous semester as being addicted to the eLearning Kool-Aid. I wanted to examine the arguments Lanier presents as well as test my own acceptance and assumptions about these technologies and social media tools.
I had no idea how much of an impression this book would have on me, or how often I would think back on it and wonder What would Jaron say? As I was reading Lanier’s book, I found myself getting as excited about agreeing with him as disagreeing. Mostly because he made me think so hard about what he was saying before I could even decide if I agreed or disagreed. I felt at times as if I were in a tumultuous relationship with Lanier – one minute I loved him for opening my mind and challenging me to think so differently; the next I hated him for being so cynical and egotistical. In the end, I decided the best way to describe my relationship with Lanier and my analysis of his ideas was simply to say, “it’s complicated.” Spend a few minutes with Lanier, and you’ll understand.
A few words about my blog
My blog has been my faithful companion these past four years, and I would be remiss if I did not dedicate space to reflect on my blog itself.
For the first few years, I wrote my blog for myself and didn’t expect anyone to comment on it except maybe my professors. Then we started to have blog buddies, and I got used to the idea that people would be reading my writings, albeit fellow classmates. During my tour through the technology track classes, I decided to give my blog a facelift and make it more like a real blog with an About me page and links to some of my other work from the program. Still, though, I never anticipated what happened on the afternoon of December 6, 2012.
I received an email notification from WordPress that I had a ping back to approve on a post I’d written about the concept of Big Data earlier in the semester. I was used to ping backs from my classmates, but this was a ping back from a blog written by the Marketing Communications Manager at Lyris, a global digital marketing agency! She had quoted me in her blog and referred to me a “Blogger Joanne Even.” I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was a BLOGGER!
It is bittersweet to find myself at this destination called graduation. While it is not the end of my journey through learning, it is most definitely a significant endpoint. I am a lifelong learner and as such will continue the journey and my reflective practice because
… it’s been my own words that have rewarded me by showing how much I have learned over the past few years and how well I weave my academic learning into every aspect of my life.
So for me, it is not so much transferring what I learned into my own teaching practice right now as it is about paying attention to these practices in other areas – such as the recent trend in gamification in marketing, the move toward mobile technologies, and questions surrounding analytics to assess ROI on social media – and applying what I have learned in this [program] to understand how to answer the questions that surround these topics in a different context. (ADLT 640 Final Self-Assessment)
Through self-assessments and especially through my reflective blogging practice, I am proving to myself that I am establishing significant learning.
At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I spent virtually my entire graduate school tenure hoping to make a career change into adult education. It took a leap of faith to quit my job last month without having another job lined up, but I had to give myself the time and space for a transition. As it was a connection in my PLN that started me on this journey through learning, so it was again when a connection I made in my very first M.Ed. class made the introduction that has landed me my first job in the field of learning and development. As a strong believer of chaos theory, it’s hard for me to say it was meant to be – even in a state of chaos, things can line up favorably – but what I can say is that I am excited to start this next phase of my journey.