Highlights from Skills for Learning & Development Professionals (an article I wrote for T&D Magazine in 2008).
My experiences over the past three years have shown that these skills are still necessary in the workplace.
Accepting that we will never know everything, but that others may be able to help, is the first step in becoming a learning professional. This is an acceptance of a world in flux and that knowledge is neither constant nor fixed.
Instead of trying to know everything in our field, we can concentrate on knowing who to connect with. The network becomes all-important. That means an attitude of openness and collaboration – joining others on a journey of understanding. Giving up control would be a first step on this journey.
Even reading on the web is quite different from print. Digitally, we have opportunities to engage the writers and make our thoughts known, whether through comments or linking to the original article from our blog.
Having a blog, a permanent presence on the Web, becomes the jumping off point for deeper professional discussions. Producing a blog also opens a person up to criticism, so once again, an open attitude to learning is essential.
Learning professionals can no longer rest on their past accomplishments while the field changes and grows. They should be testing Web 2.0 tools so that they can develop optimal processes to support their organizations. If learning professionals are not setting the example of learning online, who is?
The example of putting your own learning process out in public or on your intranet shows that you are willing to learn from others. As new tools are introduced, learning professionals should be early adopters, leading the way in testing them out. We are in an age of “walking the talk”.
Through sharing and exposing their work on the Web, learning professionals can connect to communities of practice and get informal peer review. There is no way to stay current with the technology, the neuroscience or the pedagogy all by ourselves.
With blogs and other collaboration methods, each of us can become a participatory node in various communities of practice. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, and knowing who to call becomes more important than having the right answer. But we are all humans and we relate on a human level. That means that we first have to get to know others and develop a level of trust before real sharing can happen. Collaboration is a two-way street and a blog can get you moving.
Flow [from original transcript and not published in T&D article]
Imagine walking into a cocktail party that has been going on for a few hours and jumping into the conversation. Blogs and activity streams (e.g. Twitter) are like that. They flow along and different people join in the conversation from time to time. One can monitor dozens of blogs and hundreds of streams, not necessarily reading each post. You can then have a general idea of what’s flowing by, so that it’s easy to join the conversation when something interesting pops up.
To use blogs and streams for learning effectively, you have to jump in and go with the flow for a while. Understanding what is behind the writing, as well as the conversations around each post, provides the necessary context. Learning with online media isn’t just about finding a useful fact here or there, but requires an engagement with multiple stories that flow by, sometimes mixing and other times diverging. Following these flows is an acquired skill. It’s a meta- learning skill for the Internet age that is worth developing. Jumping in is the first step.
A part of critical thinking is the questioning of underlying assumptions, including our own. There are several Web 2.0 tools that can help develop critical thinking in the four areas of:
1. observing and studying our fields;
2. participating in professional communities;
3. building tentative opinions; and
4. challenging and evaluating ideas.
Connect, exchange, contribute
In many workplaces today, anyone can connect with almost everyone. Each of us can be a contributor to the network. Who you know becomes as important as what you know. Conversations help people make meaning, and the quality of our conversations is affected by the quality of our networks.
If we limit our conversations to only those in the same office, we’re missing out. People with larger and more diverse networks have an advantage as learning professionals and in dealing with change. This constant flow of sense-making through conversations in our workplace networks makes the idea of learning as a fixed event in a specific place look obsolete.