This month’s Big Question posed on the Learning Circuits blog asks us to consider what new skills are needed for learning professionals. A bit of context here: Learning Circuits is Tony Karrer’s blog for the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development), and is aimed at ‘workplace learning and performance professionals’. There is a very rich discussion taking place around this question, mostly from a corporate training perspective, although the issues are not too different in higher education.
What follows is my own motley list, along with comments from others who have responded so far. By the way, no-one has yet defined ‘learning professional’ in the discussion. I’m reading it as ‘someone who helps other people learn for a living’. (Keeping it nice and broad… )
OK, so here’s the list:
1. Reflect on how learning happens.
With Web 2.0, we have the technologies at our disposal to provide highly collaborative or hugely personalised learning experiences, or mass-scale, standardised, content-driven education. I expect we will see more of all of these in time to come. In all cases, learning professionals will need to approach their job reflectively. Mohammed Amine Chatti‘s description of double loop learning is a nice model, and Nancy White emphasises the value of shared reflection through blogging and conversations with peers.
2. Keep learning – and networking.
Harold Jarche writes about the importance of making your learning process publicly visible, for example through blogging, participating in online networks, and building up a trusted – and trusting – base of followers on Twitter. He says: ‘It’s not just an advantage to belong to diverse professional networks, but… it is now a significant disadvantage to not actively participate in social learning networks.’ This explicit linking of social networking with professional development is a thread running through almost all of the responses to the Big Question.
3. And nurturing…
Clark Quinn points to the need for learning facilitators to understand ‘how to nurture groups into cohesion, communication and collaboration.’ I love the word ‘nurture’ there – it’s so exquisitely non-technical!
Nancy White deals briefly with the question of community leadership and facilitation in her third post, and distinguishes between the concept of ‘community’ and ‘network’. (At the risk of oversimplifying: a community is a more ‘bounded’ group; a network has fuzzier edges.) The skills for facilitating both are different, and those of us in the business of helping people learn need to know when to use which kinds of skills.
4. Share your knowledge
Karyn Romeis challenges learning professionals to help shape their organisation’s learning strategy by contributing their knowledge from a grassroots perspective. She gives a great anecdote from her own experience, which is followed by some interesting comments from readers on the ethics of sharing/ withholding knowledge from one’s employer.
5. Manage that information flow!
Nancy White’s second post contains a fabulous set of guidelines for managing the ‘river’ of information that is hurtling past us at such speed. She talks about the need for scanning skills, filtering skills, synthesising and sense-making skills, as well as the ability to ask good questions. She also mentions the role of the technology steward, which is next on my list…
6. Engaging with emerging technologies is no longer optional.
Clive Shepherd notes that many learning and development professionals ‘have fallen behind in their continuing professional development’. He says: ‘I can’t see a future for those [learning and development] professionals currently in denial and just hoping all this [proliferation of new learning media] will just blow over. I can’t imagine who will want to employ them.’
Jay Cross believes that learning professionals need to be proactive with regard to emerging technologies, and points to the importance of the ‘community technology steward’ – described in the forthcoming book by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith, Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities. Technology stewards are ‘people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs’. I agree with Cross’ prediction of ‘job enrichment and greater responsibilities for learning professionals who take on the challenge.’
7. Open Educational Resources (OERs) are here to stay: don’t reinvent when you can repurpose.
Something that has not received much attention in the discussion so far is the role of OERs in teaching and learning today. Thank you to self-confessed vegan geek, Victoria MacArthur, for telling us about the Irish National Digital Learning Repository. (See also Leicester’s OTTER project, which is part of the broader JISC-funded UK OER initiative.) The proliferation of OERs provides opportunities for learning design by ‘mashup’ rather than starting from scratch, requiring at least a different approach, if not new skills.
8. Be a mensch!
Finally, what better way to end than with Nancy White’s four meta skills for learning professionals. This was in the first of her four posts, and it’s a wonderful list, which puts the whole discussion into perspective: learning professionals need to have self-awareness, generosity, humility and willingness to risk. All the qualities valued in the old Yiddish concept of a mensch. A learning professional (however defined) is first and foremost a human being.