Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Archive for October, 2010

Learn, unlearn, relearn

I am interested in Alvin Toffler’s statement 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.

Converging coloured jigsaw pieces imageI see learning as a continuous process which develops and evolves with every single action, reaction, or non-action we take. It’s impossible to turn learning off. Its cyclic nature allows us to constantly conceive of concepts and ideas, allowing them to converge or diverge as more information is added and processed, then start all over again. However, as this quote suggests, how we learn will ultimately define our ongoing success and effectiveness as learners. I don’t believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I do acknowledge, though, that it can be difficult to get an old dog to change or modify their current tricks.

What does this look like in practice? As I was giving a colleague a ride home from work yesterday, she told me about her driving lessons. She wishes she’d learned how to drive when she was younger and had less fear about all the damage she could potentially cause in a car. I wonder if her fear of danger is something she’s always had, a natural human reaction to managing hazards in our works, or has it developed and grown over the years? What might have contributed to it? What effect does media reporting about road crashes, or an awareness of statistics about road safety, have on our psyche? Where is the fine line between acknowledging fear as a protective mechanism and overcoming it? Feel the fear and do it anyway, we’re told. This, in itself, is a huge concept.

In 2012, all New Zealand drivers are going to have to relearn one of our traffic rules as the right-hand intersection rule is changed to align us with the rest of the world. Introduced in New Zealand more than 30 years ago, the right-hand rule is no longer used in any other country which drives on the left side of the road. Just as New Zealanders had to cope with the change back in 1977, they will need to adapt and adjust their driving to accommodate a shift to a new law. For some drivers, this will involve relearning the driving practice they changed from in 1977. For many drivers, this will require unlearning the only intersection rules they have ever known. New drivers will have to learn the new law from drivers who will either have to unlearn or relearn it themselves. Will this be a problem? It’s hard to predict, but this motoring column suggests that it will be no big deal.

I’m wondering who is going to face the biggest challenges with this rule change: the new drivers who have to learn what to do at an intersection, the current drivers who will have to unlearn the only rule they have ever known at intersections, or the experienced drivers who will have to relearn an old rule they might have once already known?

Delicious online bookmarking

Delicious logoOur second paper bag lunch was held today. It was a small, informal session called Delicious online bookmarking. The purpose was to introduce staff members to the benefits of online bookmarking, as opposed to saving websites to the Favourites or Bookmarks menu on their browsers. Delicious is one of several social bookmarking tools available freely online and I have long been a fan of the service.

A few weeks ago, I started cleaning up my delicious account. That’s when I discovered that I’d been using it since August 2003 – that’s a pile of links to collect and store! Inevitably, many were no longer current or relevant. Some sites that were once useful to me during my primary teaching career were less helpful now. Many had new URLs which needed updating. Others needed deleting altogether. It’s kind of like cleaning out your basement or moving house; you have no idea just how much stuff is stored away ‘just in case’ until you take a proper look. My tag bundles still need sorting, but that will be a job for another day.

So, what did we talk about today? I had compiled a basic presentation about the benefits of social or online bookmarking. What would happen to your locally-stored favourites menu if your computer met an untimely end tomorrow? What if you’re travelling or away from your laptop and want to refer to a site you’ve saved at home? How can you easily access the bookmarks you saved at work from your home computer? We also looked at an example of how a team at our workplace has set up a shared delicious account for sharing links and ideas. It’s still developing in size and scope with about 50 staff members having access to the account. No doubt we will see some tagging conventions evolve over time.

As part of my presentation, I showed this SlideShare presentation about Using delicious to decrease emails. Hopefully in time we’ll find that our shared delicious account results in fewer workplace emails containing links to useful sites (or emails saying, “I’ve saved this site in our delicious account”). It would be even better to see a shift in behaviour whereby users log in to delicious as a normal part of their everyday practice, rather than waiting for external prompts such as emails and meetings. 🙂

Walking the talk

I am a primary teacher by trade. Although I have held, and currently hold, other positions related to education, my roots are in teaching and I’m very proud of that fact. Throughout my career, I have had experience in working with educators and leaders from all sectors (early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary, including special needs educators). This has allowed me a very privileged view of each of the sectors, observing how they operate, how they are similar, and how their subtle nuances reflect and ultimately complement each other. There are many, many areas which overlap, as one would naturally expect.

Te Whariki woven imageOn Thursday, I attended a professional learning session that was given by early childhood staff. They were talking about how their tutors work together as a team to deliver their degree and diploma level programmes in an open distance learning environment. Their philosophy for working is based on the five strands of the New Zealand early childhood curriculum policy statement, Te Whāriki. As a primary teacher with junior school experience, I am aware of the principles underpinning Te Whāriki; it was good to able to revisit these today.

What became clear to me during the session was the way that Te Whāriki makes a philosophy for teaching and learning explicit through its five strands: belonging, well-being, exploration, communication, and contribution. For me, these are the fundamental principles for effective teaching and learning in all contexts, no matter what sector the students belong to. The five strands are a way of walking the talk, or putting the philosophy into action.

What was new to me was the concept of using child voice questions to articulate each strand. These are the possible questions that children might ask, if they are able to, in relation to each strand. For example, the communication strand could be represented by the child voice question, “Do you hear me?”, and the belonging strand could ask, “Do you know me?”. It seems to make so much sense.

The world of RSS

We held our first paper bag lunch today. This was the first in a series of sessions happening every week to enable and promote informal learning at our workplace. We had twelve people come and go during the hour, most of whom had brought their lunch with them. Feedback has been positive; in time, I hope the message will spread that this is a welcoming, open forum for sharing professional learning and celebrating best practice and innovation within our organisation.

RSS iconMy first topic was The world of RSS. The idea was to introduce staff to the concept of using a tool to bring the world of online information to them, rather than having to go searching for it every day. It seems to have been a good starting topic; some staff members were aware of what RSS was, a few had tried setting up feeds for themselves, while others hadn’t heard of it before. We talked about using tools such as RSS to manage and organise the flow of online information. It’s a bit like the fire hydrant analogy; trying to process information from the internet is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant. Lots of questions followed.

A big part of today’s session involved trialling a structure for future presentations. By keeping to five basic focus questions, I’m curious to discover whether this structure will work with any topic while still allowing room for discourse and questions. I’m hoping to structure each presentation using the following framework:

  • What is the topic about?
  • Why would I use/do/think about …?
  • How do I go about …?
  • What are some examples of … in action?
  • Where can I find out more information about the topic?

 The challenge now is to work with colleagues (‘experts’ from within our organisation) to use this structure and host paper bag lunches of their own. Also, I need to redevelop our intranet area so that presentations and supporting information can be easily accessed and shared from a central online space. Oh, and I need to do it all again next Wednesday at lunch time! 🙂

Informal workplace learning

I am currently exploring concepts around building a culture of professional learning in a workplace. In particular, I am interested in the place that informal learning has in contributing to a workplace culture and the opportunities it presents to complement and help achieve an organisation’s goals, either short or long-term.

Bricks and mortar imageI have been reading a brief, entitled Informal workplace learning by David Cofer (2000). Although the brief is now ten years old and contains some dated references, the concept of using informal learning to complement formal workplace training and professional learning is as relevant today as ever. Cofer references research by Bell (1977), who uses a metaphor of bricks and mortar to describe the relationship between formal and informal learning. Bell suggests that the bricks relate to formal learning, acting as the foundation for personal growth. The mortar, on the other hand, comprises the informal learning that goes on to support the bricks, helping to facilitate the acceptance and development of the formal learning. The two elements support and complement one other but are not a replacement for each other; that’s important to remember. It’s also important to realise that informal learning opportunities require planning and organisation in order to make them successful. They don’t always ‘just happen’ on their own accord.

Scales clip artI am in the process of setting up several informal professional learning opportunities as part of a wider programme of professional learning. By keeping the focus informal, I believe that  some traditional barriers to professional learning in the workplace can be overcome and, in the process, encourage more ‘buy in’ from staff, especially from those who feel outside their comfort zone or are reluctant to participate. This, in turn, can help pave the way towards enabling further success with formal programmes of learning in the future. I’m interested in exploring the ideal balance between formal and informal learning opportunities. What is ideal? How do we know what’s working? How do we ensure our programmes and structures are both effective and complementary?

We are starting tomorrow with a series of paper bag lunches. These are informal learning sessions occuring one lunch time each week (yes, attendees can bring and eat their lunch and come for as much time as they have available). Attendance is entirely optional and the focus is on sharing innovation, best practice, and other helpful tips and ideas among colleagues. I have designed a simple format for presenting which allows plenty of time and opportunity for discussion, questions, and sharing. I am kicking things off with an introductory session about The world of RSS – bringing the world of information to you, rather than having to go searching online for it every day. The intention is that, in future, other staff members will share aspects of their work with colleagues, all contributing towards creating a culture of professional learning in our workplace.

Bell, C. R. (1977). Informal learning in organizations. Personnel Journal, 56 (6), pp. 280-283, 313.
Cofer, D. (2000). Informal workplace learning. Retrieved 18 October 2010 from

Welcome to my journey

I am a firm believer that learning is an ongoing journey, not a destination; there is always somewhere else to go with learning and the possibilities are endless. Learning never ceases to excite me and this has underpinned my philosophy throughout my career in education. A few weeks ago, I embarked on another leg of my learning journey when I took up the role of an online professional learning advisor in a tertiary education institution. I am excited about the many opportunities and challenges ahead and am bursting with ideas that I would like to explore personally, with my colleagues, and in my work.

Much like Dr Seuss, there are many places I’d like to go with my learning. But, most of all, I want others to fall in love with learning like I did as a child. I want people to be as excited by new concepts and ideas as I am. I want my colleagues to enjoy the wealth of knowledge, skills and experience they have created for themselves and that of everyone around them. I want to introduce everybody to the global education community we have at our fingertips where help, advice and food for thought are just a few clicks away.

Kaleidoscope animationSo, why Turning the Kaleidoscope? For me, it provides a visual representation of reflective practice, which I believe is essential for effective learning and teaching to take place. Much like the fragments of coloured glass and beads inside a kaleidoscope, ideas can shape and reform themselves in new and exciting ways.  If we look at something from a different angle, or move our perspective even slightly, we can see things in a whole new way. That’s one of the many fascinating things about learning – it’s constantly changing and developing and there is always something new to think about.

This is my journey and I’d be honoured if you join me on the ride. This blog is intended to be reflective by nature, documenting and exploring my thoughts and ideas in relation to concepts I come across in the course of my work – kind of like taking a snapshot of my thinking at a point in time.