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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adult Learners and PD

Blogging from Las Vegas during a 3-day Professional Development session and thinking about Adult Learners. The work of Malcolm Knowles continues to resonate even though he did not write about technology or the field of education per se - he wrote about andragogy - or adult learning. Knowles explains that adults have a wealth of knowledge, want involvement in learning, want hands-on experience, are practical, are motivated by their own needs, want their own learning styles maximized, and need time to think and reflect. The book I use most by Knowles is The Adult Learner which is now in its 6th edition.

When Professional Development is designed for the Adult Learner, knowing that adults need opportunities to be hands-on, should do and not just view, that they have an average attention span of between 8 to 20 minutes, that they have a wealth of knowledge, that they are highly practical, and that they need to see the value of the learning, it works and you will see evidence in post-session surveys.

Here are some ideas that have worked for education technology working sessions:
  1. Getting participants hands-on as quickly as possible. Brief intros and a broad stroke of purpose and goals - possibly turning to participants for purpose and goals.
  2. Changing activities and approaches frequently.
  3. Adjusting as needed - paying attention to the body language of participants and having some activities ready should the session lag.
  4. Breaks. This may seem obvious but adults need to stretch, move, and walk away in order to return fresh.
  5. Getting feedback and participation different ways. Some will feel comfortable speaking out, others will prefer reflecting on paper, others will like an online survey or a back channel.
  6. Sparing use of Powerpoint - but - not so spare that there is nothing to follow or see for your visual learners.
  7. An electronic version of it all somewhere - a Wiki, a Ning, etc.
  8. Some type of paper handout. We don't want to kill trees but we are in this interesting in between stage right now involving adults who are "paper-trained" - and those who are immersed and comfortable in the fully-electronic delivery of media. Give them something to hold in their hands and you will see relief on the faces of many participants.
  9. Reasonable times for all activities - not too long or too short - adjust if you start seeing people taking a break when times for working hands-on.
  10. A reinforced theme - go back to that whenever possible.
  11. A "parking lot" for ideas or tangents that are brought up.
  12. A positive activity describing the intent of the session and asking people to buy in somehow - we posted a large smiley face, gave out star stickers, and asked people to post 2 things on how they will be ensuring they stay positive at their schools while managing change.
  13. Participant sharing in different ways - not just talking - showing, demonstrating, sending out links, etc.
  14. A druther - 2 projectors in every room - one for the present(ers) with a screen and one for the participants with a screen/wall as well - speakers for both - jump drives if needed and a spare laptop
Starting the second day this morning of our session which we have adjusted and changed multiple times and feeling energized about working with adult learners. It is so much better than being a "talking head" (although I've done my share of that)!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back Channel: Boon or Bane?

One difference between NECC this year and past years is that back channels, as is the case in many conferences, are alive and well and very active. During keynotes there were up to 4 going at the same time. If you're not aware, backchannels are live chats where participants comment on something going on. The best backchannels are actively moderated. Cover-It Live, Tinychat, Chatzy are just three to list, but there are more. During NECC's keynotes I was active in the backchannel as was my 17-year old daughter who attended this year's conference (her 4th!)

During a conference last week for my employer (see "about me" for full information - I blog as an individual and not as a representative of my employer and my thoughts and ideas represent only my own ideas and not current or past employers or clients) we initiated a back channel and also set up a private Ning. It went quite well and added to the dynamic in many ways, and was fully moderated. We were about as fortunate as we could be to have the thought-provoking dynamic Vicki Davis as our keynote speaker (anytime you can possibly see Vicki live do it!) My musings below are about NECC as at the EdisonLearning session we had a smaller more controlled and focused backchannel which did what we wanted - to allow people to question, consider, reflect, share and experience together.

At the NECC back channel at one point my laptop battery died. So I could no longer participate in the back channel, but my daughter continued to do so. I tried to consider what was different after my laptop was shut. And what I saw myself do was hone in more on listening and focus in a different way. This was not necessarily better, just different. I had no one else to bounce ideas off of and did not take any notes, just tried to listen. I think different things made sense but different things were missed.

Note that I am not a strong auditory learner, that in every learning styles test ever taken, I skew towards visual and kinesthetic. I usually take notes in meetings and at conferences, but the notes are visual with lines and drawings and quotes - and often are never reviewed - the experience of the pen and the drawing helps me absorb what's going on and make some sense of it all. But with my laptop shut I did not have a pen or a pad or anything for drawing or notes.

The back channel experience seems that it can be noise or it can be reflection, it can be focused or it can be highjacked (especially when someone goes off on a tangent and is not brought back by the moderator or participants), it can be effective or it can be disruptive (and not in the "disrupting class" sense of moving towards a new paradigm), it can take people to a higher plane or it can scroll off the screen too fast to make sense. It favors fast typists, fast readers, and quick thinkers. It can be like the best most stimulating fascinating cocktail party conversation or can be annoyingly one-sided and didactic. How very human this all is.