Open Conversation: The Encourager, the Connector, the Learner

openconversationlogoFrom Michael – This is a reprint of a column originally published last year in Digitale Biblioteek.

“On average, students in online learning conditions per- formed better than those receiving face-to-face instructi- on”. That was the conclusion of an authoritative report by SRI International commissioned by the US Ministry of Education. The New York Times wrote about it on August 24th: “The report examined the comparative research for on- line versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military”2. Michael Stephens recognized much in the report from his own teaching experiences and wrote his reflections on the subject in an inspiring article on the ALA Techsource website. Here is where our conversation starts:

Jan: I like your concluding statement: “library education should be based on an understanding of the foundations of our profession with a huge serving of learning by doing”. The way you teach your own students shows the many benefits from a blended online/live approach under the supervision of an inspirational coach. Your statement also confirms my experiences with the library staff here in Haarlem Netherlands who have followed the blended Learning 2.0 course. They experienced Learning 2.0 as a joyous adventure and augmented their skills rapidly by doing, improvising and asking online and live feed- back from their coach & fellow students. The course provided them much more pleasure than they experienced from former more traditional library training programs. I’m glad the SRI report confirms that blended learning methods using the possibilities of interaction and conversation from web2.0 applications gives students using the apps a lead. The conclusions in the report and the experiences you wrote about on your blog tell me a lot about the future of learning. I agree fully with you but I also have a question. Isn’t this kind of learning very much dependent on someone who is capable of facilitating the group: a real leader of the tribe.

Michael: Great question. I’m glad your staff at Haarlem excelled in their Learning 2.0 experience and I did pick up on your mention of a coach. I wonder if having a coach for 2.0 learning experiences adds value and motivates participants. I would tend to think it does – a leader, a coach, a mentor, a guide – all can serve the same purpose. What follows is this question: how do we identify and encourage leaders in our profession without simply funneling anyone and everyone who’s been in a library awhile up to management. A coach or leader does not have to be a manager as well. I’d look for these attributes for both learning experiences and team-based work groups in our libraries:

An Encourager: sometimes with new technology or emerging systems, we need a little ‘hand holding’. That might simply be words of encouragement or gentle pushes. This person also encourages and then steps aside to let the the team excel.

A Connector: someone who can facilitate a group to make connections between learning and practice or real world scenarios. Also, this leader connects people within organisations and lets those connections grow.

A Learner in his/her own right: this leader of the tribe is also a continual learner. The minute someone steps back and says ‘I don’t need to understand this’, the encouragement and connections falter.

Jan: The urgent question you ask here makes a challenging con- clusion to this little conversation: “How do we identify and encou- rage leaders in our profession without simply funneling anyone and everyone who’s been in a library awhile up to management. A coach or leader does not have to also be a manager”.

Let’s explore that question thoroughly in our libraries.

Note from Michael: In 2009 and 2010, I wrote a column for a Dutch library magazine called Digitale Bibliotheek with Jan Klerk, Librarian at City Library of Haarlem Netherlands. Our editor, Karolien Selhorst, gave me the go ahead to republish the columns here. We wrote and published these pieces in English. Called “Open Conversation,” the articles gave Jan and I a chance to discuss all sorts of topics related to libraries, technology and trends. We took some unique approaches during our time writing together. I appreciated this chance to collaborate on an international level.