Monthly Archives: October 2012







Network of networks = your very own PLN


Today, there’s no problem finding information – the challenge is sifting through and locating the right information at the right time. And not just the right information at the right time – it’s also about access to tools and ideas that you never even knew you needed until you saw them. That’s where PLNs come in.

In the olden days before the advent of online academic journals and research databases, I always made at least one serendipitous discovery while browsing library holdings or leafing through print materials. I would be scanning a row of books looking for a particular call number, and suddenly notice a different book that was a great fit for some other topic I was researching. It’s hard to replicate that kind of happenstance when digital searches yield a specific document or information source with laser-like precision.

Plus, learning is not just about acquiring information – paragogy (a.k.a. the new andragogy) views learning as inherently non-linear and socially constructed via networks/peers. So PLNs – because they’re naturally hyper-textual and social – fit beautifully within a paragogical frame.

This article about PLNs at gives a great overview and rationale for the functions of various social media tools in building, customizing and contributing to your own composite, ongoing knowledge stream. Your very own PLN.

3 tips for success


Students want to know: “What do I need to do to succeed in this course?”


As in many things, the answer is simple (but not always easy). At the start of each semester I share the following three elements that, in my experience in university teaching, almost always translate into academic success.

  1. Show up: If you don’t actually come to class you miss important stuff.
  2. Be 100% present: If you show up and spend the class on your smartphone, you’re not really present.
  3. Do your homework: The real learning happens outside the classroom.

BUT here’s the caveat: It’s a three-legged stool. You need all three elements or you “fall off” (and if you start shaving away any of the legs, it gets a bit wobbly).

And I’ve found that these are pretty good rules to live by in life generally, whether in work, relationships, travel, and so on. When things get complicated it’s nice to take it back to the basics!









Your USB key is corrupted, and by the way the handouts weren’t printed


Bad deam? Worst nightmare? Or maybe the best and most productive 90 minutes possible. I’ve read that the Chinese character for crisis represents danger + opportunity, and nothing could be truer. This unwelcome scenario happened to me today when presenting to a small group of Medical Residents on the topic of Motivational Interviewing.

The moment I realized that “Plan B” (the handouts) was not an option, I decided to use (and trust!) the principles of Motivational Interviewing (captured by the acronym “A-C-E”, Autonomy, Collaboration and Evocation) as the foundation spirit for my approach. In other words, it’s all about relationships, and my primary goal was establishing a relationship with the group to help facilitate meaningful practice and learning.

So…what did we actually do? I demonstrated Motivational Interviewing skills with a volunteer who agreed to talk about physical activity and exercise as a hypothetical change goal  (a “real play” versus a “role play”). Frequent pauses, critical reflection and discussion allowed key points and clinical skills to emerge organically. In the second half of the session, the whole group participated in another activity focused on practicing – and again critically interrogating – reflective listening skills. We closed with each person articulating a specific practice goal based on their learning.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap and habit of teaching as performing. In Motivational Interviewing I often talk about a “red flag” being when the practitioner is working harder than his or her patient; and today I was reminded that it’s energizing and affirming when the learners work harder than the instructor.

Maybe next time “Plan C” gets promoted to “Plan A”. That 90 minutes felt like freedom.










The good, the bad and the ugly

Over the last few years there’s been an explosion and widespread adoption of webinars as (in many cases) the primary or preferred strategy for delivering continuing education to large groups of geographically disparate people. It makes sense: education can be delivered in a brief, cheap and convenient form that has minimal impact on busy practitioners’ time.

But, just like classroom-based learning, there is huge variation in the quality, interactivity and utility of web-based learning. At their best, webinars are a model of multi-modal learning, with a dynamic and engaging facilitator, lots of interactive sidebar chat, and great use of visuals and reflective activities. At their worst, webinars are the workplace equivalent of a really boring TV show.

Here are a few tips culled from my own experience as facilitator and participant:

  1. It might not be a webinar: Sometimes network connections fail, either at your end or for participants. Send out a complete slide deck ahead of time and have a teleconference line just in case.
  2. I like text chat better than voice: In webinars, text chat is really seamless, especially with large groups (e.g., 100 or more). Encourage people to chat with each-other as well as the facilitator throughout the webinar. This brings me to two more points:
  3. Prime participants to participate: Most people regard online, text-based communication as more an act of publishing than as an act of speech. This cognition tends to constrain spontaneous conversation, so I ask participants to write down at least one question ahead of time. That way people are “primed” to participate, and once the ice is broken the group can really take off.
  4. You can’t do it all: With lots of sidebar chat it’s pretty much impossible to present AND read comments/questions at the same time. Having a moderator to help cue the presenter with key questions or pauses is essential.
  5. Ready for your close-up: Built-in computer webcams tend not to give the most flattering angle. Use a separate webcam for better camera postioning, add extra light, and talk to the camera. Participants want to feel connected to the facilitator.
  6. Less text more pictures: If text-heavy presentations are boring in person, they are even more deadly by webinar. (Plus, disengaged participants will toggle back and forth between a boring webinar and another, more interesting, website). Keep people engaged with well-designed content and activities.

I love the convenience of webinars, and done well they can really add value to an organization’s staff training and development strategy. The key phrase is “done well” – watching bad TV in the middle of the day is best kept for when you’re home in bed with a cold.

%d bloggers like this: