October 31, 2014

Lessons from Learning 2.0 | Office Hours

It’s been five years since Helene Blowers and the staff at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC, debuted Learning 2.0—a self-directed exploration of emerging technologies shared via a Creative Commons license. The program has been touted as transformational for libraries—a method of moving libraries forward into a future of 21st-century innovation. Blowers noted on her blog, librarybytes, in 2009 that close to 1000 institutions worldwide had offered some form of the program.

The tools may change—many of the more recent programs have added Twitter and Facebook—but the goals remain the same: library staff should explore, work together to play with emerging technology, reflect on the usefulness of those tools, and examine their application in information settings.

With Warren Cheetham, coordinator for information and digital services at CityLibraries Townsville, Queensland, I’ve been mining the data from my Learning 2.0 research project, sponsored by CAVAL, an Australian nonprofit established to provide library services to libraries in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Surveys of program leaders and participants and on-site focus groups have yielded valuable insights into the aftermath of Learning 2.0, including an emphasis on continuing the learning and approach after the program ­concludes.

Learning 2.0 outcomes

Here’s what library staff had to say in the surveys:

Participants adopted Web 2.0 tools into both their professional and personal lives. They found that new knowledge they gained had a practical application to their work. Noting the usefulness specifically of RSS feeds, respondents reported increased use of the tools to enhance ongoing professional development as well as personal pursuits.

Participants were more confident about using new technology and more open to exploring emerging technology. Library staff who took our surveys or participated in focus groups were quick to say they felt more knowledgeable attending meetings focused on emerging technologies and that they could better understand “IT speak.”

Participants felt equally valued as learners in the Learning 2.0 program. One cornerstone of the program has been offering it to all employees, not just professional staff or administration. This leveling of the playing field is perceived as beneficial to all staff, promoting feelings of inclusion. Some directors of organizations with tight budgets might balk at giving front-line clerks extra training. The data shows that everyone benefits from this experience.

Other results from the data include:

• Noncompletion does not imply program failure. Those who did not finish still reported success and confidence gained.

• Impact is mainly personal, but organizational changes may follow. Staff reported successful outreach to local government and users about new tools.

Sustaining the learning

Some survey respondents expressed concerns that postprogram, everything returned to the status quo in their institutions. Fostering a true “learning organization” is not done in just ten or 12 weeks, but the seeds planted by Learning 2.0 can prove fruitful if nurtured. Libraries that have offered Learning 2.0 are best served by continued exploration via more “things” offered monthly.

In their recent book, A New Culture of Learning (CreateSpace, 2011), Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown explore similar concepts and the importance of continuous learning. The parallels to the original Learning 2.0 model are striking. The book is based on several assumptions about our new normal, for example, “The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life,” and “Play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation.”

Planning for ongoing organizational learning for staff may seem like just “one more thing” in our stressed environments, but without backing and emphasis from library leaders, exploration and innovation may wane.

The library should serve as a hub for sustaining a culture of learning around technology and research using variations on the model. Extending the program to users or shifting focus from technologies to other areas of learning and reflection is a natural progression. The public “Looking at 2.0” program at the State Library of Queensland continues to engage users with topics and award prizes. Consider new audiences as well, such as Research 2.0, a program created for researchers at Imperial College in the UK.

Beginning this learner’s journey in library school should be a given. The role of the LIS instructor becomes guide, not keeper of knowledge. Students could also set aside part of their schoolwork time to explore beyond class content. “Follow your curiosity,” is my answer when students ask me what emerging ideas and tech they should focus on. This emphasis on learning will carry our graduates forward into their positions.


Author Information
Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Assistant Professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences, San Jose State University, CA

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Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Assistant Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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