Reflections on #lrnchat: Must-have Tools and Techs

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was “Must-have Tools and Techs”. 

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:
Q1) What has innovated your practice as a learning professional? This might be a tool, technology or trend.
Q2) What tools/technologies do you use routinely that you never expected to see yourself using?
Q3) If you were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and WiFi, which tools could you not live without?
Q4) What tool(s) do you no longer use and why?
Q5) What tool/tech (or feature of existing tool) are you waiting for to be developed?
Key Learning Points

This week’s #lrnchat discussion focused on Must-have tools and techs. There are a number of tools that are used by learning professionals, and new and/or upgraded tools are added to the list every day.  This week’s chat gave us the opportunity to examine what we use to create our learning programs.

The first thing I noticed was that this chat did not have the structure I had anticipated.  I expected the chat to follow a bulleted workflow wherein a question was asked and people posted their answers.
As if often the case with #lrnchat, the discussion went deeper than just providing answers, with the discussion exploring why those tools may be used and what sort of trends the shared responses cast a light upon.  That deeper discussion will be the focus of my reflections, and I will also share some of the specific examples.
The discussion started with a fairly open question: What has innovated our practices as learning professionals?  If there was one word that best summed up the themes of the responses to this question, it might be sharing.
Without question the shift towards collaboration in both tools and workflow is probably the biggest game-changer of the last decade.  This is a not a shift of learning. It’s a much larger overall shift in general technology and user expectations; Learning is just adapting to the changing current.  On the plus side, these changes better support an effective learning and performance improvement environment.  Plus, it’s always easier to travel with the current, as compared to paddling against it.
Personally my greatest source of ideas and energy for innovation would be my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  It helps me keep my finger on the pulse of changing trends, and is a constant source of knowledge and skill building opportunities.
My PLN is also my primary driver for two other important factors for innovation.  It helps me not only look at new tools; it also inspires me to look at all tools differently.  How can they be used?  How do these tools fit into the learner’s environment, and the overall environment in which they exist?  We tend to look at tools through a ‘round-peg, square-hole’ lens.
The best example of this lens comes from an unlikely source – my two-year old son.  He has a set of blocks in which the cover to the container is also a shape-sorter.  As I was playing with him last week, I gave him round peg and he was going to put it through the square hole.  I went to stop him, and he screamed back as only a two-year old can, “NOOOO!”. I explained that the peg was round, and asked if it went into the circle hole or the square hole.
His response?  A defiant “No… Both!”, as he proceeded to put the round peg right through the square hole.  Apparently he had already learned that the diameter of the round peg was the same size and the length of the square hole.  Score one for the little guy for opening up his old man’s eyes a bit.
That interaction with my son also echoed the other driver my PLN provides me toward innovation: the importance of risk taking.  We tend to live in our comfort zones.  Unfortunately, innovation, by definition, resides outside of our comfort zone.  If we want to be innovative, we need to take risks and step outside our areas of comfort; like seeing what would happen if you tried to fit a peg through holes that are less-than-obvious fits.
Some of the specific tools that enabled innovation that were shared included: Google Docs, Social Media, People, Other Learners, Blogging, Twitter, and Community.
From there the discussion moved on to the tools we currently use that we never expected to.  Again there was a common theme to the responses and it was quite simply, the internet.
The internet itself changed the game, and most of the tools that have come in the last 20 years stand on that foundation.  Certain internet tools may have been more impactful – Twitter was without question the most commonly mentioned – but it was the internet that enabled all of the subsequent tools we use every day.
I too would have to agree that the internet is the greatest source of innovation in my life.  Somewhat ironically though, the technology’s greatest impact has been on my relationships. 
In truth, I didn’t understand the value of social media in general until I discovered Twitter, #lrnchat, and my PLN. I’ve developed a number of relationships through this network that are more important to me than I can ever put into words.  I think the best way to describe how it has affected me is this simple statement: I never expected to be able to truthfully use the word ‘Friend’ to describe someone I’ve never met in person. 
From there our discussion explored an interesting question: If you were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and WiFi, which tools could you not live without?
A question like that tends to kick my left-brain into overdrive, so let me get my initial reaction out of the way so it allows my right-brain – which the question was really aimed at – the opportunity to respond…
If I were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and a wifi connection… I wouldn’t be stranded on a desert island.  Being stranded on an island with wifi is like getting locked out of your house with the keys in your pocket.
OK, now that my left-brain will allow us to continue…
While a few of the tools shared were tactical and seemed to reflect critical tools for work, the vast majority of the tools shared were about maintaining a connection.  Tools like Twitter, TweetDeck, Facebook, and even an effective browser all seemed to share the common thread of connecting.  It just reinforces the idea that these connections we are making virtually are very real, and very important to use.
The discussion then shifted towards the tools that we no longer use, and why.  The ‘why’ part of the answer was almost universal in its responses.  In almost all of the cases the tools that were no longer being used were replaced by a tool that accomplishes the task with greater quality and/or efficiency.  In most of the cases, the examples were shifts that have already tipped with the masses, such as the shift away from fax machines and analog modems. 
A few of the suggestions did catch my eyes, as they seemed to reflect current shifts that many people have yet to adopt.  Examples of this include:
  • No longer using the My Documents folder and replacing it with Dropbox, Google Docs, and other cloud options.
  • Looking at paper-based books only when an electronic version is unavailable. 
  • A growing lack of dependence on printers.

The discussion concluded with an eye on the future, and explored what types of tools and tech we would like to see in the future.  The responses here reflected the next generation of our current tools, and followed many of the themes already present in the discussion.

Collaboration was number one, and the advancements mentioned would enhance to collaborative elements of learning programs.  There was discussion of standards that would enable cross-platform communications.  There was also talk of openness so that resources outside of learning programs could be leveraged within a learning program.  Another very common advancement would be an answer to the never-ending problem of electric power in terms of both availability and compatibility.
Overall this was another engaging chat during which I added more than a few ideas and tools to my ‘keep it on my radar’ list.  The chat also reinforced my belief that our greatest tool as learning professionals is still a mirror.
That’s meant more metaphorical than literal, and echoes my comment earlier about looking at the tools and learning environment differently.  We also must take the time to look at ourselves.  Too often, the challenges we encounter are not about the tools, so upgrading the tool will not solve anything.  Often, the obstacle we face is one that we’ve created.
So the purpose of the metaphorical mirror is to bring ourselves into the ‘new lens’ equation.  Look at the tools, look at the environment… and look at yourself differently.   Being able to see the opportunities of the interconnectedness of it all can help you make better use of your current and future tools, and allows you to remain open to the possibility that the round peg may also fit with the square hole.
 Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

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