Biggest lesson from my graduate studies: Communities ignite learning

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I graduated last weekend with a Master of Science degree from the Instructional Systems program at Florida State University.

Here’s a video to prove it!

FSU has an amazing program. I studied with legends in the field like John Keller and Rob Reiser (who was also my advisor). I was able to take the program as a 100% distance student, which was helpful to be because for the first 2/3rds of my program I had to travel for work.

But my real learning did not happen during my studies. I am lucky to have a very experienced set of people in my organization (Education Services) who did not mind me asking them questions about the things I was studying. It was great to see how we really do have a great system in place to execute formal learning. Thanks Lila, Gene, and Ernie!

Also, where would I be without #lrnchat? Because of this online Twitter chat, I connected with other IS grad students nationwide, as well as professionals and some of the superstars in our field. I got my internship at Pistachio Consulting because of #lrnchat. If I had any question about my studies, I could tweet to the #lrnchat community and I’d get links, questions, or just conversation.

I should also mention #cck08. This course set the stage for the way I would question and evaluate everything in my studies. It also connected me to many individuals whose path is similar to my own.

I feel like I am part of the online learning community. As sad as this is to say – I do not feel as if I am part of the FSU IS community. When I graduated last Sunday, at least one other Master’s student and 3 other PhD students walked. No one from the program arranged anything for us as graduates, not even a meet and greet. None of the faculty were even in town – they were at a conference. The student organization did nothing to recognize the accomplishment.

Landis Green - Graduation!Now, two wonderful ladies I am connected to via Twitter and Facebook did come to see me. In fact, one fellow student, Lea Ann, even took me all around to get pictures on campus (I got my BS from FSU, and attended as a full-time student in Tallahassee), and came to dinner with my long-time friends who had also come to my graduation. My friend I’ve known since my undergrad days could not believe I had never met Lea Ann in real life before graduation day. I had to explain: we’ve talked on the phone, on Dim Dim, on Skype, via email, and lived together through all the tough times of graduate life. We connected through social tools, found a way to make our own small world, and I think it helped us learn.

I would not have learned much without some community to help me learn, to keep me grounded, to challenge the questions I had about different topics. Since I was a distance student, the University just didn’t know how to make and foster that community. Thank goodness there was #lrnchat.

This is the biggest lesson I learned from my graduate studies: Communities ignite learning.

Would I have still finished my degree if I had not been connected to any community? Yes, most likely. But I wouldn’t have gone as deep, I would not have done as much reflecting, and I would not have be able to integrate what I was learning through my formal studies into my work. To do that, you need a community of people – professional colleagues -  to help you put the formal learning into perspective from a practitioner’s standpoint.

This has huge implications for corporate learning. Formal instruction will always be required. You need it when you are a total newbie to some category of information, or when things have changed dramatically. Since I am in an organization that does technical training, we’ll always have the situations that make formal learning important.

But what happens after formal training?  Once people learn the basics, and go back into their jobs or into the field? What happens when they need a way to put the formal learning into perspective from a practitioner’s standpoint? Harold Jarche has a great post about this where he discusses how social learning is really the way we get things done in knowledge intensive and creative enterprises. In the post, he shows a model of the 5 stages of organization learning as seen by Jane Hart and Jay Cross.

I like these new models, but I don’t think we can learn without being attached to a community. I think formal learning is meaningless if the student doesn’t have a way to connect to a community that will help him or her integrate what they have learned into their thought and work processes.

Maybe the question for the enterprise is: how do you foster communities to which each and every worker can attach?

4 thoughts on “Biggest lesson from my graduate studies: Communities ignite learning

  1. I love this post. It is raw, transparent, honest and moving. At one level it is simply unfortunate that no one from the graduate community could show up for your graduation. But at another level, it’s a tragic oversight. The event of graduating may or may not be important to an individual. But it must be important to the institution to at least ask the questions: How can we best support your graduation? How can we best support you after you leave?

    You were exceptionally fortunate in your internship and extended communities, like #LrnChat. You were exceptionally personable in your online presence. But what of those who didn’t have such great mentoring? What of those who simply walked through the program? We want to believe that every person should be responsible for self. But we also want to teach students a style of learning that empowers us after the program.

    And of course this doesn’t just apply to schools. Any organization that does formal training has an opportunity to extend their reach to students after the program. To be sure, not all will be open to post program support. But the better you make it, the more will use it. In addition to being an important element of service, it is also good branding.

    How do we begin to build the kinds of networks that will sustain us after a program? How do we teach that as part of the program? I am beginning to think that the teaching of PLN is central to all the fields I follow.

    #cck08 looks like it was a blast. Wish I could see more of it online.

  2. Pingback: Learning Is Social | The Smart Work Company

  3. As you and I have discussed via email and Twitter, higher education is just now figuring out how to support the fully online student. Perhaps that is why admin loves hybrid situations so much – they can use existing ground support systems while providing online coursework. As you have proven, though, the times they are a-changing.

    Twitter is just one social tool that higher education could make much better use of. How about a simple phone call? Skype? Elluminate? Vlogs? Chat? Any form of communication that can occur digitally and outside of the “course” helps make the online student feel a part of the school community.

    I just wrote a blog post about professors needing to get with the new millenium and establishing a web presence (http://wp.me/pDWUQ-3M – Dear Professor, Are you Google-able?), but to continue the thought in conjunction with your post – the schools that do the best job of emotionally/affectively supporting the growing contingent of digital students will be the ones that not only survive in tough times, but thrive in them as well.

    Cheers to you and your Masters Degree!

    Lisa (who found you via #lrnchat)

  4. Pingback: Harold Jarche » “collaboration is extremely important”

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