Contributed by Sarah Downing
As part of a recent team-building session at Corwin, my colleagues and I took some time away from the rush of our day-to-day meetings, project tasks, and deadlines to pause and look inward, through the lens of the StrengthsFinder self-assessment. With the related book claiming that this tool has “helped millions discover and develop their natural talents” and promising to “change the way you look at yourself—and the world around you—forever,” I was more than a little skeptical—and yet admittedly curious—to see what the outcome would be for me. As with most personal inventories, the results were not jaw-dropping surprise or instantaneous enlightenment. However, they did ring true in a way that’s particularly energizing for me as I think about how to leverage my strengths in a practical, immediate way. My number one strength? Learner. In a nutshell, I love to learn. This realization re-energized me to think about how I learn best and to zero in on the topics I’d like to explore over the next few months.
While I like to learn from many sources—my colleagues, experts in the field, and publications—I find that eLearning is the mode I learn in the most readily and the most often. Whether I’m ducking in and out of a MOOC, following an interesting Twitter hashtag, watching a quick how-to video, or immersing myself in an online course, much of my learning happens when I’m connected.
If you’re interested in making eLearning a bigger part of your professional (or even personal) learning, here are 5 simple tips to help you optimize your experience:
1. Choose something that interests you!
Choose a topic that will help you meet a professional goal you are invested in or one that piques a personal curiosity. Remember that having your choice of topics and ensuring their relevance to you is more than just “nice to have”—it’s critical to your satisfaction and motivation as an adult learner.
2. Choose the format that works for you or the topic you are interested in.
eLearning is so varied. If you learn best in a structured environment, maybe a course is your best option. If you prefer interaction, maybe you’ll get more from joining social media groups. If you have limited time or simply want to brush up on a skill, perhaps a short video is the way to go. Don’t limit yourself to just one format; mix it up based on your needs and interests. Finally, don’t feel like you need to “complete” something to learn. If you got what you needed from participating in one week of a MOOC or watching 3 minutes of a 10 minute video, celebrate that as a clear success in your personal learning endeavors.
3. Don’t forget the elements of self-regulated learning.
Maintaining motivation can sometimes be challenging in an online environment (although if you’ve followed tips 1 and 2, hopefully motivation won’t be a problem). Set goals, build habits, and monitor your progress to help maintain that persistence you know will pay off in the end.
4. Share your learning.
Sharing your knowledge benefits others and benefits you. It can help you contextualize your learning and commit it to your memory in a deeper way. It may even open up a discussion that leads to new ideas and sets you off to explore another avenue of interest.
5. Organize, automate, and connect your learning.
It can be time consuming to keep up with everything available online. Joining or creating a PLN and setting up organization and curation tools like Feedly, Diigo, or Pinterest around your topics of interest can deliver relevant content to you, so that you don’t have to search for resources each time.
In the medium of eLearning, focal points of interest emerge and point you every which way, engaging you and then redirecting you, driving you to the next video, the next link, article, or next lesson, the next course, or click. In my quest for my own professional and personal learning and in the work we do here at Corwin, we’re committed to developing meaningful and authentic online learning paths for ourselves and for the educators and students we serve.
Sarah Downing is the associate director of Online Professional Learning at Corwin, where she develops strategy, content, and media to serve K–12 teachers and administrators. Sarah earned her master’s degree in education with a focus on instructional design and technology, while holding various roles with SAGE Publications. A lifelong learner herself, she values her role in helping others find opportunities for continued learning.