Probably the most informal of my digital learning is my love of podcasts and Audible. These themselves are extensions of my NPR addiction. Yes, I’m that cliche one hears during every pledge drive. I’ve lost track of how many stories I’ve heard during a Driveway Moment that I put to use in class in one way or another. Part of what I love about podcasts is the wild and wooly nature of the podcasting landscape. I’ve listened to Valerie Jarrett get tipsy while discussing policy with BuzzFeed contributors Heben & Tracy on Another Round. I’ve been spellbound by David Gushee and Frances Kissling’s riveting conversation about the tragically narrow nature of the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate as part of Krista Tippett’s “Civil Conversations Project” on On Being. I’ve learned all kinds of details from The American History Guys on Backstory that we’re never taught in school about how the US became the US. I have drawn inspiration for many a professional learning theme from Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence — a show about the history of advertising. Looking over my Cast feed, my tastes range all over the map. My Audible library, on the other hand, is much more focused to almost exclusively science fiction and non-fiction of mainly history, science, and social science topics. Right now I’m listening to The Big Picture:On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll in which I’m now finding many connections to this class as we start to plumb the neurological aspects of learning.
What’s interesting is that I listen to all this material for my own interests and pleasure. I don’t set out to mine a particular show or audiobook for professional learning material. But as I’m listening I “naturally” or nearly subconsciously connect relevant information to my education practice — be it teaching adolescents or adults. This is just more confirmation of how powerful the “informal” contexts are for learning. I rarely plan to sit down with a podcast or audiobook — that is until I get hooked on a good one and then I try to find as much free time as possible to listen! It’s almost always a spontaneous decision. And I certainly never have a notebook and pen poised to capture useful information. I listen in the most informal of informal contexts — when I’m driving, getting dressed, cooking, doing laundry. These are usually some of my most relaxed moments. Once again, I’m visualizing my synapses firing like Barbara Oakley’s diffuse mode pinball machine.
I try to keep found material within a digital context, documenting relevant material I hear via Twitter or make a note in Google Keep. Out of the “Big 3” social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), Twitter is the one I use the most for sharing and finding professional resources.
It’s fun to point teachers to it in a PD session. “Ok, everyone take out your phones and open Twitter. If you don’t have the app, find a buddy who does.” (I love the looks. Sadly, we hardly ever hear someone in a faculty meeting say, “Take out your phones.”!) It’s exciting to showcase Twitter as a useful tool for professionals and not just a time-wasting app.
With all the examples of the fruitfulness of “informal” learning that we’ve uncovered in the past few weeks, I’m realizing I have do more to create such spaces within the professional learning seminars I conduct. Flowing from podcasts to Twitter can be quite the timesaver. Especially when planning and presenting professional learning. There’s no need to make a bunch of slides when I can have everyone take out their phone and make their own meaning and share in discussion. What is less productive is the way I discover material. What I find and when I find it is very much up to chance since this is all casual listening. I never know what I’ll hear and if it will connect to work. Looking back over this journal entry, it’s clear I draw from many different disciplines in order to inform and enrich my own teaching and learning. I guess I’ve been a learning scientist for a while now!