The title of this post, “Everybody teaches, everybody learns.” is a shared vision for those of us who are in the business of education, whether it is corporate training, teaching students in K-12 or on college campuses, or working in an educational institution in an administrative or support role.

The vision statement grew out of a “rogue” Innovations in eLearning session (spontaneous tweet-up). We met to discuss how to encourage our colleagues and clients to both trial and adopt new technologies and instructional techniques. What emerged was not only a list of suggestions for accomplishing this (and the formation of the Black Swan Society) but also a vision statement for all levels and types of education (attributed to Koreen and Aaron for the wording, but to the whole group for shaping the conversation that ultimately produced it). For one hour the tweet stream slowed down considerably while this conversation took place.

Let me try to outline how we arrived at the need for a collective vision.

We began by brainstorming ideas for encouraging adoption of new practices within our organizations (what follows is in no particular order):

1. Identify early adopters in your own organization, recruit them, train them, and help them to spread new techniques to their own networks in the organization.

2. Speak to the core problems. For example, rather than trying to get adoption of twitter simply because it would be a cool tool to use, speak to the problem of needing to engage students in the learning process, with twitter with being one of the solutions that could be use for this problem.

3. Context is key. If your belief system leads you to be suspicious of new technologies, and you are only shown those new technologies in contexts outside of your own field, then it becomes far too easy for your belief system to assimilate the existence of this technology with the dismissal that the new technology could only possibly work outside of your field. Therefore, it is vitally important that each potential adopter be shown context-specific examples of how a technology could be used to enhance learning in their own field. How to find these examples? One way to do it would be to take advantage of a social network like twitter, and simply ask your network “can you point me to examples of using ______ in the field of _____. ”

A person is helping another person up the side of a cliff

4. Convert the dissenters. If there is a vocal resistance within your organization to the use of technologies for learning, it is vitally important that you find ways to convince these folks. Quite possibly, the best way to do it is to find others in their field using technologies in their teaching and learning (see #3). Don’t experiment with these folks. Know that what you are suggesting that they try has worked in their discipline on other campuses.

5. It’s hard to be a prophet in your own lands. You can be the support system on your campus, but if you stray too far from acceptable practice you could find yourself being viewed as too much of a threat to the status quo. You can be the one who facilitates the change by bringing in an outside person to demonstrate new tools, or by suggesting conferences that will expose instructors to skills they might then want to use, but recognize that it is difficult to try to introduce a lot of change in a way that’s nonthreatening to the organization.

6. Personal use first, instructional use second. Very rarely are instructors given an opportunity to play with technologies in a safe environment with their peers. Often the first use comes when they are interacting with students and ends after dealing with all the myriad of motivational and behavioral issues that seem compounded by the use of a new technology. Here are two examples that illustrate a better way to help instructors try new technologies. At some institutions, instructors participate in their own professional development by taking online webinars or courses. This gives them perspective in online education as learners first before they teach online themselves. This gives them a safe space to encounter the types of technical problems, pedagogical issues, and course redesign that will be necessary when they themselves teach online class.

Another example, from my personal experience, has been using twitter to form my own social network, to learn from it, and to share resources with it. This has given me an understanding of how twitter can be used for learning that I would not natively understand if somebody just told me that you could use twitter for learning. If you wanted to get your campus instructors to adopt twitter as a learning tool, perhaps your first step is to create a secure version of twitter (i.e. a virtual teachers lounge) where instructors can share information with each other in real time. Imagine that one of my students is really acting up in class and I send a “tweet” to my (secure) internal social network about the problem; another instructor responds that the student did very poorly on an exam in the previous class. Now I realize why the student is acting up in my class and can try to address the real issue with the student with a private conversation. As we realize that such a social network could be valuable, we naturally begin to ask how such a social network could be valuable in the courses we teach. It is, essentially it, a constructivist way to learn to use educational technology. First use them in your own learning.

7. Culture is key. Everyone must understand what it means to be a part of your organization — from the bottom to the top, everyone should buy in to the same core beliefs. You should be able to see your leadership participate in a way that speaks to the core beliefs in the same way as the people who are at the bottom of the organizational charts. Forgive the military example, but it was a good one… as Mark explained: if you’re in the Marine Corps you know that above all else your role is to be ready to fight if needed, this is summarized quite succinctly as “every man a rifleman.” Mark explained that every Marine from the newbie in bootcamp to the leadership at the top lives this vision: they stay in good physical shape and stays firearms-certified, all for the purpose that they maintain their role as someone who is ready to fight if it becomes necessary.

Since many at the conference do contract work for the US government and military, this example resonated with the group and we began sharing mission and vision statements from our own colleges and organizations. Unfortunately most of these statements are extremely wordy and difficult to remember. None were something that really resonated well with all levels of educational learning until Koreen and Aaron came up with “Everybody teaches, everybody learns.

What we mean here is that it is not just the students who should be learning and not just the instructors who should be teaching. Students should be teachers to their peers, administrators should spend time in classrooms to remember the core values of the institution, instructors should be learners without mandates from the institution to do so.

This is, I think, a remarkably simple way that we can focus ourselves in education on what is truly important.