One of the first things you learn as a trainer is that you have to anchor new knowledge in previous knowledge. That is, for people to understand new concepts and develop new skills, you have to start with what they already know.
I've been doing some thinking about how to help staff make connections between new media and the older tools they already know how to use. In a long phone conversation with Christine Martell, I came up with the following schematic. Note that putting it in a spiral was Christine's idea, while drawing it on paper was my own lame attempt.
First, what I'm trying to do is show how the tools and activities at the bottom build up to the top. So starting at the bottom, most people know how to do searches and use email and are at least familiar with the concepts of Chat or IM, even if they haven't used them before.
Then comes email subscriptions to listservs and to newsletters, something a lot of people are comfortable with as well.
As we move up the spiral, people start to "consume" blogs, podcasts and videos in isolation--usually because someone sent them a link to an item or they clicked through to a blog or podcast from a website. They generally aren't interacting with these items by commenting, rating, etc. They are usually just passively consuming them
Then comes Aggregation, when people start to learn about things like RSS and Google Alerts where they can "pull" information to themselves and about social bookmarking where they can aggregate their bookmarks online. This is a level where the web moves from being "push" to "pull" and where they begin to see more active networks being built.
I think that many people hang out in the Aggregation phase indefinitely. They've started pulling info to themselves, but for the most part they are still passive consumers of information--the most they may do is share bookmarks with other people.
Moving into the Interaction phase means starting to create online (beyond sending emails), but not in the same full-blown way as the final level. This is where people may begin commenting on other blogs or creating profiles and participating in social networks. There's a level of interaction and content creation here, but it hasn't fully evolved.
The top level is Creation and this is where microb-blogging, blogging, Twitter, podcasting, etc. occur. You might conceivably divide this into Creation A and Creation B, with Twitter and micro-blogging at level A and Blogging, podcasting, video creation, etc. at Creation B. For me the distinction comes from the amount of work involved, but maybe that's a false distinction because God knows it seems to take a ton of work to keep up with Twitter!
A few additional thoughts on this:
- I started this as a sort of pyramid, that implied building blocks that go up to the top, but Christine pointed out that it's really more of a spiral, where we're constantly building on and using all of the different "levels."
- Looking at this spiral, it seems that we go from more familiar activities to less familiar and from more "passive" activities to more active content creation. You can argue that emails and IM are certainly "active," but they don't carry with them the same content creation demands that blogging, podcasting and video do, so I see them operating at distinctly different levels.
- I would argue that there are different skills and knowledge that are required to fully function within the spiral and trying to leap over the different parts of the spiral is where people can get into trouble. For example, Christine pointed out that often people will make the leap from "email newsletter" to "blog," so that they see having a blog as essentially a one-way communication device that broadcasts their message. When they do this, though, they miss the levels that occur in between, such as understanding the importance of the Aggregation and Interaction levels in being able to fully realize the benefits of blogging. Not that there needs to be a slow plodding through the different levels, but time spent operating in the different environments is time well-spent before moving to the Content Creation level. If you don't understand how Aggregation (particularly RSS) and Interaction work, then you won't be as effective at the content creation level.
- There's nothing that says that people need to use all of the tools of each level. So I don't have to be blogging, Twittering, podcasting and videocasting to be fully functional at the Creation level. But particularly when it comes to developing a personal learning environment, there is benefit to integrating selected tools and knowledge from each of these levels into my overall PLE if I want to fully realize the benefits. In particular, Aggregation, Interaction and Creation seem critical to me as they are the ways in which we can continually get and manage content and interact with it to continue learning. We need to learn how to use tools at each of those levels to be the most effective.
- The Creation level is fundamentally about taking all of this data and interaction and using it to tell a variety of different stories. When you're new to social media, you tend to be working your way through the spiral, mastering the skills and knowledge of the different levels. When you reach the Creation level, then you're looking at how to aggregate information and conversations to tell different stories that serve different purposes. There is essentially an infinite number of stories to be told--this level is about how we apply our human ingenuity and creativity to massaging those stories. I would go so far as to say that using a tool like Yahoo Pipes, for example, is a form of creation and story-telling, because you're essentially trying to create custom feeds that will manipulate data and information to come from a particular perspective.
- This is a schematic that I see working primarily for digital immigrants--those who did not grow up with these technologies. I suspect that the "levels" I'm describing here would seem kind of irrelevant to digital natives because to them, it's all part and parcel of using the Web. But for those who are trying to learn new technologies, it seems like this might be a useful way to look at things as it shows a natural progression and evolution that tends to build on what people already know.
So I'm throwing this out into the world for your thoughts and comments. Some of what I'm wondering:
- Is this a useful way to think about these different tools and skills when it comes to training staff?
- Do these "levels" make sense? What changes would you suggest?
- What skills do you see associated with the different levels? Do you think that there are different skills entirely or is it in how we use the skills?
What do you think? Am I off base? Does this even matter?