Why We Don’t Take Our Learning Home With Us

At his #ettsummit session, Celebrating the Wonderful Mess (liveblogged by Beth Holland), Martin Moran posed a challenge to the audience: How can we better retain our learning from conferences? He described a situation that’s all too familiar to me: so much incredible reflection and learning happens for me at some of the education conferences I attend, I take copious notes and make messy lists of copious ideas for change, and then I get home and file my notes and promptly forget the whole thing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Every good conference I’ve attended has inspired me to make changes in my classroom. But I never come home and use as much of my learning as I could. Why not?

I think there are three factors:

  • Time
  • Record-keeping
  • Conversation

If I am going to make changes, I need time to think and reflect and plan and write. The record of my learning and thinking needs to be accessible to me in a format I can use. And I need to be able to talk through my ideas with someone.

It’s rare for even one of these factors to fall conveniently into place. But to some degree, they are all in my control. I could do something differently.

Usually I rush home after a conference, but this time, I scheduled an afternoon flight. I thought I might go look at some art, but instead, I decided to spend my morning in a coffee shop. This has given me a little extra time that I don’t usually have for simply sitting and reflecting and processing.

Now I need to figure out how to keep more effective records of my learning and thinking as I’m learning and thinking–and how to later access those records usefully.

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I have always liked to take notes on paper at conferences. They make great sense at the time, but not so much after I get home. I have multiple devices with me at conferences but I don’t use them to take notes. I am intrigued by sketchnotes–how organized and accessible they are–but I’m not sure I could train myself to do something similar. (Check out Douglas Kiang’s sketchnotes for Jennifer Wyld’s Maker Mindset session at #ettsummit–so elegant.) I am a slow live tweeter (obsessively checking tweets for typos before tweeting), so live tweeting is probably not the way for me to capture my thinking either. Other people tweet much faster than I do, so I may be able to rely on the good record-keeping of others, if I can streamline the process of getting those tweets out of Twitter into a format where I can use them. I need to start asking people, how do you keep records of what you learn at a conference?

As for the conversation piece, I need to get over being so shy at events and make more face-to-face connections that can then become part of my PLN. I also need to do more than follow people on Twitter: I need to enter into Twitter conversations; I need to look for blogs and add them to my RSS feed; I need to look for wrap-up blog posts and comment on them.

Most of all, perhaps, I need to blog about my learning and reflecting. Writing is how I figure things out. Writing is the first part of implementing change for me. It also occurs to me that blogging is a way to address all three factors that prevent me from implementing my thinking and learning: writing gives me the time I need to reflect; it forces me to access those records and make sense of them; and conversation can build through comments and through Twitter.


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