Professional development process: Update, expand, challenge, and validate #PD #PLN

I stumbled upon Angie Hicks (co-founder of Angie’s List) LinkedIn guest post titled “Class of 2013: Your Education is Totally Unfinished” today. The post starts this way:

One sunny day 18 Mays ago, I sat in a black cap and gown, listening to the writer John Jakes describe how the diploma I’d soon receive represented just the start of a lifetime of learning.

“My congratulations on completing your incomplete education,” he told the DePauw University Class of 1995. “Now go out and finish it.”

Graduation is on the agenda for many people at this time of the year, and that piece of advice is extremely relevant to people entering the workforce. Learning cannot stop when you get out of school. It’s actually where most of it starts.

As someone who’s been working full time for the last 12 years, I’d like to share some thoughts regarding my views of lifelong professional development. I think the process is a cycle that goes somewhat like this: Update, expand, challenge, and validate.

1. Update

If you are to become an expert, or at least someone who will get consulted in an area of expertise, you need to keep up with the news in your industry. Most people do this by watching the news, reading specialized magazines and journals, subscribing to mailing lists and notifications, going to conferences or trade shows, etc.

But nowadays, you really need to connect to people you trust on social media to be in the know as soon as something happens. So make sure to follow and interact with people in your industry, to create a personalized flow of information coming your way (a dashboard populated by people in your personal learning network).

2. Expand

Don’t get cornered in your little slice of the pie. You need a larger view of your job, your industry, the economy, and the world to be able to put your expertise in perspective. Having a broader view allows you to seize opportunities and detect when you’re heading in a dead-end.

To expand your knowledge, you need to follow people who have made their niche a topic you are peripherally interested in. By delegating the task of keeping track of peripheral topics to people you trust, you liberate yourself from having to do it yourself.

3. Challenge

Don’t be afraid to follow people who disagree with your point of view. You need to keep an open mind and assess your beliefs against the ones you’re exposed to. Your personal learning network should not be an echo chamber. If that’s the case, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Validate

When you find something out (or when you’re not sure if you’ve nailed it), expose your line of thoughts by blogging, posting updates, creating diagrams or videos, whatever you need to get the word out, and invite others to criticize. This way, you will get a sense of the validity of your ideas; you will know if the wisdom of the crowd supports your case.

Leverage your connections by engaging them in a discussion (not simply by hoping to get people to read your blog). Target people in your social media shares (by using “@”s and “plusses”) by picking out key quotes and writing down questions to be addressed. If you don’t know what this looks like, check out Laura Gibbs Google+ account!

… and do it over and over again

Never let an old notion stick for too long. Always repeat the process. The world changes at an ever-accelerating pace, so your mind needs to ride along.

In a change management class I took many years ago with Professor Carole Lalonde, the concept of crystallization was introduced to me. I couldn’t find the original article from Kurt Lewin (1952), but here is a quote from Bareil & Savoie (1999) summarizing his time-based change management theory.

Le modèle de changement de Lewin comporte trois phases : la décristallisation, aussi appelée dégel; l’état transitoire ou déplacement ou mouvement; et la recristallisation, aussi appelée regel.

Photo credit: Howard on FlickrLoosely translated, the three phases are 1) decrystallisation (or thawing), 2) transition (or movement), and 3) recrystalization (or freezing). My point here is the following: You can’t afford to always be frozen solid! If you’re a 21st century knowledge worker, you have to keep yourself (aka your mind) moldable. FYI, my reference on mind amplifiers is Howard Rheingold (see Net Smart).

So, how do you keep yourself moldable?

UPDATE: George Station shared this post from Liz Krane about How to learn anything. How appropriate!

One degree of separation

Yesterday, I was listening to Phil Hill‘s interview about MOOCs and trends in higher education (in preparation for the University of Delaware’s Summer Faculty Institute, where he will be one of the featured speakers), and something occurred to me. There was a discussion regarding the use of MOOCs to bring renowned experts to your regular classroom, by using some of their online videos.

The idea is basically to deconstruct MOOCs into little pieces, and using some of those nuggets as a part of your instructional sequence with your students in your (physical or online) classroom. Although I agree that the fact that all that video is out there and prime to be used, most xMOOCs (Coursera, edX, Udacity) are not designed to be deconstructed that way. Some might even prevent, through intellectual property or technical restrictions, to use the materials outside of their intended context (as a part of the course package). The first “O” in MOOC stands for “Open”, which refers to open enrollment, not openness in reusing, revising, remixing, or redistributing (David Wiley’s 4Rs).  This reminds me a little of the problem many of us have with only using certain chapters in textbooks instead of making students buy the whole book for three chapters.

What faculty really need…

Credit: Andrew Becraft on FlickrAs faculty start talking about deconstructing MOOCs, what they are really expressing is a need for open educational resources (OER). Well, guess what? OER have been around and largely ignored for the longest time, so maybe the time is right to reintroduce the concept. Open educational resources are learning objects of different shapes and sizes for which intellectual property rights have been licensed to allow the 4Rs by default. As an educator, as long as you comply with the rights’ holder intentions, you can do whatever you want with the OER you find online.

I created a list of sites where you can find OER as a part of Open Education Week. I will also run a workshop (called Treasure Hunt – handout here) during the Summer Faculty Institute.

Experts are everywhere!

As for bringing in experts to your classroom, yes, Youtube or some MOOC can provide video content that’s engaging. But what about connecting to the experts and conducting your own interview with them? With social media, especially non-reciprocal social media like Twitter or Google+, you can connect with experts everywhere. You can also use more official channels like LinkedIn, where you can ask a colleague you know to introduce you to someone they are connected to.

The idea is that if you can establish a direct contact with someone and ask them to participate in a webcam interview, most of them who are already active on social media will say yes. That’s what happened to me during my #udsnf12 class when I got Jane Bozarth to chat with me for 30 minutes on Google Hangouts on Air. The result becomes an engaging and customized Youtube video you can include in your class materials.

Join us!

Next week, May 28-31, 2013, we will be running a whole bunch for presentations and workshops as a part of UD’s Summer Faculty Institute. Most sessions will be streamed, so you’re welcome to sign-up to be a remote participant and learn with us, for free, even if you’re not from UD!

UPDATE: There is already a lively discussion going on on Google+ about this post and topic!

Twitter: Trying really hard to make itself irrelevant

Since early 2008, I’ve been a Twitter user. Twitter has always been a large part of my professional development toolkit. I’ve made so many connections over the years with people who have influenced my thinking and my career path.

The role of reciprocity for social media services.

One of the strongest strength of Twitter has always been the non-reciprocity of the platform, allowing me to follow someone else’s work without requiring a formal handshake like LinkedIn or Facebook requires. Twitter is a very strong discovery platform. But it’s not the only game in town anymore.


A couple of years ago, every time I participated in a conference, I would create an archive on a service called TwapperKeeper. TwapperKeeper allowed to easily create a list of all the tweets following certain search criteria, such as an event hashtag. Since the service was bought by Hootsuite, it is my understanding that the archival process is now a premium service. I haven’t found a free service that could archive tweets as simply as TwapperKeeper did, but, to Twitter’s defense, their search indexing has gotten a lot better (for a while, search results would stop at around 2 weeks back, which is not the case anymore). 

Eventifier seems like a good “affordable” alternative. Storify is a free curation alternative, if you like to manage archives manually…

Following limit

This one really makes me upset. In January, as I was attending Educon, I was doing my usual following routine on Twitter. As attendees were tweeting about the event, and I found their comments useful, I started following them. But then, I got an error message, saying that I can’t follow more than 2,000 people (see explanation from Twitter).

I have built my list of followers over FIVE YEARS, this is not excessive. Basically, I need to get more followers to allow me to follow more people. Or I have to unfollow contacts to make some room for new ones. So I either have to be more picky from now on, or I have to adopt a spammy behavior to get more people to follow me, even if they are spam bots or porn stars. This works well for celebrities, not for common professionals like me.

UPDATE: Tweetdeck, the Twitter client owned by Twitter, has led me to believe I could follow people beyond the 2K limit, but FAILED SILENTLY while I was attending #digedcon. This is beyond ridiculous!

Hoarder behavior

Twitter likes for everyone to direct their information to them, but frowns upon anyone taking their feeds and displaying and storing them elsewhere. For instance, I used to be able to aggregate Twitter feeds seamlessly in Yahoo Pipes of, but not anymore. Twitter is banning other services to use Twitter triggers to other services. This means you can create a recipe in to send a tweet, but you can’t take a tweet and send it to your Evernote archive, of generate an RSS feed to send to your tablet’s reader. I understand this might be related to traffic and spam control, but it’s getting a little ridiculous for the average “civil” user.


I have started to pay less and less attention to Twitter, shifting my attention to Google+. I am not saying that I am abandoning Twitter; it will still be a must for conferences, because of the sheer volume of users using it. But you should expect less activity from me on that service.

Switching my profile picture and why it’s important

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been posting on this new blog of mine, and I’ve been reflecting on the power and pitfalls of social media. One of Sidneyeve Matrix‘s recommendation in her keynote address at the University of Delaware’s Summer Faculty Institute on May 29 was that you need to claim your social media spaces. I’ve been using the handle “mathplourde” for many years, and have claimed many spaces for it.

My current avatar

My avatar, 2009-2012

The avatar I’ve been using for many years is from the 2009 Sakai conference, when I was named a Sakai Fellow. Although I still like that shot, and that it still represents who I am, I thought it was time for a change. Some reasons include:
  • I’m holding a Sakaiger in my hands, an obscure but legendary creature most people do not recognize, therefore making me look childish.
  • The shot was taken in a ballroom with bad lighting and people in the background.
  • It associates me with the Sakai community, which is not a bad thing but only one part of the story. I’m also a social media enthusiast, an Ed. D. student, and an educational technologist.

My new avatar

Sidneyeve also recommended to get a good head shot and to use it consistently across all your spaces. I had the chance of getting such a portrait taken by my Evan Krape at the Office of Communication and Marketing at the University of Delaware, to be included in the Experts at UD directory (my profile is not up there yet, I still need to provide some information). I got permission to use it more widely for my social media presence.
My new avatar.
As an advocate for the use of social media for professional development, I think a portrait like this one helps reflect a my professional persona and also helps people recognize me when they meet me face-to-face, leveraging my online presence a bit more in achieving the most important part of social media: connecting with the right people.
But let me know if you think this is too boring 😉
If you want to know more, see this this Mashable article that provides some tips on how to select and design your profile picture (although I agree with everything but the part about using South Park of Simpson characters – that’s just annoying, and I’ve missed people I wanted to connect with at conference when they have use something like this on Twitter).