CPD and all that by Matt Holland

Two weeks into a MOOC on Recommender Systems (see the next LIHNNK UP, Land of Geek column) and I realise the college level algebra required to complete the assignments was far beyond that required for CSE maths. For younger readers, CSE’s are what you did at school when dinosaurs roamed the library stacks. What to do? Retreat quietly and leave the course? Then there was no chance of getting the valued certificate. I decided to continue just to learn something new, skipped the assignments and just reviewed the course materials. It felt like I had turned a corner. Learning for it’s own sake. So this is a reflection on the journey of continuing professional development, and why, in my view you have never had it so good.

Formal education … you have to do it because it’s good for you.

As a graduate entry profession you have to do some time before the lectern. I did my PG Diploma in Library Studies at a university in the North of England. Not to be too specific. I doubt anyone would remember me anyway. I didn’t attend all the lectures. Like any vocational course it was a compromise between education and training. There was a small knowledge base, once you had mastered Bradford’s Law, Cataloguing and User Studies you pretty much had it covered. The rest were bolt on units in marketing and management and a few other things I don’t remember or prefer to forget – statistics, did I write that out loud? Overshadowing the course was a feeling that technology was going to change everything. Then computers had teleprinters, not screens.

More Formal education … but this time you volunteered …

Once you get started on the postgraduate route it’s hard to stop. Next was a Diploma in Management Studies (DMS) at a university in the South of England. A fantastic course. Being part time I could apply what I learned while I learned it. The best sort of vocational education.   So to the MA. Finally achieved by research at a University in the Centre of England. Another great learning experience. Free from the constraints of the curriculum, researching a topic that interested me and again work related.

Some things just come our way …

Some things just come your way. Learning comes from working with people who know more than you or work in a different areas. Many of the projects in media, research and digitisation that were most productive came from collaborations with academic colleagues and library colleagues in different organisations. It’s not something you can plan for but you can be open to opportunities to break out of the day to day grind. Fortune, as they say, favours the brave.

Writing about it

If you want to learn something write about it. It may not always be a success. The benefit if you pull it off is to have something at the end of the process that proves you were there in the first place. Each output is a tangible reminder of what you learned. Researching or writing a guides or websites, blogging, writing a paper, editing a book and anything in between are great learning experiences. As an added bonus writing brings you into contact with other people and opportunities for networking and developing future projects.

Courses and Conferences

The best learning experiences, apart from experience itself, are based around face to face teaching / training, backed up by the long tail of supporting activities, materials and technology bundled up as blended learning. All cpd should be this way. The problem. Barriers of distance, (synchronous) time and cost.

Staying out of your depth … not waving but learning to swim

The slow learning times are usually those where you are on top of your work. This is probably goes against the conventional wisdom of management development courses. Being out of your depth, providing nobody gets hurt, and trying to getting some kind of control back is the best way to learn about anything. I have to put in a mention for boredom at work as well. That usually leads to the what to do next question and then taking the risk to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. It’s a virtuous circle.

Getting it wrong … really, I’m not waving …

If you take risks then sometimes things go wrong. The grant proposals that get knocked back. The damning reviews of your much laboured over article. Getting into something that you have no hope of delivering and having to admit that well, I need to get out of this, and fast. We have all been there. Failure teaches you more than success. The secret is not to make the same mistake twice. Be better prepared next time, maybe get some help from those that know more. On no account give up. No one will remember the failures except you.

eLearning and MOOCs

Imagine a world where the cpd options were to take formal courses or read up on a topic, and I do appreciate the irony of this but stay with me. Imagine another world where learning opportunities are many. Information is from experts conveyed through a social media enabled global classroom using a curriculum tried and tested in some of the best universities. Oh, and it’s free – for now. If you are thinking, well so what? you may not fully appreciate your good fortune. If you think that you are now taking cpd in colour having been brought up on black and white cpd. I know how old you are. Which is where I came in.

If you don’t already know the big hitters in MOOCS are Coursera, FutureLearn and EdX. Look also at the Knowledge for Healthcare, Learning Zone for healthcare library specific information.

Matt Holland
NWAS LKS, supported by HCLU North.
July 2016

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