I just finished reading The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age* by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall. This book really spoke to me because it reinforces my thoughts on learning and professional development. The authors were quick to point out that we have entered an age where we can learning virtually anything, anywhere, and anytime. They also actively supported the ideas presented by Dewey and Lindeman — learning is a social activity. Ideas must be developed and presented to others so that feedback and critique can strengthen or improve the ideas.
The authors developed their ideas over nine chapters, a large glossary, and a number of supporting resources. At the end of each chapter, the authors encourage readers to become connected educators by participating in exercises that will connect them to a larger group of like-minded individuals. I have already participated in a couple of the exercises, and plan to participate in the rest.
In the introduction, the authors contrast the day-to-day life of students outside of school to those in school. They emphasize outside of school students are well connected and plugged into finding information when and where they need it. Inside typical schools, all student mobile devices are normally restricted, and students are forced to learn using archaic methods. The world has changed but schools seem to remain insulated from the change.
One theme that repeated itself throughout the book is that educators must be learners first, and educators and leaders second. I entirely agree. I firmly believe that learning should be at the core of every organization and individual. Learning is what fuels constant improvement. However, learning is again a social activity. It is important that learners learn how to create connections to information nodes or streams. Educators must model these behaviors to their students so that everyone become lifelong learners.
Each chapter contained three primary sections: stories illustrating how the authors and others experienced the concepts of the chapter; the content of the chapter; and a series of exercises to help readers experience what was presented. The authors seemed to be eager to connect the reader with others who they have found to be inspiring. I liked this idea of tying the book to the virtual learning world.
The first half of the book resonated with me more than the last half. I believe this was primarily because this was where I was in my personal journey. In the beginning, the authors defined the connected learner, explained how to find resources for a personal learning journey, and how to connect with others on a one-on-one basis or small learning communities. This is where I am on my journey; I am building my personal learning environment and network, and I am connected to small learning communities. However, I found the concepts of learning in larger communities to be more challenging simply because I am not operating at that level right now. The concept is more abstract at this point but still very intriguing.
The authors tie their book to countless researched theories and concepts. I was pleasantly surprised to see many familiar theories and researchers. I enjoyed being introduced to some new concepts and theories. Many of the people the authors included are familiar to my own research on informal learning. It was nice to be able to see the connections to new ideas.
If you believe learning to be essential to lifetime growth, and recognize the role technology and connections play in learning, you will then find this book an important addition to your library. I think the folks I work with and for (extension educators) could benefit from the ideas presented in this book. I am sure I will be including their ideas in future projects and papers.
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