Ten Tips About 23 Things

How to make the most of the famed online 2.0 tutorial from the program's creator

I've often joked with colleagues that my best brainstorm-in-the-shower idea had nothing to do with helping staff learn about new technologies and everything to do with a simple prime number. "Twenty-three things" was a catchphrase I attached to my soapy-born concept for the Learning 2.0 program, and it was "23 Things" that stuck as the online tutorial for exploring Web-based tools was adopted by libraries around the globe. In Minnesota, they launched "23 Things on a Stick." In the Netherlands, it was "23 Dingen," and in Spain, "La Web 2.0 en 23 Pacos." The King County (WA) Public Library upped the "things" to 27, but the program format stayed the same. When the 200th message hit my inbox this past summer asking permission to replicate Learning 2.0, I figured it was finally time to do a survey. By my account, the program had easily reached more than 500 libraries in 15 countries in just two short years. "Learning 2.0 is a life-changing program. Its greatest impact was on staff knowledge and practice," wrote one survey respondent. Others reported "a change in staff attitude toward learning," "greater confidence in using Web 2.0 applications," and "improved collaboration across all levels of staff." When asked if they would encourage their library to do the program again, a full 97 percent replied with a resounding "Yes!" Learning 2.0 (plcmclearning.blogspot.com)—aka the "23 Things"—is a self-paced online learning program that I designed in 2006 as a one-person crusade to move an entire organization of 500-plus staff onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Then Public Services Technology Director for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC), Charlotte, NC, I saw all the changes that were happening on the Internet and knew it was imperative for staff to gain some familiarity with the social networking tools and emerging technologies that were reshaping the way people, society, businesses and, yes, even libraries, access information and communicate with each other.

Illustrations by Phil Marden

Over a nine-week period, the program guides participants through 23 small discovery exercises (i.e. "things") around various Web applications, from blogs and wikis to podcasts, RSS, and mashups. What makes the program unique from other staff training workshops is that while the participants are learning about all these new technologies that enable community and social connections, they are actively creating an online social network for themselves. Another appealing aspect: the initiative was hosted entirely online for free using Web 2.0 sites. A blog containing all the exercises was created using Blogger.com. Flickr hosted all related images, and Odeo, a podcasting site, was used to both record and store audio content. In fact, my library's IT department did not have to do any work at all. To host your own program, all you need is a keyboard, a Web connection, and the ability to remember a few log-ins and passwords. With no coding or network setup required, almost any library or organization can replicate Learning 2.0 with ease, regardless of financial or resource constraints. Along with numerous requests to duplicate the program (which I have licensed through Creative Commons), I have also heard from many seeking insight on how to do this successfully. Since the inquiries don't seem to be slowing down (they've actually increased since School Library Journal launched its summer 2008 version, "All Together Now: A 2.0 Learning Experience"), I thought I'd pay it forward and share my top 10 tips for hosting a successful "23 Things." 1. Encourage networking and the learning will follow. I know this first tip sounds a bit Field of Dreams, but it's true. Learning comes not just by encountering information, but is best fostered through interaction with knowledgeable friends, teachers, and colleagues who are willing to share. The Learning 2.0 program makes the most of the social connections facilitated by Web-based tools by asking participants to share their learning experiences with the 23 things through blogging, but even more importantly by encouraging them to comment on each other's work and thus share in one another's discoveries. This can pay dividends across an entire organization. In the words of one Learning 2.0 participant: not only were "people's technical knowledge and skills increased, [the] team building was a huge and an unexpected outcome." 2. Allow participants to blog anonymously. Sharing your thoughts out on the Web is not something that comes to most people naturally. In fact, many of us, especially those baby boomers out there, were raised to keep our personal thoughts in little journals that were locked and hidden under the mattress. It's important to keep this in mind, especially if you're working with those new to the concept of blogging. Allowing participants to jump into the program with a cloak of anonymity provides a safe haven for exploration and sharing. From my experience, this can add greatly to the fun as staff members try to guess who is blogging as "Cat Lady 36" or "Mr. Wonderful." 3. Use 1.0 methods to communicate. Sure, the program is about 2.0 tools, but don't rely on RSS, news aggregators, and the like to communicate about your program, at least not exclusively. In order to keep participants informed and up-to-date as new exercises are introduced each week, you need to use those communication modes with which they are already comfortable. Weekly emails work well, as do printable newsletters. And for staff working together in the same physical location, a bulletin board, where colleagues can post questions and schedule informal group discovery sessions, can also be effective. Last but not least, don't forget to take advantage of the oldest communication format out there. Word of mouth is often the best way to maintain the buzz about the program. 4. Encourage group discovery. It's no surprise, but studies have proven that when you problem solve and work together with colleagues, knowledge soars. Although participants in the original Learning 2.0 were required to blog their experiences individually, they were encouraged to explore the activities together. For those who did, the benefits gained were significant. Branch locations that encouraged participants to pair up experienced a higher program completion rate. Moreover, staff on all levels pitched in to help one another in especially generous ways, arranging their personal schedules to allow co-workers to participate. Reference librarians who had never worked the circulation desk volunteered for 30-minute shifts each day so that aides and shelvers could work on the program. In one large branch, tech personnel made it their personal mission to tutor 2.0 participants and provide computer access to custodial staff so that they were not left out of the action. "How Learning 2.0 fostered teamwork and fun I could write about for hours," summized one branch manager. "Every time someone finished, we all celebrated with them." 5. Design the program for late bloomers. Every organization has a few early adopters who like to ride the waves of new technology as soon as they surface. But it often takes an army of just-behind-the-curve converts to move an organization in a new direction. The "23 Things" is designed for these late bloomers. So when it comes to setting a timeline for your own version of the exercise, it's important to remember that your primary target audience is not going to jump in immediately. In fact, they probably won't jump in at all until much later, waiting until the fourth, fifth, or even sixth week into the program, when they've been able to scan the waters a bit and hear from other colleagues about how much fun they are having. Consider adding extra weeks, even a month, to the nine-week schedule and extend it out to 12 weeks or more. This will build in time to accommodate those participants who might have fallen behind—frequently due to time constraints—as well as the reluctant ones who decided to join well after the program's start date. Tailor your initiative for late bloomers, for they are truly the ones who need the exposure to these tools. At the same time, encourage the early adopters in your midst to partner with colleagues and mentor them. 6. Focus on discovery, not skill building. When it comes to introducing new technologies, think baby steps and keep in mind that the first stage in any learning journey is exposure, not skill building. Exercises developed for Learning 2.0 focus first on discovery, then offer optional challenges for those that wish to take things further. This two-step approach allows people to gently ease into the exercises without feeling overwhelmed by the need to immediately adopt new skills. Once they gain some knowledge through exposure to the tools—by just clicking around Flickr, for example—people are much more likely to take the next step and try uploading a photo, tagging, and so on. 7. Reward staff for learning. ROI (return on investment) is a business concept that is also used by organizations to measure the value of employee development programs. In comparing Learning 2.0 to traditional training methods, the ROI speaks for itself. Since Learning 2.0 was developed as an optional, self-paced online program, we provided the carrot in the form of incentives. Those that completed all 23 things within 12 weeks received an MP3 player. This particular item made perfect sense for PLCMC because the reward also dovetailed with an existing library service. While staff tinkered with podcasts and iTunes (things 21 and 22 in our program), they also gained exposure to downloadable audiobooks, something that my library had begun to invest heavily in. For the price of incentives, approximately $25 per player, the library saved more than $330 per person in traditional training costs. With savings and benefits like these, it's easy to see that the Learning 2.0 approach delivers huge ROI. And the best part about it is that you're able to motivate and educate a large number of staff—in my case, 356 employees—all at once, in a very short amount of time. 8. Online means hands-on, not hands-off. In designing your own Learning 2.0 initiative, understand that online doesn't mean hands-off and out-of-mind. Although participants work the exercises at their own pace and schedule, it still requires a coordinator's time and effort to mentor the learning process throughout the entire program. Unlike the traditional learning approach, which uses an instructor and face-to-face interaction to fuel participation, Learning 2.0 needs continual nurturing to help participants when they encounter difficulties or have trouble grasping a new concept. A word of encouragement posted in a blog comment or an offer to hook them up with a partner is often all that's needed to make learners more comfortable as they tackle new applications. Once a participant builds a little confidence and makes an online connection or two, they are ready to take off and begin to develop their own personal learning networks that will extend beyond the life of the program. 9. Enable transparency and practice radical trust. Transparency and radical trust are two of the cornerstones of the whole 2.0 movement, and these elements are no less important to the learning environment. In creating this effort to fully engage and empower the staff, my library had to assume an unprecedented trust in our employees and practice transparency when it came to communicating with them. Allowing staff members to blog openly and anonymously implies a great deal of faith and is not something with which every organization is immediately comfortable. But once you experience the benefits and see how this approach motivates and empowers staff to learn on their own, it's hard to imagine proceeding otherwise. It is also important to recognize that transparency in online participation relates to an individual's comfort level. Take the matter of an individual's identity. Participants should be allowed to choose how they identify themselves, whether they blog under their real name or some other moniker. 10. Continually encourage staff to play. Last but not least, make time for staff members to play. This is, by far, the most critical principle to keep in mind as you frame your own program. Without time to discover and explore, learning cannot occur! It's that simple. By encouraging people to set aside time each week (or better yet, each day) you help make learning and self-discovery a lifelong habit. Personally, I recommend that participants devote 15 minutes every day to "playtime." Play sparks learning and brain development and not just in kids. Moreover, cognitive development studies show that regular fun activity contributes to emotional balance and overall good health. By the end of the program, participants will have made exploration and learning part of their practice, which will serve them well as they encounter other new technology. In closing, I thought I'd share the insight of a children's librarian, who captured the very essence of the program in a single remark. "You know," she said, "the 23 Things program for staff was really just summer reading in a Web 2.0 format." As I look back and compare the two efforts, I realize she hit the nail on the head. The programs were similar in so many ways, it amazed me that I hadn't yet drawn the same conclusion. Not only do "23 Things" and summer reading have a similar duration (nine to twelve weeks) and offer incentives for completion, they are both geared toward developing two of the most important factors for personal success: lifelong reading and learning. Starting your own "23 Things" couldn't be easier. The template is there, with the development tools freely available online under a Creative Commons license. All you need are copy-and-paste skills and a bit of thought toward tailoring the program for your organization, and you'll be on your way. We'll see you on the Web.
Author Information
Helene Blowers is a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and coauthor of Weaving a Library Web: A Guide to Developing Children's Websites (ALA, 2004). The Director of Digital Strategy at the Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library, Blowers blogs about libraries and technology at LibraryBytes.com.

Learning 2.0: Where It All Started

There have been countless riffs on the "23 Things," as the online program for exploring all manner of Web apps has made its way across the globe. Still it's interesting to consider the flagship version launched back in 2006 at PLCMC. Herewith the original "recipe" for Learning 2.0, available online at plcmclearning.blogspot.com. Week 1 Introduction
  • Read the Learning 2.0 blog and find out about the program.
  • Discover a few pointers from lifelong learners and learn how to nurture your own learning process. (Use 7 ½ Habits of Successful Lifelong Learners tutorial.)
Week 2 Blogging
  • Set up your own blog and add your first post.
  • Register your blog [on the staff intranet] and begin your Learning 2.0 journey.
Week 3 Photos & Images
  • Explore Flickr and learn about this popular image-hosting site.
  • Have some Flickr fun and discover some Flickr mashups and third-party tools.
  • Create a blog post about anything technology related that interests you this week.
Week 4 RSS & Newsreaders
  • Learn about RSS feeds and set up your own Bloglines newsreader account.
  • Locate a few useful library news feeds and add them to your newsreader.
Week 5 Play Week
  • Play around with an online image generator.
  • Take a look at LibraryThing and catalog a few of your own books.
  • Roll your own search tool with Rollyo.
Week 6 Tagging, Folksonomies & Technorati
  • Learn about tagging and discover Delicious (a social bookmarking site).
  • Explore Technorati and how tags work with blog posts.
  • Read a few perspectives on Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and the future of libraries and blog your thoughts.
Week 7 Wikis
  • Learn about wikis and discover some innovative ways that libraries are using them.
  • Add an entry to the Learning 2.0 Sandbox wiki.
Week 8 Online Applications & Tools
  • Take a look at some online productivity tools (Google Docs, Zoho Writer).
  • Explore any site from the 2.0 Awards list, play with it, and write a blog post about your findings.
Week 9 Podcasts, Video & Downloadable Audio
  • Discover YouTube and a few sites that allow you to upload and share videos.
  • Discover some useful search tools for locating podcasts.
  • Take a look at the titles available for download and learn how to download audiobooks.
  • Summarize your thoughts about this program on your blog.
  • One month of extra exploration time.
'23 Things' Resources Learning 2.0 program notes tinyurl.com/programnotes. List of other Learning 2.0 programs tinyurl.com/learning2libraries. Google map of many programs worldwide tinyurl.com/learning2map. 23 Things (the original program) plcmclearning.blogspot.com

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