I recently had the pleasure of attending Converge10 a 2 day e learning conference in Melbourne. There were many great presenters over the two days and I came away from the conference full of ideas to pursue. One of the highlights of the conference for me was the pleniary session delivered by Joyce Seitzinger, an Education Technologist hailing from New Zealand. Joyce’s presentation about Personal Learning Networks really got me thinking about my own journey as a learner in the Alcohol and other Drugs sector.
I commenced work in the sector in 1998. At that time I had not undertaken any formal learning and the knowledge I drew upon when working with clients and colleagues was drawn from personal experience. As I spent a little more time in the field I began learning, sometimes from my mistakes, but mostly from others. As you can see from the diagram below (you can click on the diagram to see a larger version ), my learning was largely based on my social networks.
I will also take this opportunity to say that mentors were, and still remain a particularly important component to my learning.
Of course there are other sources of learning. Formal learning through courses can be important in providing us with a foundation from which to work. In reflecting upon my own learning, formal training has also been an important component in teaching me how to learn. Unfortunately this type of learning is very much educator centred. Successful completion of a course requires the student to jump through the desired hoops as specified by the educator. These hoops may or may not have relevance to the needs of client presenting on any given day. Formal learning is also expensive and time consuming and therefore is less useful in addressing the need to adapt to an ever changing context of AOD work, as drug trends and treatment developments evolve.
Journals and conferences can also be useful sources of information however workers often face barriers to accessing these types of learning, chiefly cost. Additionally academic journals are often written for an academic audience, reducing their accessibility further for many coalface workers.
It has been for these reasons that working with a group of people and learning from them has always been important to me.
Personal Learning Networks and the Internet
Think for a moment about your own personal network. How many people are in it? Imagine what would happen if you could multiply that number by 5, or 10, or even 100.
The advent of the modern Internet has enabled this to be a possibility. When I say ‘modern Internet’, I mean an Internet that is accessible, allowing people to not just read a static page like a newspaper, but to meet others, exchange ideas and even create their own unique resources, all with a very limited requirement for technical skills.
I started becoming interested in online social networks a couple of years ago and as you can see from the diagram below, the result has been that my personal learning network has grown expotentially.
These new components to my learning network are in addition to the sources of learning I identified in the earlier diagram.
So what does this all have to do with drugs and harm reduction?
Work in the Alcohol and other Drugs sector occurs in a context of continuous change. New drugs and trends emerge, treatmtents are discovered or refined and we are continously reviewing and revising our knowledge base. We need to stay abreast with this onslaught of knowledge in order to remain relevant to our clients, but here is the catch:
- Our professional body of knowledge is only ever going to get larger, not smaller.
It is therefore important that we increase the power of our learning networks. There is a growing presence of harm reduction and AOD professionals who are sharing their knowledge with others via the net, however the sector as a whole has been slow to uptake the technology. The recent Australian Drug Conference in Melbourne, a major event in the Australian conference calendar had a grand total of 4 attendees who were tweeting under the conference’s hashtag. There seems to remain alot to be done before online sources of learning are generally accepted in the AOD sector. I’m hoping to write a bit more about some of the sources of learning that I access in future blogs but right now I’ll leave you with my top three recommendations:
Twitter Get on and start looking. You’ll find a community of people talking about drugs and harm reduction.
Heads Together You have to become a member, but once you do, you have access to the thoughts and resources of 600+ members who work in, or who are studying AOD/Harm reduction.
YouTube Let’s face it there’s not much worth watching on television now days, so why not choose what you watch and when you want to watch it. There are many great channels devoted to harm reduction.