At the end of 2012, there was a call in our community to write about what individuals learned in 2012 and share it using the hashtag #learn2012. I started thinking about that a lot and put together a draft which I’m just now publishing. I’m not sure the answers are yet clear but here’s my initial draft for #learn2012. Please note that I am not sure if there will be a final draft. My lessons learned may evolve into other lessons that are less temporal.

I would call the first 8 months of 2012 a blur of overwork and stress followed by grieving as changes were made in the summer that stripped away all the activities that I had been engaged in. While there were bright new promises starting in January 2012, they quickly turned sour as expectations were improperly communicated or understood. During this time I put my personal life on hold (more so than usual) and attempted to meet those expectations based on my current strengths. As I have since learned, I needed to stop and question whether those expectations were realistic for my current skill set or needed to be modified. I also needed to determine if I would need to change or grow or learn in order to handle them if they remained unchanged. As a result, I came out of the experience with an evaluation of “minimally successful”. While no one likes being treated as a failure, perhaps I needed that evaluation to shake up my thinking.

At the same time, stress had taken its toll on my health and I was literally falling apart physically. My blood pressure was through the roof and I had gained 30 pounds on top of my other weight. I was constantly sick and finding myself housebound when I went home because I had no energy to do anything or go anywhere. The best I could do was continue to search the internet for new knowledge and engage with communities on Facebook and Twitter. But even the search for new knowledge was no longer satisfying as it didn’t seem to be needed (or wanted?) in the workplace.

Sometimes in order to take actions for new growth or learning, you need to move on. That might be through a new job, new activities or new connections. I chose not to go for the new job which might have even more stress because of new expectations. Since my activities were restricted to the mundane in the current workplace, I looked outside to find new challenges. My first focus was my health and surprisingly my second focus became elearning. Both of these activities would have benefits if I were successful and I would be able to juggle them while still carrying a full work load.

In September, I started on a new lifestyle health plan that meant building up a team of health professionals to assist me. I still have a long way to go but so far I have lost 55 pounds and almost 28 inches while growing stronger and able to handle stress more effectively. Unfortunately, I also discovered problems with my eyesight that resulted in two laser surgeries in March 2013 for glaucoma and continued problems even after the surgeries. I am continuing my quest for health but it is tempered with the knowledge that I may have further challenges ahead.

Elearning would not have been my first choice for an alternative activity, although I do thrive on learning from others in my social media networks like Facebook, G+  and Twitter. But in August, I joined a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in machine learning that others in the community were taking. While it brought back some good memories of monitoring research efforts in the early 2000’s, I was not able to wrap my mind around linear algebra. I tried several other MOOC classes but linear algebra or the need to learn a new programming language kept defeating me. Then I started the Gamification course taught by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School/UPenn. It was challenging with an element of creativity that drew me in. The same thing happened with the Design: Artifacts course by Karl Ulrich also at Wharton School/UPenn. These two classes engaged both my critical and creative thinking. I’ve written a bit about my experiences with MOOCs on this site, but the one thought that I walked away from all the early MOOC classes was that I hadn’t fully engaged with the collaborative communities that were available. I may explore the possible reasons why in later posts. But as Thanksgiving approached, I received an email from the instructors for the e-Learning and Digital Cultures (EDC) course taught by the University of Edinburgh. They encouraged us to gain familiarity with various collaborative tools prior to the start of the course and use the hashtag #EDCMOOC to acknowledge that use. One of the students established a closed Facebook group and G+ community which enabled small groups to connect and interact before the course started sharing knowledge on tools, techniques, cultural insights, tradecraft on elearning and getting to know each other as “fraingers” (strangers who met online and became friends without ever having met in person). It reminded me of the early days between 2005-2008 when the same could be said for the virtual community that was being formed in our community.

So what did I learn:
1. Continually being a change agent is exhausting. Sometimes you need a break to recharge and maybe reinvent yourself.
2. Collaboration is time-consuming.   As a mindset, collaboration is sorely underutilized in our community – even by those who may be natural collaborators. Most of the focus is on the tools rather than on the mindset that makes collaboration successful.
3. Collaboration is the foundation for digital learning. If you walk away from a MOOC having only watched the videos and completed the assignments/tests, then you have achieved only half the learning that is possible
4. Leaders and managers need to be involved in collaboration

I have no earthly idea where these lessons learned will take me. I find myself sadly bored these days in the workplace as I see the same problems still unsolved after 10-20 years. And chaos masquerading as change. So I doubt that these lessons will have value there. I think my best value will be to continue to work broaden my horizons through my health journey and working on elearning as time and eyesight permit. The idea of broadening my horizons is summarized in a great tweet that I forgot to write down attribution: “ Creativity shouldn’t be focused in one area for too long. Just as runners need to cross-train, people need to broaden creative horizons”