Can Academic Librarians Really Learn IDT Through PD?

Recently, I have noticed a number of professional development (PD) opportunities geared toward academic librarians that are related to instructional design and technology (IDT), often focusing on the “essentials.” Most focus on the ADDIE process or related models of instructional design. Often, a bit of learning theory is included along the way.

While I agree that academic librarians need to develop IDT skills, this post today will explore the usefulness and limitations of learning IDT skills through professional development.

However, before I get into that, it is important to understand what the knowledge competencies of instructional design and technology are. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), which is the central arm of the field (sort of like ALA is for librarianship) lays out IDT knowledge competencies in the figure below:












First of all, you’ll notice that the IDT field encompasses quite a few competencies. Secondly, you might notice that most of the PD offered to academic librarians is focused in one domain — design. The third, and most important thing that I hope you notice is that central to ALL the domains of the IDT field is both theory and practice (really, putting theory into practice).

Now back to PD for academic librarians. As I mentioned previously, much (if not all) of the PD currently offered to them is related to the design domain, especially in the area of instructional systems design (aka ADDIE). In teaching the ADDIE process, message design, learner characteristics, and instructional strategies have to be addressed, but often in a secondary role.

I must ask though, is it really beneficial for librarians to learn a single domain of IDT? Does a focus on the design domain of IDT really capture the essence of the field? And how useful is it to be introduced to (almost) an entire domain in the course of a single webinar or 6 week online course? What about the other domains?

What do I think?

I think the benefit of learning IDT skills through PD depends a lot on how much information is included in a session or course. To be realistic, PD that tries to cover a topic like ADDIE in a short period of time won’t go beyond the “what” of the process. To put ADDIE into practice requires knowing “how” and “when” and “why” (to put it in perspective, learning the ADDIE process took me two long semesters, plus a couple of semesters of learning theory to really feel like I had a handle on it).

On the other hand, focusing on a single aspect of the ADDIE process (e.g., task analysis) is much more beneficial because it allows for practice and feedback (especially when taught in a longer format course).

To answer the second question, no, a focus on the design domain absolutely does not capture the essence of the IDT field. Does that really matter? I don’t know. Research is needed on the current practices of blended librarians to identify the IDT competencies that will define this emerging specialist practice.

There are several challenges to developing effective IDT professional development for academic librarians, including determining what information is important, how much to cover to avoid cognitive overload, and what format works best for the topic. Blended librarianship is still very much in its infancy, and only time and research will tell what IDT skills librarians really need to succeed.

If you are an academic librarian seeking out PD for IDT skill development, keep in mind that PD generally covers topics at the macro-level, but IDT skills need to be developed at the micro-level. If you are paying for PD, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck in PD opportunities that focus on particular aspects of instructional design and technology (rather than entire domains).


Public Libraries, and a Pedagogy for Lifelong Learning

Recently, Library Trends released its latest issue on the core values of librarianship. I haven’t yet had time to read through all the articles, but I did start with Elmborg’s piece, titled Tending the Garden of Learning: Lifelong Learning as Core Library Value. It’s a philosophical read that got me thinking about what a pedagogy of lifelong learning might look like in the public library (from a practical standpoint).

First of all, what is lifelong learning, really? One of the best descriptions I have come across appeared in an editorial in the November 1975 issue of Educational Leadership. Wilbur J. Cohen wrote that “learning is a continuous, permanent, lifelong pursuit. It is a process which commences with birth and only terminates at death and is then carried on by others in a never-ending continuum.” (On a side note, Wilbur Cohen was one of the pioneers of our social security system. You can read more about how he got into education here. Pretty interesting).

I love that definition because it describes what I think most public libraries currently aim to do: support learning through the lifespan. However, I do think they are better at supporting some parts of the lifespan better than others. Certainly, early literacy efforts are a standard of practice in virtually all public libraries. Many public libraries do a great job with educational programming and resources for the families in their communities. Senior citizens as well. And now, with growing trends like maker spaces and gaming in the library, public libraries are supporting new literacies with the youth in their communities (whether they recognize this as learning or not).

Where I see public libraries faltering with supporting lifelong learning are the parts of the lifespan where formal learning (including professional learning) takes place. In the Library Trends article, Elmborg made this same observation when he stated that “the public library has lagged far behind in pursuing a pedagogically progressive version of information literacy as a central part of its mission” (p.548).

The question is, do public libraries really need to pursue a “pedagogically progressive version of information literacy”? I don’t think so, at least not in the sense of public libraries needing to design and implement formal information literacy programs within their walls. I say this because information literacy is both contextual and situational, practiced both formally and informally (just like learning). Also, because I see the public library’s role in formal information literacy as peripheral (not to be taught, just to be supported — at least in most cases). So for public libraries, I propose a less formal approach to information literacy, one found within the pedagogy of lifelong learning.

What does a pedagogy of lifelong learning look like for a public library? I envision a pedagogy of partnerships that allows the public library to play a role in learning (and information literacy) across the lifespan. A pedagogy that includes the following partnerships (when relevant to the community’s needs):

  • Preschool partnerships (e.g., story times, early literacy initiatives)
  • K-12 partnerships (e.g., supporting curriculum needs and gaps when possible, homework clubs, tutoring, after school programming)
  • Community college / university partnerships (e.g., transitional programming that exposes high school students and adult returning students to the expectations of college level research, online learning support)
  • Local business partnerships (e.g., supporting professional learning)
  • Partnerships with local organizations (e.g., social services and resource support, ESL and adult literacy programming, senior programming)
  • Patron partnerships for personal learning (e.g., teen advisory boards, but also other interest groups such as families, single adults, senior citizens, special needs populations, etc…) What groups in your community are under served?

For a public library to truly address learning across the lifespan, a pedagogy of partnerships is crucial for both assessing unmet needs and for providing the right learning support to the community. However, before that can happen, public libraries need to recognize themselves as legitimate learning institutions, albeit informal learning institutions. That means being able to articulate the learning value of the services they already provide that many see as purely recreational. For example, gaming and tinkering (maker spaces) support the problem solving and critical thinking skills that are required to be information literate. And it stands to reason that recreational readers become self-regulated readers who become self-regulated learners.