Supporting Serendipity

“Be there when the spark happens and catch it before it burns out. Try to help with getting people the time and space they need to explore, connect, and reflect. Figure out ways to reward it: we don’t always show that we value the divergent. We can’t create or plan for serendipity. We can’t schedule accidents. But we can work to help create an environment in which opportunities can serendipitously occur.”                                                                                -Jane Bozarth

Have you ever embarked on one learning path just to end up somewhere entirely different?  Where formal learning is usually planned, informal learning depends on people sharing ideas and collaborating with each other, whether on or off the job and it is through these actions that the actual learning occurs.

The majority of how we do our jobs comes from informal learning.  Formal training only accounts for a small portion of how we learn our jobs.  Workshops and trainings can demonstrate the base knowledge needed to perform certain job tasks, but not until you are in the thick of things–making mistakes, observing others–can you figure out how things really work on the job.

Author, eLearning coordinator, and proponent of Social Media for learning, Jane Bozarth writes a monthly column, Nuts and Bolts for Learning Solutions Magazine and often talks about the unplanned, impromptu, and flat out serendipitous way we learn when we are not actually in a classroom.  In this monthly article, Causing Serendipity,  she discusses how many individuals struggle with this concept of serendipitous learning because our minds are programmed to think in terms of formal learning and acquiring knowledge through planned efforts in workshops or trainings, not the spontaneous discovery that can happen by simply observing or talking with a colleague.

While we cannot plan serendipitous learning, Jane maintains we can give people the “time and space they need to explore, reflect, and connect”.

Can you think of a time when you ended up discovering something important by accident? Can you give an example of serendipitous learning you may have experienced?

Have a good afternoon,

Diana Good

Backchannel: A Digital Conversation

While researching different blogs, I was looking for something different to discuss, perhaps a concept with which I was unfamiliar.  Enter backchannel.  A backchannel is a digital conversation that occurs concurrently with some sort of live event, like a conference, a lecture, or some type of instructor-led training.  People participating in a backchannel do so on a mobile device with Twitter or some other social media site as a platform.

In his book, The Backchannel, presentation guru and author Cliff Atkinson explores how audiences are using Twitter and social media to transform live presentations.  The audience no longer sits quietly taking notes; instead they are commenting, fact-checking, searching online resources, and engaging with each other in ways that were not possible before mobile devices and social media.

In education, a backchannel provides shy or quiet kids a way to ask questions without having to speak in front of the class.  I wish there were backchannel conversations when I was in middle or high school, as I was quite shy and almost always had a question that I was afraid to ask for fear I would look dumb.  Backchanneling would certainly have given me the chance to “speak up” without speaking at all.  Although Twitter can work well for back channeling to a wide audience on the open internet, closed tools such as Back Channel Chat or TodaysMeet are geared toward the classroom, where the teacher can control the content.


In her blog, Edutopia, Instructor and Communication Coordinator at EdTechTeacher, Beth Holland describes how the backchannel can give “every student a voice in the mobile blended class room”.

How do you think the formal classroom can benefit from using backchannels to engage students?

Diana Good