Encoding, Remembering, Retrieving… Learning is super curvy!

My newsletter, The Learning Curve, is aptly named and here’s why:

The initial moment of learning — of encoding — is incredibly mysterious and complex. 

This is from John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Medina goes on to say, 

..the little we do know suggests that when information enters our head, our brain acts like a blender left running with the lid off. The information is chopped into discrete pieces and splattered all over the insides of our mind. This happens instantly. 

Talk about painting a vivid picture! No doubt I’ll remember how encoding works, and am even more curious to learn how the brain “cleans up” this incredible mess! In Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning, authors Agarwal and Bain describe encoding as a process by which we “absorb knowledge like a sponge.” To improve the effectiveness of encoding however, Medina tells us, 

...there is no question that multiple cues, dished up via different senses, enhance learning. They speed up responses, increase accuracy, improve stimulation detection, and enrich encoding at the moment of learning. 

Agarwal and Bain, on the other hand, are proponents of retrieval practice. 


Giving a Presentation or Teaching Online? Engagement is NOT Just About the Strategies

Are you teaching or giving presentations online these days? Aren’t we all! Higher ed courses, professional development courses, conference presentations, or even facilitating online meetings – we’re even attending online happy hours, graduation parties, and weddings!

And we’re getting tired. Tired of connecting in a virtual world, tired of worrying about how our faces and backgrounds look in our webcams, and just plain tired of sitting in our spaces staring at our screens.

So, we go online and search for strategies. We ask colleagues for activities, in search of that magic protocol or brilliant new tech tool that will wow our audiences and get them excited about screen time. But the truth is, if you step back a moment and consider your own mindset about audience engagement and the purpose of focusing on engagement, you’ll find there’s a lot more to it. Let’s give it a try, shall we?


New Year, New Newsletter: What is Professional Learning?

Happy New Year! Each year, just like many of you, I make… and usually break… the same resolutions, with the exception of one: I learn.

In 2018, I learned how to create and launch my new website. That year, I also learned more about educational equity and culturally responsive education, communication, and leadership. In 2019, I studied negotiation skills, learned more about the science of learning, and added to my Excel, PowerPoint, and data visualization skills. All of this “professional learning” informs my work on various projects and helps improve my professional practice. 

To learn all of this, here’s what I did (along with a few example favorites):


Welcome to Custom Professional Learning!

Learning graphic

A successful blogger once told me not to return from a blogging hiatus with “Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve written.” So, I’m definitely NOT starting this article with that!  😉 How’s this?

This blog and site are dedicated to the power and promise of professional learning.  

New site, new name!

The site certainly looks different than it did the last time you visited. I have a new business name, new logo, new colors, and new pictures. The site was long overdue for a makeover – but I’m no web designer. However, I wanted something customized and flexible. So… I set about to learn web design. Why am I sharing this? You’ll have to wait for the next post to find that out!

More importantly, it’s time for new content. This blog began with a strong focus on program evaluation, with articles on education, survey design, presentations, and data visualization. That will continue, but with a theme that ties all of these fields (my professional interests) together: professional learning.

You might know professional learning by another name – professional development, staff development, inservice, continuing education, or training. These terms have more nuanced definitions and different meanings in different fields. Also, you may or may not receive formal credit for licensure for participating in them. 

Now, no matter what name we use, let’s recognize that professional learning can be much more than those formal sessions and seminars arranged by our organizations. It can be attending conferences, taking online courses, and listening to podcasts whenever we want to. It can be reading books, journal articles, and blogs. It can be collaborating with colleagues on projects and learning from each other’s expertise and talents. It can be following and interacting with others on social media, and participating in twitter chats and other online hangouts.

What’s my point?


Anything that serves to increase our knowledge, understanding, or capacity for our work is professional learning


On Being Part of the 90% {sigh}

I‘m not proud of this, but I must admit, I’m a 90%er. A drop-out. A MOOC drop-out, that is. In the bottom 10% of my class. According to my stats, readers of this blog were excited about the post “Can a DataViz Novice Become a Slide Snob?” in which I announced that I had registered for the popular Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization.” In fact, that link was the most clicked link from this blog thus far.  (more…)