Learning In Public On Wikis | Beth's Blog

Learning In Public On Wikis

Networked Nonprofit

Photo by Beth Kanter

I’m just beginning a new crop of peer learning projects for nonprofits to learn the practice of being  networked nonprofits and use social media effectively at Zoetica and through my work as Visiting Scholar at the Packard Foundation.

I’m also trying to shift my own practice into more design and train the trainers and coach the coaches versus direct delivery.   It’s hard because you have to be very disciplined about noticing and documenting your practice.

Wikis can be terrific platforms for supporting professional learning in real time, but it requires a comfort level with  “learning in public.”    Learning in private is what most of us did in school.  You wrote your essay, studied your spelling words, took tests (without looking at anyone else’s answers!).   Learning was an individual, often solitary activity.    For many of us of a certain age, that style has carried over to our work culture where we are rewarded for our expertise and to keep quiet what we don’t know (or screw up).

Social media has unleashed a fabulous opportunity for professional learning about practice  in public.   And that can be fun too! Certainly less exhausting than having to know everything.

Creating an environment for learning in public means that it is okay to say “I don’t know” about an issue or problem and to ask others what they think.  When professionals acknowledge not knowing and reach out to a colleague, it not only opens us to learning, but it signals to others.    Using social media and  networked approaches successfully requires a culture shift away from learning in private to learning public or what Nancy White has called “Over the Shoulder Learning.”

How do you do this?   How do create an environment where it is okay to learn in public?  This environment can be a training workshop or it can be in an organization.  One answer comes from Eugene Eric Kim in a presentation he did about networks, “Be the Change You Want To See” – it’s about modeling.

Three Different Designs for Public Learning On Wiki

Over the past five years, I have created many wikis to support online learning projects and wikispaces has been one of my platforms of choice because it is easy to use, free, and integrate other social media content.   There are three different models:

Personal Learning or Portfolio Wikis: My first wiki was  more “wiki portfolios” as my colleague Marshall Kirkpatrick phrased it.    But it is more than an social media resume.

You can also use a wiki as a professional learning journal – a place to seek, make sense, and share learning about their practice.   It’s open or public document.   It can be “transparent” so others can peer or browse or can be open and others contribute or comment.   I’ve created a couple spaces like this for:  Listening and  Screencasting.    Debra Askanase has a terrific space for Facebook Landing Tabs.

Peer Learning: The wiki is used a platform to capture group knowledge about practice.  Often,  face-to-face and conference calls are used to supplement the group’s work together as well as other social media platforms.   Examples include the Social Media Lab Leveraging Social Media for Arts Organizations, and the Networked Funders.

Network Learning: This example involves a network of people looking at a field of practice beyond a peer learning group.   For example, on the  Packard Foundation OE wiki , which started as a “see through filing cabinet”  has moved into engaging with nonprofit consultants and evaluation geeks about the prelminary findings of its evaluation of nonprofit consulting practice.   NTEN facilitated a wiki to create workshop curriculum for social media and nonprofits with more than 200 nonprofit technology practitioners as part of the WeAreMedia project.

How else are nonprofit professionals,  organizations, and fields using social platforms like wikis for public learning about practice?

8 Responses

  1. Beth, many of us in higher education are intentionally seeking ways to make learning more public for our students, too–while we have some privacy concerns given their student status, within classes I use wiki assignments, shared discussion boards, and student-generated blog posts, among other tools that provide some transparency to students’ development and invite their classmates as participants (my assignments, in some cases, specifically require that they interact not just with me but with each other, too). And I even use my public blog in class some, too, so that students interface with their future colleagues in that venue as their learning progresses, too. A big part of my goals with these methods is that students will learn to embrace the learning process, and the community that they can build around it, rather than institutionalizing a more artificial learning relationship with a professor that, quite honestly, is seldom replicated in “real life”!

  2. Jeff Jackson says:

    Thanks for referencing the “public learning” that’s going in/around the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness Program. The TCC Group is posting some early findings from research related to 1300 capacity building projects where non-profits have hired consultants for help. It would be great to hear via the wiki link below what folks think about the following early finding (and anyone can enter the wiki and comment without having to join the wiki if they like).

    Early Finding: Field knowledge (e.g., Reproductive Health, Conservation, etc.) and nonprofit experience were more likely to be related to a non-profit’s satisfaction with a capacity building consultant than specific consulting work/experience (e.g., strategic planning, fundraising, etc.). Surprised, Not Surprised, Questions or Comments? This is one of many TCC Group Goldmine research findings that will be posted for our “learning in public”.


  3. Jayme Hummer says:

    Beth, Living the Path (http://pbeye.info/48D) is a great online community (and wiki) with thousands of pieces of data and thousands of community members. Our members include students, executives, and health marketers. It’s a great place to network and gain knowledge through our various articles, case studies, and infographics.

    Thanks for authoring this post.


  4. Beth says:

    Jayme, thanks for sharing that wiki – fabulous. Is there a wiki facilitator or community manager – or someone who is the “wiki gardener” or do people spontaneously participate?

  5. Grace Stubee says:

    Great post– are there any good examples of networked non-profit conferences? We’re trying to network our conference this year and I’m interested to see what people have done around a single event.

  6. Beth says:


    Here’s a few examples


    You can leave comments on those posts – the folks I wrote about commented and might following the thread. If not, I’ll make an introduction for you.

  7. […] for supporting professional learning in real time, but it requires a comfort level with  “learning in public.”   You can learn in public in different ways – self-directed individual learning, with a […]

  8. Fard Johnmar says:


    Sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you re: your question about Living the Path. I just came across this post. First, thanks much for your kind word about the wiki. To answer your question, the wiki is maintained by Jayme (my colleague) and myself. In addition to the two of us, we have a writer who adds content to the wiki. There are also people within the broader Living the Path community who apply to become “Community Writers.” Overall, Jayme, the writer and I are responsible for gardening the wiki and approving community writers who agree to develop content that’s within the standards we’ve established for the wiki.

    We also have a social news site, the NewsHub, which is similar to Reddit and Delicious, which is less closely moderated where community members post content related to the field of health marketing communications. If your readers are interested in learning more about the community and the resources within it, I encourage them to visit http://www.pathoftheblueeye.com to learn more.

    Thanks again!

    Fard Johnmar
    Founder, Living the Path