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Teaching Technology in the Library Course

Course Overview

Which technology do people really need, and how can the library help? This course will help you develop or revamp library services designed to connect your community with the technology people need at home, work, school and everywhere in between.

It is not feasible for the library to be a one-stop resource to meet any and all technology needs. Instead, this course will focus on networking partners and information resources to meet a wide range of technology and digital skills needs.

The library can help people choose and access the right technology tools, connect with effective learning resources, and practice the skills necessary to succeed in life. Library services can take the form of technology reference interviews, one-on-one training, device assistance, curated resource packs, infographics, computer labs, makerspace activites, partnerships and more.

Course Modules

This course has been broken down into six modules to guide you through the design and development of a new library service. Click "Go to Module", or choose a section from the menu on the left to access each step of the process.

Who is Learning & Why?

Start with people. Choose a target demographic and build a profile to summarize who they are, what they want in life, and why they do what they do. This will be used to design more effective activities, resources, and marketing that reaches people.

What's the Problem?

Brainstorm the problems people are facing in the community. Don’t worry about what the library can do specifically, find the problems that matter enough to take action. Choose one problem and break it into steps to determine how the library can help.

How Do People Learn?

Consider the different ways people learn in the library, and in the community at large. Do people learn in the same place they will actually use the skills? Choose the best way to connect people with the tools, information and resources they need.

Find Partners & Resources

Which technology tools and resources exist to solve problems that matter? Which organizations are working on these problems? Connect people with the resources that exist, then identify unmet needs. Design a library service to fill the gaps.

Prepare Staff & Materials

Are library staff comfortable with teaching technology in a potentially new way? Do you have the necessary equipment? Make a checklist and build a plan to train staff, find or buy new equipment, and get ready to roll out the new library service.

Marketing & Follow-Up

Are library staff comfortable with teaching technology in a potentially new way? Do you have the necessary equipment? Make a checklist and build a plan to train staff, find or buy new equipment, and get ready to roll out the new library service.

Who is Learning & Why?

All good design starts with people. Consider the amount of time that goes into designing a new library service. Each new service must align with the mission of your library and meet the changing needs of the community. As technology grows exponentially faster and digital skills update quickly, libraries need new ways to understand and meet the growing technology needs of the community. Luckily, while tech seems to change overnight, people still hold the same values and care about the same things.

Technology only matters when it supports a person’s values and solves a relevant problem in life. If you value family and financial security, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets will help you build a budget and spend money on things that make your family healthy and strong. Technology is a tool that helps people accomplish life goals. Start with the problems people care about and work backwards to find the tech tools that can really help.

This first module is all about finding what matters to people. When you understand what makes people do the things they do, it becomes easier to design and market library services that fit into people’s lives. You will also be able to evaluate new technology based on interests, life goals, and the problems people need to solve to make life better.


Sections

The Who is Learning & Why module has been broken down into these cumulative phases to help you understand and prioritize what people need most.

User Experience 101

Learn the basics of UX research as it applies to library services in this course.

Learn More
Find What Matters

Choose techniques to discover what people prioritize and care about in life.

Learn More
Guide the Design

Summarize user groups in reference sheets to focus on what matters during design.

Learn More

User Experience 101

User Experience (UX) as a career and field of study is rapidly expanding. In a nutshell, “UX is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant user experiences” (Interaction Design Foundation). This approach helps build a solid understanding of what people want out of life and why they do the things they do. With an understanding of what people need most, it will be easier to choose a delivery format and design a service that fits the flow of everyday life.

UX has been used to design products, physical spaces, educational courses, websites, apps, processes, systems, and more. All these products can be found in libraries. In this course, we will be designing library services to connect people with relevant technology and digital skills. Library services can include anything from a set of resources on the library website, the room layout and agenda for an in-person workshop, or lesson design for one-on-one training.

According to UX Planet, all UX design is generally divided into these iterative phases:

  • Understand: Understand what people care about enough to take action. What is the most pressing problem?
  • Research: Find out who else is working on these problems. How can you help?
  • Sketch: Brainstorm and flesh out ideas. Test with real people when possible.
  • Design: Prototype and build a potential product designed to solve the problem
  • Implement: Put your new product out into the world. Fix the things that break.
  • Test: How well did your solution meet the needs of the user? Focus on continuous improvement.

Different UX research methods are used during different stages of the process. The “Who is Learning & Why” module of this course will focus on user research techniques to identify new market segments, define user needs and understand behaviors. The results will be summarized in personas and other UX-friendly reference documents to guide the design process.

Later stages of this course will dig deeper into the Research, Sketch, Design, Implement, and Test stages of UX design where we will explore techniques to make sure the library service is meeting user needs. For now, you can get started with the “Find What” section to lay a solid foundation for design.

Resources to Learn More About UX Design




Find What Matters Overview

Aladdin was once granted three wishes from a genie in a bottle. He wished to be a prince and wound up navigating a sea of political espionage. Did Aladdin really think through being a prince? Deep down he really wanted to get out of poverty, but was he aware of other alternatives to attain financial security?

The Genie approach proves that surveys don’t always work. People don’t always have the right information to know what they want when asked directly. What if Genie had made observations and asked better questions to help Aladdin uncover the wishes that match his values and true needs in life? This is a wish that can be granted by libraries.

Surveys are useful for pointing you in the right direction to ask better questions. For example, a survey might indicate that people want to learn about Facebook, but why do people need Facebook? Are people seeking a connection to friends and family, or a better way to market their small business? Do they really need Facebook, or is Zoom better for human connection in their world? It’s important to talk to people to learn more.

This section introduces a variety of UX research techniques to identify relevant life goals, values, and what people care about. Understanding people will lay the groundwork for articulating the right problems and designing the best solution. While this course centers on technology and digital skills, feel free to ignore technology completely at this stage. Focusing on technology first can build tunnel-vision and prevent us from uncovering the people, problems areas, and values that matter most in your community.

Luckily there are a plethora of creative ways to dig deep and put people first. The section below offers a variety of UX research options, ranging from Conversation formats to a Card Sorting approach to visually prioritize life goals, values, career options, problem areas, and more.

As you sift through and choose your preferred techniques, consider these open-ended questions that can be used across contexts and research techniques:

  • What keeps you up at night? What worries you?
  • What are your top priorities in life right now?
  • How are you feeling about your current _____ situtation? (Work, relationship, education, transportation, income, health, etc.)
  • What are your goals in life right now? What are you prioritizing?
  • What are your top five values? (Open-ended question or choose from list)
  • What are the obstacles you face in achieving your goals?
  • What are the biggest areas of growth and opportuniity in your life right now?
  • Are there any areas at home/work/life that you would like to improve?
  • How do you measure success at home/work/life?
  • Which problems cause the most stress at home/work/life?

People’s needs and values should be reflected at every stage of library service design and marketing. With that in mind, start exploring the techniques!




UX Research Techniques in the Library

Choose one or more methods from this list to start uncovering what people really need. This process will start broad to allow for creative brainstorming, then narrow focus to choose a target audience and specific problem area.

  • Day in the Life: Map out what people face on a daily basis. How people spend their time can reveal what’s most important. Which obstacles do people run into on a daily basis? Where does learning fit in a person’s schedule? Get to know people.
  • Problem Prioritization: Brainstorm a list of problems people are facing on a daily basis. Rank them from 1-10 based on how important the problem is to solve. The higher the rank, the more likely people are to access services to find a solution. Talk to people!
  • What’s Your Story?: The stories people share and read reveal what’s most important to them right now. Learn community values and life goals during book discussions and writing groups. What does your favorite character say about you? Who are you?
  • Community Conversations: Uncover the problems that bring people together in a Community Conversation. These events can be casual on a daily basis, or an invitation-only event to reach a target audience. Record the results to inform design.
  • Reference Interview: When people come in with a question, start asking about which events brought them in and how they are going to use these resources in context. Maintain privacy, but try to gather the information you need to help effectively.
  • Card Sorting: Keep a set of cards on hand as a tool to help people prioritize what’s important to them. This can be used for setting values, choosing technology categories, prioritizing life goals and more. Ask people to sort the cards based on importance.
  • Question Tracking: Make a running list of questions asked at the front desk, phone, and online. Use this to inform the types of services and resources offered in the library. When possible, track compelling user stories and context as well as topic categories.
  • Field Studies: Get out there and walk a mile in another person’s shoes. Find out how people live life and how technology fits into their lived experience. Do the work yourself, or work with local partner organizations to share market/ user research.

Resources to Learn More About UX Research Methods




Guide the Design Overview

In the previous section you explored methods to go out into the world and find what matters to different demographics in your community. You may have collected information through a variety of sources, so your notes might feel a bit scattered.

In this section we will put the pieces together in formats that will help you throughout the design process. You will also begin narrowing focus to a specific audience and area of greatest need. You don’t have to use all of the format options listed in this section, just choose the ones you feel would be most helpful. All of these options can either be done using physical pen and paper, or online using free or low-cost tools.

The resources in this section are separated into two categories. The Guiding Design Resources section will serve as a reference point to guide your decisions and ensure that you are designing services that meet people where they are at in daily life.

The Narrowing Focus Resources section will be used to further narrow focus to a demographic, set of demographics, and/or problem area of your chosen demographic. Your scope will still be relatively broad by the end of this section.

Guiding Design Resources

  • Persona: Summarize what people face on a daily basis, what motivates them to get things done, and what people want in life. Refer back to this sheet as you choose problems areas where the library can help. Look at the whole person in your design.
  • Day in the Life: Walk through a day in the life of people in your community. Use this worksheet to ground your design in the reality of the lived experience. Refer back to this as you choose resources and learning options to be used out in the real world.
  • Tell Their Story: Challenge yourself to write a story from the perspective of your target demographic. Place yourself in different situations and imagine what you would do in different scenarios. You can also build short videos or PowerPoints if that is more your thing.
  • Empathy Mapping: Good design relies on empathy to understand how people think, feel and react in different situations. Use the information you collected to imagine people in different contexts as they learn new tech. Make design decisions based on the whole human.
  • Inspiration Board/ Collage: Put together poster board collages or digital boards with images, art, books, quotes and keywords that relate to your target demographics or problem areas. Use this as a visual guide to stay on track and align decisions with grounded emotion and human need.

Narrowing Focus Resources

  • Shared Problem Board: Post a curated, anonymous problem board in the library, or online and let people tell you what they really need. Library staff, students, and all members of the community can recommend solutions. The best way to find out what matters is to ask and share openly.
  • Post-It Brainstorming: Find an open wall and start sticking post-it notes with demographics or problem areas. Do a brain dump of everything you gathered, then organize the post-its into categories. Example categories include: motivations, problems, challenges, existing resources, etc.
  • Mind Mapping: Pick a topic, dump your thoughts on paper, then process the information to find patterns and areas of greatest need. This visual mapping tool lets you build branches to connect the dots between ideas. Try this to map demographics and problem areas.
  • Asset Mapping: Choose an area of focus based on the resources that are available and what library staff are comfortable tackling. Start mapping out people’s strengths and available resources. Expand your definition of what is possible, then choose a topic of interest.

What's the Problem?

Everybody has problems. Both big and small, we all face problems at home, work, school and everywhere in between. In the library, we want to identify the problems that are important enough to learn and take action, and develop resources and library services that complement the flow of everyday life.

In this section you will pair the UX research you completed in the “Who is Learning & Why” module of this course with some techniques to brainstorm and narrow focus to a specific problem, like finding a job, providing tech help to seniors, or helping the homeless. Most problems can be broken down into bite-size pieces to identify specific ways in which the library can help. The ultimate goal is to frame an actionable problem the library can help solve.

With simple problems, like password and account safety, the library will be able to provide the full solution. With more complex problems like career exploration, the library will have to work with partners to map out a full-scale solution to the problem at hand. The key to the whole process is to focus energy on the problems that matter most, and explore tech that can help. This is where the UX research can guide decisions.

Sections

The ‘What's the Problem‘ module has been broken down into these sections to help guide you through the process:

  • Problem Exploration: Explore several examples of common problems as inspiration for your own library. Build a problem statement to narrow focus.
  • Break It Down: Break the problem down into bite-size pieces. Start brainstorming areas in which the library can help.
  • Technology Toolbox: Explore examples of how technology can help solve common problem areas. What is the role of the library?

Problem Exploration

The ultimate goal is to frame a problem statement that is relevant to your target audience, narrow enough to be feasible, and pressing enough to be solved immediately. The initial UX research covered a broad range of needs and topics to help ideas flow and build a representation of the human experience, including life goals, motivation, worries, frustrations, and the people who can help.

At this stage, you will explore examples of problems that matter to broaden scope and make sure you choose the right problem(s) on which to focus. The combined understanding of people and problems will help the library contribute to a solution that fits into the everyday flow of life.

There are two steps to this process:

  1. Choose a method to explore problems
  2. Frame a problem statement using the worksheet

Problem Exploration Methods

Choose a method from this list, or customize your own option to brainstorm a wide range of potential problem areas. Add these problems into your UX research documents to build out the life story of your target demographic(s).

Digital Skills Clusters

These problem areas are all directly related to technology and digital skills. Sift through these questions that frequently arise when faced with common problems in daily life. As you find relevant problems, add them to your chosen UX research documents.

Sustainable Development Goals

These goals identified by the United Nations represent the major problem areas faced by everyone on the planet. Explore the problem areas and identify what resonates most with your target demographic. Add relevant problems into your UX research documents.

Community Conversations

Host a conversation with your target demographic. Use open-ended questions to uncover relevant problems. The fun part is that people don’t always realize or accept they are facing a problem until they find out others share their pain and can help.

Shared Problem Board

Continuously gather and share problems on a moderated problem board. This board can either be online or in a physical location. Share market research with local nonprofits and businesses to understand problems where people need the most help.

Strategic Plans

Many nonprofits publicly display their strategic plans. Most businesses state their target market and approach on their website. Sift through strategic plans to identify and focus on target markets and problems areas. Keep these organizations in mind as partners!

Lived Experience

You interact with people everyday. Many share their problems and seek information to explore curiosities and get through the day. Talk to library staff, volunteers, advocates, and people at all levels of the organization. What do they know that you don’t?

Frame the Problem

Now that you have explored every possible problem, it’s time to choose one. Narrow focus to an area in which the library can help, or partner with other organizations to contribute to a solution. As you decide, consider these questions:

  1. Which problems are library staff comfortable with addressing?
  2. Do you have any existing partnerships and networks working in this space?
  3. Are staff already familiar with this problem area and related skills?
  4. How much time and resources are available for staff to learn new skills?
  5. How wide-spread of a problem is this? How large is the affected population?
  6. Can you direct people to other resources/ organizations rather than developing something from scratch?
  7. Are you developing the full solution, or a segment of the solution? Who can help?
  8. Is this a permanent or temporary service offering in the library?

Answering these questions will help you choose a feasible problem in which the library can readily help. Make sure you choose a problem that will not take an excessive amount of time to develop and train for staff, or that you can count on volunteer aid.

Depending on the amount of time and energy needed to develop the new service and train staff, try to choose a problem that affects a large group of people. For example, if you are helping provide resources to start a new business, how many new business-owners are you likely to serve? Can you leverage resources from other organizations to reduce the time and resources necessary to get up and running?

If you are providing resource packs to parents of teens and tweens, how large is the population? Are there other organizations helping to solve these problems? Make sure you are not competing with an established provider. When possible, work with others rather than competing for market share.

Try to prioritize and devote more time to problems that face a large population. It’s important to reach everyone, but some audiences are naturally more difficult to reach and you may get low attendance for a resource-heavy project. It helps to partner with others to decrease the amount of time and resources necessary to reach people.

Please keep the answers handy for later in the process as you choose the best solution to fit the need.

Methods to Frame the Problem

After answering the initial framing questions, use one of these methods to start framing your problem statements. These methods are adapted from what start-up businesses use since both libraries and startups are trying to test ideas quickly to not waste valuable time and resources. You might not be selling anything, but you’re still making a product to meet a need.

As you progress through the process of developing your library service, some plans will inevitably fall through. Come up with at least three problem statements to explore. You might have some blank spaces at this stage of the game. Fill in your full pitch as you go through this course.

One Sentence Pitch Madlibs

You’ll probably talk about your idea a lot when trying to gather support and test out different things. This fill-in-the-blank worksheet adapted from the Founder’s Institute will help you distill your project into a one-sentence problem statement and “elevator pitch”.

The Five Whys

Asking why is a simple yet powerful way to dig into the details of a problem and how the library can help. The 5 Whys is a method for Root Cause Analysis and was invented by Toyota. Fill in the worksheet to identify real root causes to address the right problem.

Project Pitch Slides or Video

Guy Kawasaki is amazing at drilling down to the most vital parts of a project idea. Use a template from Canva to research and formulate your plan. Explain it to as many people as you can to hone your idea and make sure you’re addressing needs effectively.

Break Down Problems

When you choose a larger problem topic, it helps to break that problem down into smaller chunks, or steps necessary to address the problem. Some steps or areas of the problems will be addressed by partner organizations while others will be handled directly by the library.

Understanding the root cause(s) of these problems can be extremely helpful in designing the best solution. The ultimate goal is to design a full-service system that addresses all areas of the problem.

The resources in this section address these goals:

  • Break it Down: Understand the process and break it into chunks or steps
  • Root Causes: Understand the root cause of why this is a problem
  • Partners: Identify potential partners and uncover your own strengths

In the next module, we will start exploring ways to address the problem through library services, or train staff to understand and handle partner resources.

Break It Down

The best way to break a problem down into smaller chunks or manageable steps is through process mapping. Start asking the right questions to understand the various entry points and decisions necessary to work through the problem. Use the UX research you gathered to anchor yourself in the lived experience.

Example: Job Searches

  1. Decide which jobs to pursue
  • Career exploration
  • Map existing skills & interests
  • Which jobs are available?
  • Set job search criteria and preferences
  1. Explore yourself
  • What are your interests & skills?
  • Which jobs exist and are they for you?
  • What are you willing to try?
  • What job settings/ environments work for you?
  • What is your past experience?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
  • Do you know what exists?
  1. Build new skills
  • Identify what you need to know
  • Which skills can transfer to a new job?
  • Find learning resources
  • Learn. Practice. Certify.
  1. Apply for jobs
  • Locate job application portals
  • Research companies
  • Prepare resume & cover letters
  • Fill out online applications
  • Track completed submissions
  • Follow-up as needed
  1. Networking
  • Attend local job fairs
  • Attend professional development events
  • Join LinkedIn/ Social media groups
  • Join interest groups
  1. Interview Process
  • Learn interview etiquette
  • Research job roles
  • Learn interview tools for phone or virtual interview (as needed)
  • Interview follow-up Email
  1. Accepting job
  • Call or email to accept position
  • Fill out necessary paperwork
  1. Repeat as necessary

When you have the full process charted out, start considering the areas in which the library can help, and where you can connect people to an existing solution. Dig deeper into your areas of choice to identify the major pain points and root causes of issues faced by your target demographic.

Choose an option from this list to start breaking the problem into smaller chunks or steps in a process, and identifying root causes to identify the best solution.

Breaking Problems Into Steps

Technology Toolbox

You can only connect people with technology if you know that technology exists. Too much technology exists to be able to pay attention to everything. That is why we narrow focus to people and specific problem topics, then search for the right tech. Not every problem requires technology as part of the solution. Sometimes people help more.

In this section you will explore examples of how different technology tools can help solve the common problems mentioned in the “Problem Exploration” section covered at the start of this module.

After reviewing examples and pulling the resources that are most relevant to you, start building a checklist to evaluate new technology to determine how well it solves the problem for your target audience.

Explore Tech Tools

The examples of tech solutions below are organized based on whether they are Digital Tools like websites, software, and apps, or High Tech like sensors, drones, or robots. Depending upon personal preference, you might choose from one or both categories.

Digital Tools

Digital Skills Clusters: This curated collection of websites, apps, and online resources will help you tackle these common problem categories:

These categories will be added within the next several months:

  • Computers & Devices for Beginners
  • Financial Planning & Banking Online
  • Health & Wellness Tools
  • Online Calendars & Time Management
  • Homeschool Resources

High Tech

High Tech for Makerspaces & the Future of Work

This collection of pages will help you learn about the technology that is shaping the future, and explore examples of how this tech is solving real problems in the world. Here are the categories of tech currently available in the resource collection:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual Reality
  • Drones

How Do People Learn?

There is often a drastic difference between how people learn in the classroom, and how the skills are practiced in real life. For example, job seekers may come into the library to learn interviewing skills, but they will likely not be in the library during the interview.

The goal for this section is to more deeply understand how and where people are using the digital and technology skills they want to learn, and explore tools and methods to connect people with the skills they need in real life. This section will help you design a better learning experience that fits the flow of people’s everyday lives.

We will continue to draw upon the UX research that was completed in the first step. You may choose to add more research methods as you design the full learning experience.


Sections

To help guide the design process, the “How Do People Learn” module has been broken into these smaller sections:

  1. How People Learn: Understand the basics of how people progress through the stages of learning new digital and technology skills.
  2. When & Where: To design an effective experience, understand where people use their skills and when people realistically have time to learn.
  3. Learning in the Library: Explore common ways people can learn using library resources. Includes in-person, online, and hybrid learning.
  4. Teaching Tools & Resources: Build your teaching toolbox using this menu of activities and recommended tools for educators.


How People Learn

For those who are unfamiliar with instructional design, this section will provide a basic understanding of how people learn and build habits. You don’t need to know everything under the sun, but please explore these topics as a primer for the rest of this section:

The Four Stages of Learning a New Skill

According to Noel Burch who originated the stages, people pass through four main stages when learning any new skill:

  1. Unconsciously Unskilled: The learner is unfamiliar with the topic and doesn’t know what to learn or why.
  2. Consciously Skilled: The learner has a basic understanding of the topic and can identify what to learn next and why.
  3. Consciously Skilled: The learner is experimenting and practicing the new skill, but requires great effort to get it right.
  4. Unconsciously Skilled: The new skill has become second nature and requires little effort. New skills can be added at this point.

In the library, try to pay attention as people pass through these stages. You can see an example in the “Learning in the Library” section. Some learners might arrive at the library right in the middle of this process, while others are completely new to the topic. Providing the same course materials to all learners, regardless of skill will turn people off and make them seek other sources.

Learning materials that are too difficult for the current learning stage can also make people give up, or reinforce the idea that technology is not for them. Engaging, skill-appropriate activities are chosen to adequately challenge the learner and help them progress through these stages.

Learn more from Noel Burch, who originated the Four Stages of Learning Any New Skill.

Assessments

In adult education, assessments are used to determine the starting point of a learner, help identify areas for growth, and build a learning path forward. Assessments can take the form of multiple choice tests, practice activities, certification practice exams, proctored exams, or other formats.

At heart, assessments are agreed-upon benchmarks or sets of criteria used to demonstrate a learner is ready to progress, or has reached the desired competency. In the library, we have to determine who should be setting the benchmark. Who is the trusted authority setting the standard to which learners must comply?

Assessments and preferred materials can vary based upon context, and are often determined using intake forms or reference interviews in the library. Based upon the context in which the learner will use these skills, the library might choose materials geared towards specific workplace criteria, practice exams for specific certification, or create custom assessments.

Try to agree upon assessment criteria to ensure the chosen materials will help the learner reach their goal, and that you choose skill-appropriate materials.

Adult Learning Principles

As you consider the skills people are learning, and how to assess the skills-progression, keep Malcolm Knowles’ Principles of Adult Learning in mind:

  1. The learning is self-directed: Adult learners tend to learn by example. Model the best practices, help them get the lay of the land, then act as a guide as the learner chooses the best way to learn.
  2. The learning is experiential and utilizes background knowledge: Adults have been around the block. They naturally tie new information into what they know. Try to relate the new skills to everyday life or past experience.
  3. Relevance of Materials: Adults don’t learn if they don’t care. What do people care about and how will these skills help? Remind adults of relevance often.
  4. Problem-Centered Instruction: Find out what people are directly facing and customize learning activities to reflect real problems. Make people care.
  5. Motivation to Learn: It’s easy not to show up. Adults learn when they choose to learn and are ready to make the effort. Find and reiterate their reason for being.

Read ThoughtCo’s more in-depth article on the 5 Principles for the Teacher of Adults, with related video if you would like to learn more.

Study Habits & Finding Time

The more difficult the task, the more learners will have to concentrate and make time to learn. This may mean changing study habits, improving time-management skills, or learning how to learn as an adult. Learning is also a skill!

Here are some resources to learn more:

Chunking

Breaking information down into bite-size chunks can help people schedule blocks of time to learn and prevent information overload. Offering a one-hour long video lecture is harder to tackle than a grouping of six ten minute lectures. Logically, learners can watch a section of the longer video, then pause and come back to it when they have time. In practice, people tend to watch a bit, look at their to-do list and never return.

The shorter pieces also allow people to take a break and process the information while they work on other things. You would be surprised what kind of mental connections you can make while doing the dishes or riding your bike.

Chunking can be done with both videos and written content. Consider how this paragraph started on a new line. Avoiding long paragraphs and placing new ideas and concepts in its own paragraph helps people process, learn and remember information. Pairing the information with a relevant graphic can also improve understanding and retention of the content. This is what you can look for when choosing resources.

Ultimately, course completion is up to the adult learner. However, instructional designers can encourage completion by providing information that is logically organized, sequences information to build up to more complex skills, and uses activities that are challenging but not overwhelming.

Learn More: What Research Tells Us About Chunking Content (eLearning Industry)

Cognitive Overload

When too much information is presented at one time, the brain shuts down and we stop processing new content. Consider the last all-day training you attended. If the content was engaging and relevant, you may have retained more. However, after a certain time period, mental fatigue kicks in and new information is lost.

Chunking content can prevent cognitive overload. So can the design of learning experiences in the library. Lecture based instruction and one-sided webinars with little time for internal processing are not always incredibly effective. Instead, consider a workshop that is chunked out into segments. Talk for about 10-20 minutes, then allow students to complete an activity to process the information. Discuss the results, take a break, then repeat the chunking pattern throughout the workshop. That alternating ‘learn and do’ chunking system lets people process, learn and practice.

At the end of any learning experience, make sure each learner feels equipped with a plan to complete their study independently. Provide a clear path to level up on the path to skills acquisition. Learners can also be overloaded by having to figure out a workable learning path on their own with little free time for research, trial and error.

For specific tips on formatting material, try these 8 Ways Content Chunking Can Help You Avoid Cognitive Overload (eLearning Industry)

Motivation & Rewards

With busy schedules and a variety of problems competing for time, it can be difficult to keep learners motivated while learning new skills. Try these resources to learn more:

Practice & Reinforcement

When people choose to learn a new skill, the real work happens outside the ‘classroom’. Quite often, an educator can’t be sitting next to the person for life, guiding and motivating every step of the way. Though it would be nice sometimes.

Instead, adults of all ages go out into the world to practice and explore their new skills. We all know that people want to learn new skills on relevant problems, but finding problems that are skill-appropriate and useful in everyday life can be a challenge. Frequently, aspiring learners give up because the examples and exercises provided are too boring, too hard, or just plain impractical. One size does not fit all.

Educators can help students of all ages and experience levels break these tasks down into smaller chunks and explore alternative resources to level up their experience. If you are curating learning resources, choose resources that reward progress through badge systems, incremental completion tracking, or practical certifications. These are visual cues that provide natural stopping points and external motivation.

When the initial workshop, online course, or set of resources ends, try to guide the learner to work through additional, real-world practice scenarios relevant to their skill of choice. These additional learning experiences are what make skills second-nature.

Learn More


When & Where

Learning experiences should closely mimic the environment in which the skills are going to be used. This means choosing methods of instruction, practice activities, and additional resources that can be used throughout the skill-building process. To help learners progress, it also helps to understand when a learner can feasibly fit learning into their schedule, and what motivates them to keep going.

The answers to these questions are in your UX research. Refer to the materials you put together and ask more questions to learn this information:

  1. What is your goal?
  2. Which skills do you need to learn to reach your goal?
  3. Are you already familiar with any of these skills, or are you a complete beginner?
  4. How will you know you have succeeded? (Behaviors, events, achievements, etc.)
  5. When will you learn these skills? What is your learning schedule?
  6. Do you report progress to anyone? (Employers, schools, groups, friends, etc.)
  7. How and where will you use these skills in real life?
  8. How important is it to learn these skills? Why are you learning?
  9. What are the potential barriers to learning? (Short on time, budget, etc.)
  10. How will you hold yourself accountable for progress?
  11. What is your motivation to learn? Do you have a support system?
  12. Are other people influencing the learning and skills development decisions? How? Do you update your skills criteria based on outside input?

In some cases, you might ask these questions directly. At other times, learners may not have fully thought through their end goals and what success looks like after learning. Experiment with open-ended questions during reference interviews and make educated guesses based on your UX research.

The answers to these questions will help you design a better experience for the learner using whichever teaching method and activities you choose later in this section.


Learning in the Library

The truth is that learning happens everywhere. When people check out a book, grab a handout, take notes during a speaker event, or use any number of library resources, the actual learning and practice of new skills happens out in the wild. This is why we design learning experiences for the real world.

This section asks you to dig deep and fully consider how people use library resources to progress through the stages of learning their chosen skill. The “Teaching Tools, Methods & Activities” section will explore a menu of common teaching methods and resources in the library. With practice, you can choose the best method to suit the needs of the learner. Everyone is starting at a different skill level for designing an effective learning experience in the library.

But first, it’s helpful to look at the example of an adult using library resources to progress through the stages of learning new skills. Let’s use the example of learning Zoom to connect with friends and family:

Example: Adult Learning Zoom (Beginner)

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

The learner recently learned Zoom existed and would allow him to video chat with his daughter who lives out of state. He is homebound so he called a librarian to learn more about Zoom. He has no idea what the platform looks like or which skills are needed. He simply asks “What is Zoom? Will it let me talk to my daughter online?”

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

The librarian explains what Zoom is and sends a Zoom invitation to his email. The link prompts him to download Zoom and the librarian walks him through setting up the account. With the librarian on the phone, he feels confident that he can use Zoom to talk to his daughter. However, when he tries to open Zoom again, he realizes he has no idea how to start a new session or connect to his daughter. He also lost the chat button.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

The learner decided to call the librarian again to learn more about Zoom. He wants to know how to go from start to finish in starting a session, learning the right features, and ending the call. The librarian helps him make a list of skills to learn. She formats it like a checklist and starts finding tutorials, cheat sheets and infographics that will help him learn these skills. Together, they discuss different ways he can practice these skills with his daughter so he can conduct Zoom calls independently. He has a clear learning plan. At first, he has to check the tutorials repeatedly to complete the tasks, but it lets him see his daughter once a week.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

The learner continues to practice Zoom with his daughter and some friends. He explores other tutorials on his own and learns new features, adding to his list of skills. He can now switch between virtual backgrounds and give himself a moustache at will. He no longer has to use the tutorials to complete individual tasks. He knows Zoom well.

Translate to Library Service

With the Zoom example in mind, go back to the questions in the “When & Where” section. Answer these questions on behalf of the learner in this scenario. Consider how the answers to those questions may have informed the resources and decisions made by the librarian in this scenario.

Let’s look at a few assumptions design examples from the perspective of the librarian:

  1. The man is learning Zoom to connect to his daughter via video chat. From there, the librarian can start chunking the process and building a set of basic skills.
  2. Since the man asked what Zoom is, it’s safe to say he is a complete beginner.
  3. The man will practice with real people outside of the library. A set of cheat sheets, quick reference guides, and infographics are helpful in real time.
  4. The man was able to access his email and download the software without assistance, so he has at least basic computer and web navigation skills.
  5. The man only needs access to the bare bones basics, along with resources to learn more based on interest. He is self-directed after initial exposure.
  6. The man called in over the phone and was homebound, so instruction options were limited. Over the phone, email or remote access to the PC are common.
  7. One-on-One training was best since he had a specific goal in mind.
  8. The librarian was able to provide a clear path towards learning, along with resources to learn effectively. Practice came through real Zoom calls.
  9. The librarian had the option to provide practice sessions through Zoom training sessions if the man got stuck during practice. Phone calls were also an option.
  10. The man had a clear visual of success: he is able to independently conduct a Zoom call, from start to finish. The moustache was an added bonus.
  11. The librarian prevented information overload by curating resources tied to specific sub-skills, rather than a large bank of information to wade through.
  12. The resources chosen used clean design, offered bite-size information, and had clear routes for practicing the skill. Generally by following videos.


Teaching Tools, Methods & Activities

In the Zoom example from the previous section, the librarian had a relatively clear choice of one-on-one training over the phone. The fact that the learner was homebound, was already comfortable on a computer, and had a clear goal in mind all contributed to that instruction method.

However, there are several methods of instruction available to library staff and volunteers. This section is going to cover some common options for connecting learners with technology and digital skills resources, and a variety of learning activities that can be used within these methods.


Methods of Instruction in the Library

Here are some common ways to connect learners with skills and resources, all of which can be done in-peron, online, or in a hybrid in-person/ online format:

The selection of an instruction method is going to be determined by these factors:

  • Goal of the learner
  • Number of learners interested in topic
  • Skill level of learners
  • Stage of skills development
  • Level of interest & need for the skill
  • Available staff resources (time & staff in library)
  • Available teaching tools & resources
  • Existing and potential partnerships

Here are some examples of why these criteria are important in practice:

  • Group training works well for beginners to learn the basics of a topic. When learners have a wide range of pre-existing goals for learning, it is difficult to choose relevant examples for every need, at every skill level.
  • If you host a TED talk, group training, or Community Conversation for a topic only a handful of people are interested in learning, engagement and attendance can be low, or non-existent.
  • Curated resource packs and materials should reflect the skill of the learner. Many learners have already googled the topic. If you hand them the same results they found on Google, they are unlikely to return or see the library as a resource.
  • Try to package and customize information to the specific goals and motivation of the learner. Helping learners transfer learning directly to their context and finding heavily tailored results proves the value of the librarian.
  • Understanding the goals and motivation of the learner can build trust and make people go to you rather than the internet.
  • If there is a small group of individuals with similar goals and skill-levels, offer a custom workshop, facilitated Community Conversation of meeting space.
  • Offer infographics and handouts at different skills levels for popular topics. Access to resources that help people identify their starting point and level up is invaluable to the learner.

Navigating online resources can be overwhelming at all stages of the learning process. Sit with the learner to help them talk through a starting point, articulate goals, and build a learning plan. Consider both online and local resources to connect the learner with real-world practice options to hone skills along the way.


Examples for Skills Progression

Learners learn everywhere, using any means necessary. There are a variety of entry points into the skills-development process, and each entry point has different activities suited to the task at hand. Here are some examples:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence: Focus on introductory & exploratory events where learners can gain exposure to the topic and make sure they are learning the right skill.

  • Technology Petting Zoo
  • Workshop for Beginners
  • Group Training for Beginners
  • TED Talk Event
  • Community Conversation
  • Curated Resource Pack
  • Book & Resource Displays
  • Video Tutorials
  • Makerspace Exploration
  • Introductory Infographics
  • Career Fairs

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence: Help learners articulate their goals, motivation, context, and true needs for learning a new skill.

  • Reference Interview
  • One-on-One Training
  • Small Group Training
  • Curated Resource Pack
  • Readers’ Advisory
  • Custom Maker Activities
  • Refer to partner

Stage 3: Conscious Competence- Stage 4: Consciously Skills: Learners are more self-directed at these stages. Some may not actively use library services, others may come in for specific questions.

  • Access to technology tools
  • Access to databases
  • Access to Maker Culture
  • Internet Access
  • Ideas & Inspiration: Books, videos, displays, infographics, etc.
  • Learning Community
  • Social Motivation


Teaching Tools for Activities

Within each of the methods above, there are separate learning activities and ways to practice a growing set of skills. Try this curated collection of Online Teaching Tools to enhance activities in-person, online, and in hybrid or blended learning environments.

That collection is great if you are developing your own instruction. Many library staff members will be curating learning resources or partnering with education providers. As you create or choose the best resources, consider the ways in which people learn most effectively so you can connect learners with what works.

Try these resources to brainstorm and learn which methods and activities work best:

Find Partners & Gather Resources

Course materials will be made available by July 14 or earlier.

Please register for the Teaching Technology in the Library Webinar Series to learn more about the materials in this section. A recording will be available through NCompass Live after the webinar.

Prepare Staff & Materials

Course materials will be made available by July 14 or earlier.

Please register for the Teaching Technology in the Library Webinar Series to learn more about the materials in this section. A recording will be available through NCompass Live after the webinar.

Marketing & Follow-Up

Course materials will be made available by July 28 or earlier.

Please register for the Teaching Technology in the Library Webinar Series to learn more about the materials in this section. A recording will be available through NCompass Live after the webinar.