Connected Courses MOOC and #oclmooc: The “Why” of Connections, Collaboration, and Learning  

September 15, 2014

Various learners often walk away from learning opportunities with tremendously different results and rewards. And that’s certainly going to be the case in two new connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses)—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) open to trainer-teacher-learners worldwide. That each-learner-his/her-own-reward outcome is one of the many strengths this sort of innovative, high-engagement learning opportunity provides: we grow with colleagues within dynamic global communities of learning; we set and achieve our own learning goals; and we emerge from the experience as better, more empathetic facilitators of learning.

ccourses_logoThis is a world where the concept of “failure” is left behind and the idea that learning is documented in positive ways (e.g., badging or points for achievements) changes the way we approach our work, author-educator Cathy Davidson reminded us during the live online panel discussion that formally opened #ccourses earlier this afternoon. Panel moderator Michael Wesch was (virtually) right there beside her with his mention of providing “not-yet” grades so his learners know that they haven’t failed—they “just haven’t gotten there yet!”

It’s a lesson that resonates for me, for I’ve spend considerable time with on-the-job adult learners who enter their learning spaces fearing that their presence in “training” is the precursor to losing their jobs (because they lack essential skills). Reminding them that their employers are paying my colleagues and me to help them gain skills needed so they can continue working is the essential first step in lowering their stress levels and facilitating the learning successes that benefit them, their employers, and the customers and clients they ultimately will continue serving.

Listening to Davidson, Wesch, and their co-panelist Randy Bass address a series of thought-provoking questions that would resonate with any inquisitive trainer-teacher-learner (e.g., what is to be taught, how should something be learned, and why should a particular subject or skill be learned?)—and simultaneously interacting with other learners via Twitter—provided what Davidson cited as one of the many benefits of connected learning: all of us had plenty of time during that stimulating online session to reflect on the “why” behind the learning we facilitate, and we left the session encouraged to engage in additional reflection (via this sort of blog article as well as through online interactions that help us, sooner than later, to use what we are learning).

It was also, for anyone who took time to dive into some of the course readings and videos before attending the live online session, an opportunity to experience the flipped classroom model of learning and also viscerally see how expansive (and potentially overwhelming) learning in a connected-learning environment can be.

Watching Wesch’s 33-minute “Why We Need a ‘Why?’” video lecture just before the live session began this afternoon, for example, nicely teed up the topic for me and prepared me to better use the live (virtual) classroom time to more deeply engage with others during the session. His taped video lecture, in turn, led me to another of the posted class materials—the fabulous “This is Water” video excerpt from writer-educator David Foster Wallace’s  commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College in 2005; it includes the poignant and powerful reminder that “the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted” is that we “get to consciously decide what has real meaning and what doesn’t.” Davidson’s live-session mention of how her Duke University courses include opportunities for learners to go well beyond the traditional setting of closed/private-classroom discussions to include projects open to online interactions with those not formally enrolled in her courses carries us over to an article she wrote as part of a course project with her learners: “How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples,” from one group of learners’ course project (a full-length online book, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies). It makes us wonder why more of us involved in on-the-job adult learning don’t encourage learners to produce learning objects (e.g., simple work samples or more ambitious on-the-job manuals from which others can learn) as part of their learning process. This could be a digital-era variation on an each-one-teach-one approach that brings tremendous rewards for everyone involved.

Bass’s live-session observations round out the picture: they entice us into continuing our connected learning experience by reading his article “Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education,” from the March/April 2012 issue of EDUCAUSE Review, and learning more about the evolving nature of our basic assumptions about what a course is and how team-based learning (where “…the instructor is no longer at the center. Instead, the course and student learning are at the center, surrounded by all these other players [teaching center staff, technology staff, librarians, and others] at the table”) is creating levels of engagement that might provide additional rewards for everyone involved in the training-teaching-learning process.

It’s enough to make our heads spin. But we’re too deeply immersed and appreciative to overlook some of the key repercussions here. These connectivist MOOCs draw us into learning that meets our current learning needs. They help us understand the value of online communities of learning by making us members of engaged online communities of learning. They offer us as many learning pathways as we care to explore, and they put us virtually face-to-face with learning facilitators, mentors, colleagues, and other learners we would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet.

oclmooc_logoAs those of us who are learners in #ccourses and trainer-teacher-learners in #oclmooc begin (or continue) to interact not only within the formal learning environments of weekly interactive sessions but also through synchronous and asynchronous interactions over a variety of platforms including blogs and Twitter and Google+ communities (as well as between the two MOOCs and other communities of learning), the real connections themselves and the learning itself will continue providing the compelling “why?” that brings us all together in ways that will better serve learners worldwide.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC: The World as Our Learning Space

September 5, 2014

Diving into two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOC) this month, I am learning to pay more attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving.

Each of the MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) originally started by a group of educators in Alberta and now expanding rapidly to include trainer-teacher-learners worldwide—offers me a different learning opportunity.

ccourses_logoIn #ccourses, I’ll be among those learning from and with a group of educators I very much admire and whose work I have been following for many years. There’s Mizuko Ito, whose work as a cowriter of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design broadened my understanding of and appreciation for connected learning after I read and wrote about it in early 2013. And Michael Wesch, whose YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us about Web 2.0 entirely changed the way I taught and learned and saw the world after watching the video in 2007. And Cathy Davidson, whose book Now You See It introduced me to the concept of “unlearning” as part of the learning process and who is listed as a participant in the September 15, 2014 #ccourses kick-off event. And Alec Couros, whose work on #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) in 2013 opened my eyes to the wonderful learning opportunities inherent in well-designed connectivist MOOCs and drew me into a community of learning that continues to sustain me in my training-teaching-learning efforts. And Alan Levine, whom I first met through the New Media Consortium several years ago and whose work on creating a blog hub for #etmooc set a high standard in terms of facilitating connected learning online and continues to provide learning objects to this day—nearly 18 months after the course formally concluded. And Howard Rheingold, whose writing on “crap detection” and so much more is a continuing source of inspiration.

oclmooc_logoThe #oclmooc experience, for me, will be very different. I’ll be working, as a “co-conspirator” helping design and deliver the MOOC, with an entirely different group of educators I very much admire—colleagues from other connectivist MOOCs, including #etmooc and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln) designed and facilitated magnificently in 2013 by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott at Northwestern University. I know that the learning curve for all of us has been tremendous—moving from learners in MOOCs to learning facilitators in MOOCs in less than two years—and that the best is yet to come. We’re already honing skills we developed in #etmooc and elsewhere—using Google Hangouts for our MOOC planning sessions, scheduling tweet chats to facilitate learning, organizing a blog hub so #oclmooc learners can create and disseminate their own learning objects as an integral part of their/our learning process. And as energetic and inspired trainer-teacher-learners, we’re pushing ourselves to further explore open connected learning and educational technology with our colleagues worldwide.

So yes, I am learning to pay attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving—because I am continuing to learn viscerally, through the use of online educational technology, that the entire onsite-online world, more than ever before, is our primary learning space.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


Training-Teaching-Learning and Librarians: Describing What We Aren’t

July 15, 2014

Having recently written about the wicked problem of trying to find words that adequately describe what we do in our ever-changing work environment, I found myself completely drawn into a question forwarded by a colleague (Jill Hurst-Wahl) via Twitter this morning: “What are some things a librarian isn’t?”

ASTD_to_ATDThe basic question about what any of us isn’t is one that far transcends librarianship and obviously extends into the entire field of training-teaching-learning (of which I clearly believe librarianship is a part) and many other fields. One current example is provided by the way the American Society for Training & Development recently completed a 2.5-year-long effort to find language other than “training” and “development” or “workplace learning and performance” to represent the work its members do; the solution was adoption of a new name (Association for Talent Development) that is far from the obvious solution Association managers were seeking.

Tackling the question of what librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are not, I quickly found myself sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand. Trying to be absolutely ridiculous, I started with the idea that we’re not ditch-diggers—but then realized I know of librarians who occasionally become involved in digging into the soil within library gardens. Then I mulled over the idea that we’re not plumbers—but recalled working with colleagues who had to unclog plugged drains and toilets in library facilities. I even briefly thought about the idea that we’re not chauffeurs—but was quickly able to recall colleagues picking me up at airports or hotels and delivering me to sites where I’ve been involved in facilitating library events. So I puckishly fell into the only response that made sense to me in the moment: a librarian is not a cab driver; nearly everything else is on the table.

And that, I believe, captures part of the beauty, wonder, challenge, and difficulty of looking at librarianship, training-teaching-learning, and so many other professions that exist or are about to exist. (For more on the theme of trying to imagine what sort of work we’ll be doing just a few years from now, please see Michael Wesch’s moving video “A Vision of Students Today” and one of the students’ comments about preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist.)

The context for the question about what librarians are not is the University of Syracuse iSchool (the School of Information Studies) IST 511 “Introduction to the Library and Information Profession” course currently being taught by R. David Lankes. In the draft course syllabus, Lankes encourages his learners to engage in “content exploration” through participation  in poster sessions centered on the question of what a librarian is. Some of his learners have obviously taken the challenge a step further by asking what librarians are not—themselves inspired by the Magritte image of a pipe, accompanied by the words “Leci n’est pas une pipe”—and  it makes me wonder how training-teaching-learning colleagues would answer a similar question about our own profession.

ALA2014--LogoWhat struck me, during recent conversations on this topic with numerous colleagues at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, was how much we are all struggling with finding exactly the right, concise word or combination of words to describe what we do. “Librarian,” for the average library user (or former user), is still a term firmly connected to the use of books—which completely ignores the numerous other roles library staff members play (e.g., subject-matter expert, often in more than one field of study; learning facilitator; innovation facilitator, through makerspaces, innovation centers, and other learning centers; community partner; grant-writer/fundraiser; manager/supervisor; writer;  and so much more). In the same way, “talent developer” and “trainer” are equally and woefully inadequate to reflect our roles as learning facilitators; change managers/change facilitators; coaches and mentors; instructional designers; evaluators; writers; presenters; and so much more.

As the learners interacted with each other via Twitter today—and thanks to Jill Hurst-Wahl and others, with many of us not previously affiliated with the IST 511 course—they were clearly having fun with the topic. One student suggested “a librarian is not an obstacle on the path to equality,” “a librarian is not a building or a shelf of books or a search engine OR a computer,” and “a librarian is not a follower.” Another learner suggested that “a librarian is not a book-sitter but is a community advocate.” And Jill herself suggested that “a librarian is not timid.”

What is clear from the exchanges so far is that librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are also not the kind of people who limit their exchanges to well-defined insular spaces; the extension of this class project into a larger virtual classroom that includes many of us not formally enrolled in the course is just one of numerous examples that librarians and many others are defined and driven by their ability to function within a variety of settings that quickly shift without warning.

From "Virtual Dave...Real Blog"

From “Virtual Dave…Real Blog”

I don’t envy Lankes’s learners as they struggle with the overall question of defining what they aren’t and what they are: Trying to define what librarians aren’t (or are) in just a few words appears to be an impossible task—one that is equally daunting for trainer-teacher-learners (a term I’ve consistently used for lack of anything better to suggest the scope of the work many of us do). But I do envy them for the possibilities that are before them as they build upon the work of those who preceded them; find ways to partner with colleagues in the larger training-teaching-learning sandbox; and continue to define and create labels, policies, and practices that will help them maintain the key roles they play in the communities they/we serve.


Malcolm Knowles, The Adult Learner, and Revisiting Cherished Resources

October 3, 2013

Reading the sixth edition of The Adult Learner (in which Elwood Holton and Richard Swanson further build upon what Malcolm Knowles wrote in the first four editions) reminds us why the book justifiably carries the subtitle “The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development” (added to the fifth edition)—and why a seventh edition is also available.

Knowles--It’s thoughtful. It’s thorough. It’s engaging. It acknowledges its limitations. It surveys a variety of other seminal learning texts produced over a period of several decades and leaves us with nearly 40 pages of additional resources to explore. And, most importantly, it reminds us of how consistently we have identified and sought solutions to the challenges learners of all ages face and also reminds us how far we still have to go in effectively responding to those challenges.

Current calls for finding alternatives to our antiquated approach of facilitating learning through lectures, for example, seem to place us at the cutting edge of contemporary training-teaching-learning efforts—until we reread (on p. 44) an educator’s call, first published in the Journal of Adult Education in 1940, for change: “Not only the content of the courses, but the method of teaching also must be changed. Lectures must be replaced by class exercises in which there is a large share of student participation…” (Harold Fields, acting assistant director of Evening Schools, Board of Education, New York City). Fields might have been fascinated by what Michael Wesch accomplishes through experiential learning with students participating in his mediated cultures projects at Kansas State University. Or by what some of us are experiencing through webinars with interactive learning opportunities for participants rather than relying on the one-way-transmission-of-information model that only occasionally takes a break for brief question-and-answer sessions before returning to the teacher-as-center-of-learning experience and often leaves learners uninspired. Or by the possibilities for engagement in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) if learners are properly prepared to take advantage of what those courses can offer. Or what learners experience through flipped classroom efforts that at least partially move lectures out of the classroom to make space for more engaging experiential learning, with Kahn Academy videos being one highly recognizable example of how the process works.

Furthermore, those of us who mistakenly believe that formal lifelong learning is a new concept precipitated by the need to keep up with our rapidly-changing tech environment gain, from revisiting The Adult Learner, a more accurate appreciation for how long lifelong learning has been part of our learning landscape. We read the observation made by a college president in 1930 in the Journal of Adult Education that “[a]t the other end of the traditional academic ladder the adult educational movement is forcing recognition of the value and importance of continuing the learning process indefinitely”—a lesson some still don’t appear to have absorbed as we read about reduced funding for community college programs that can be an important part of the adult learning landscape. Adult learning, the college president continues, “is recognized not so much as a substitute for inadequate schooling in youth as an educational opportunity superior to that offered in youth…” (p. 41).

Even the term for adult learning—andragogy, as opposed to pedagogy (“the art and science of teaching children”)—that is at the heart of what Knowles built into the first edition of his book has far deeper roots than many of us suspect. The earliest citation found for andragogy was from a German educator who used the term in 1833. Subsequent citations include those from a German social scientist in 1921 and a Swiss psychiatrist in 1951 before Knowles included it in the first edition of what was then titled The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species.

Knowles eventually created the now-familiar model of andragogy grounded in a series of assumptions including the idea that adults “need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it,” “resent and resist situations in which they feel others are imposing their wills on them,” “become ready to learn…to cope effectively with their real-life situations,” are “task-centered or problem-centered” in their approach to learning, and are effectively motivated by “the desire for increased job satisfaction, self-esteem, quality of life, and the like” (pp. 64-68). I suspect many of us also note the same assumptions with many of the younger learners we serve.

It’s an approach that’s compatible with what others, including Eduard Lindeman, Carl Rogers, and Robert Gagné, have written in their own classic works on learning. It’s an approach that appeals to us at a personal level and that can easily be recognized in our own experiences and drive to remain immersed in learning. And it supports a wonderfully inspiring philosophy expressed by Canadian psychologist Sidney Journard in 1972 and included in The Adult Learner: “Learning is not a task or problem; it is a way to be in the world” (p. 15)—words that might help all of us be more effective in our efforts to facilitate training-teaching-learning that produces positive results.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of reflections on classic training-teaching-learning resources.


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

It would appear that the learning rhizomes are spreading uncontrollably—which, for any trainer-teacher-learner, is a wonderfully positive phenomenon.

etmoocHaving been introduced recently to what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a connected learning process that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning—I now am seeing this connected learning phenomenon nearly everywhere I look. (There seem to be more learning rhizomes than the total number of Starbucks outlets or branch libraries around me.)

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

There is no denying the rapid spread of the rhizomes and my awareness of this wonderful phenomenon. Interactions with a small (but growing) number of the more than 14,000 people who are signed up for the current offering of #etmooc are already taking place through live-tweet sessions and the absolute flood of tweets under the #etmooc, @etmooc, and #etmchat hashtags, along with postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub, and responses to their YouTube posts. It requires a tremendous sense of discipline—and an acknowledgement that there is life outside of #etmooc—to keep from being overwhelmed by the information deluge produced in this course.

Those learning rhizomes, furthermore, are not just firmly rooted in the fertile ground of #etmooc itself; they are reaching far beyond the incredibly permeable walls of the course. Posting comments on a few MOOCmates’ introductory videos on YouTube apparently initiated some sort of algorithmically-triggered response from YouTube, for among my incoming email messages yesterday morning was a first-time alert from YouTube under the subject line “Just for You from YouTube: Weekly Update – February 13, 2013.” And under the subheading “We think you’d like…” was a learning link I really did like—to a video posted by Kansas State University associate professor Michael Wesch—whose work I happen to adore.

Although the “Rethinking Education” video turned out to be one posted more than a year ago, it felt completely fresh. An extension of his earlier “A Vision of Students Today” video coming out of the Mediated Cultures/Digital Ethnography projects at Kansas State University, it was right in the center of a playing field—the wicked problem of rethinking education and online learning—that I’ve been recently been exploring in conversations with colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project, with American Library Association associates Buffy Hamilton and Maurice Coleman, and many others with whom I’m increasingly rhizomatically and quite happily entangled.

Tower_and_the_CloudWatching the “Rethinking Education” video gave the rhizomes a significant growth spurt, for the numerous references in that brief yet densely-packed video sent out new learning shoots ranging from references to Wikipedia articles on commons-based peer production, education, Education 2.0, and knowledge to numerous glimpse of other resources easily accessible online. Even in his ending credits, Wesch managed to send out one final learning rhizome: a reference to the EDUCAUSE book The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. Being a huge fan of what EDUCAUSE produces, I went to the site; discovered that the book was available both in a print version for purchase and as a free PDF; and soon had a copy on my tablet. My home-based online learning experience morphed into a mobile-learning (m-learning) experience as I left home, tablet in hand, and continued learning by reading the beginning of the book while using public transportation on my way to an appointment in downtown San Francisco.

So many rhizomes, so little time! The simple act of having created a personal learning environment that, in the space of one morning, included the MOOC-inspired use of print materials, online materials accessed from a desktop computer, exchanges with colleagues from the desktop and from the mobile device (the tablet), and reading material from that same mobile device, helps any of us understand viscerally why the 2013 Higher Education edition of NMC’s Horizon Report documents tablets and MOOCs as the two technologies currently having the greatest impact on higher education—and, I would suggest, on much of what we see in training-teaching-learning.

Buffy_Hamilton--Nurturing_Lifelong_LearningMy head explodes. I need to the intellectual equivalent of mind-to-mind resuscitation. I need to breathe. So I spend that latter part of the day more or less offline in face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, then attend an evening neighborhood association meeting that includes interchanges with two recently-elected City/County supervisors. But the rhizomes are not dormant. While I’m asleep, they’re expanding. Lurking. Waiting for me to log back on this morning and discover that Buffy Hamilton has posted her stunningly beautiful PowerPoint slides from the “Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks” presentation to Ohio eTech Conference attendees yesterday. And through the act of posting that deck, she brings us and our tangled-spreading-sprawling learning rhizomes right back where we started, for she includes references drawn from our conversations about #etmooc, rhizomatic learning, and much more to inspire me to complete this latest act of digital storytelling that draws upon the #etmooc rhizomes.

N.B.: This is the eighth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


#etmooc as an Example of Connected—Rhizomatic—Learning

February 4, 2013

If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.

etmoocCormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media MOOC (massive open online course)organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.

Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.

His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:

  • The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
  • The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
  • Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
  • We need to make students responsible for their own learning.

Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.

“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.

Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.

Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:

  • Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
  • Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
  • Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC

“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Building Upon A New Culture of Learning with Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

September 17, 2012

If doing is learning, there’s plenty to learn and do with the ideas Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown present in A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

Working with the theme of social/collaborative learning that we’ve also encountered in The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report 2012 Higher Education Edition  and “Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat” held in January 2012, the eLearning Guild’s new “Social Learning: Answers to Eight Crucial Questions” report, and many other books, reports, and documents, Thomas and Brown take us through a stimulating and brief—but never cursory—exploration of “the kind of learning that will define the twenty-first century.” And it won’t, they tell us right up front, be “taking place in a classroom—at least not in today’s classroom. Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and it is powerful” (p. 17).

As we’ve already seen in a series of articles here in Building Creative Bridges, our learning spaces and the way we foster learning are continuing to evolve—which doesn’t necessarily mean, as Thomas and Brown note in their own work, that we’re completely abandoning classrooms and the best of the training-teaching-learning techniques we’ve developed over a long period of time. But the fact that plenty of effective learning that produces positive results “takes place without books, without teachers, and without classrooms, and it requires environments that are bounded yet provide complete freedom of action within those boundaries” (p. 18) offers us plenty of possibilities to rethink what we and the people and organizations we serve are doing.

Their summary of how Thomas’ “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” course at the University of Southern California seemed to be spinning wildly out of control as students more or less restructured the class from lots of lecture and a bit of demo to lots of exploration followed by short summary lectures at the end of each session leads us to the obvious and wonderful conclusion that, by taking over the class, the learners were also taking over control of their own learning and producing magnificent results—a story similar to a situation also documented by Cathy Davidson in Now You See It.

And it doesn’t stop there. As they lead us through a brief summary of instructor-centric and learner-centric endeavors, we see a theme that crops up in much of what is being written now about m-learning (mobile learning, i.e., learning through the use of mobile devices): that the new culture of learning “will augment—rather than replace—traditional educational venues” and techniques (p. 35).

What flows through much of Thomas and Brown’s work—and what we observe in our own training-teaching-learning environments—is what they address explicitly near the end of their book after having discussed the importance of learning environments: the need to foster playfulness in learning and the parallel need to work toward a framework of learning that builds upon the Maker movement and that acknowledges three essential facets for survival in contemporary times: “They are homo sapiens, homo faber, and homo ludens—or humans who know, humans who make (things), and humans who play” (p. 90).

We have plenty of examples upon which to draw: Michael Wesch’s experiments with his Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University; the YOUMedia Center for teens at the Chicago Public Library; smart classrooms where technology enables creatively productive interactions between onsite and online learners; and even the information commons model that began in academic libraries and is increasingly being adapted for use in public libraries. There’s much to explore here, and that’s why some of us have been promoting the idea that it’s time to add to Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place concept of three key places in our lives (the first place being home, the second place being work, and the third place being community gathering places where we find and interact with our friends and colleagues away from home and work) with a new Fourth Place: the social learning center that onsite as well as online as needed.

Another theme that Thomas and Brown bring to our attention is the way communities—those vibrant foundations of our society that are so wonderfully explored by John McKnight and Peter Block in their book The Abundant Community and continue to be fostered on The Abundant Community website—are developing into collectives—less-than-rigid gatherings of learners and others who are drawn by immediate needs and then disperse if/when those needs are met.

“A collective is very different from an ordinary community,” Thomas and Brown write. “Where communities can be passive (though not all of them are by any means), collectives cannot. In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation.” (p. 52).

All of which leads us to an obvious conclusion: if we are inspired to do the things within our communities, collectives, and organizations that Thomas and Brown describe and advocate, we will be engaged in building the new culture of learning they describe—while learning how to build it.


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