Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 4 of 4): Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading

March 23, 2012

Let’s take a quantum leap in rethinking what a learning space is. Without abandoning anything that is already effectively in place, let’s think beyond the physical classroom. Past the online learning spaces we inhabit now via platforms including WebEx, Skype, and many others. Let’s think about a world where learning spaces can be almost anything that facilitates learning. And then laugh when we realize how full circle we have come.

At least one idea comes sharply into focus as we move through the rethinking process via books by John Medina, Seth Godin, Cathy Davidson, and others, including Bruce Wexler: the “places” where we learn are in a dynamic state of change, and they all benefit from being stimulating rather than static. When we look at what Michael Wesch is doing at Kansas State University and documenting on his Digital Ethnography site, we see engaged and effective learning facilitated by an engaged teacher-trainer-learner. When we turn to the YouMedia project at the Chicago Public Library, we see a learning organization blending online-onsite learning in incredibly innovative ways. When we see how colleagues are using LinkedIn discussion groups, live online conversations linked together via Twitter hashtags like #ASTDChapters or #lrnchat or #libchat, or through Google+ hangouts, we see our idea of learning spaces expand even further since each of them creates a sort of space where learning can and does occur.

When we consider how effectively wikis are being used to draw teacher-trainer-learners together asynchronously to actually produce learning objects like the annual New Media Consortium Horizon Report, we can see those wikis as learning spaces. When we see how individual blog postings on topics ranging from various learning styles to learning in libraries include extensive links and references and serve as self-contained online asynchronous lessons, we have further expanded our horizons. When we use smartphones and tablets as conduits to sites such as Smarthistory while we are standing in front of a work of art in a museum, we viscerally understand that the learning space is a blend of the museum gallery and the website and the device since they combine to provide a more comprehensive learning opportunity than would be possible without that combination. And it’s just one small additional step to move ourselves to the concept of blended learning spaces along the lines of the onsite-online social learning centers a few of us are promoting, or to see the newly created TED-Ed site as a dynamically innovative learning space.

But there’s still one obvious oversight, and it comes to our attention as we rethink what knowledge is through books like David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, which examines our move from print-based knowledge to online knowledge. Or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which suggests that using the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it difficult for us to read book-length works. Or William Crossman’s VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers, which is predicated on the author’s belief that text and written language will be obsolete by 2050. The oversight for many of us may be in not seeing that books themselves (in print as well as online) remain a form of learning space—a place where we encounter other trainer-teacher-learners, learn from them, react to the ideas being proffered, and even, at a certain level, engage with them through our reactions to their work and through the conversations they inspire. Which makes it tremendously ironic, as I have repeatedly noted, that these wonderful thinker-writers still are drawn to express themselves most eloquently within the very containers—the books—they think are being replaced by other options.

If we were to travel down a similar path of overlooking what so clearly remains before us, we, too, might look at all that is developing and lose sight of a valuable learning space: the physical learning spaces that have served us in the past and will continue to serve us well if we adapt them and expand them—and ourselves—to reflect and respond to our changing world as well as to our learning needs. And our desires.

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On the Horizon Report: Training-Teaching-Learning Innovations (Part 1 of 2)

February 7, 2010

Because training-teaching-learning never ends, we’re continually inundated by a flood of information and innovations which threaten to overwhelm us. When something as stimulating as The Horizon Report: 2010 Edition comes our way, I’m completely willing to dive in without thinking about whether I’ll ever come back up for air.

This annual collaborative report produced by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative uses conversations with “hundreds of technology professionals, campus technologists, faculty leaders from colleges and universities, and representatives of leading corporations” and the work of an advisory board to identify those technology tools and trends most likely to have an impact on education over a five-year horizon. The results are as much a road map as they are an e-learning experience in and of themselves.

For those who work diligently to follow tech trends, some of what appears in the report—mobile computing, open content, and electronic books–may seem already to be old news, while other concepts—simple augmented reality, gesture-based computing, and visual data analysis—may be somewhat or entirely new. But exploring the report offers new twists even to the most familiar of information as the writers document what they call “the particular relevance of [each] topic to education, creativity, or research.” The results are worth whatever time it takes us to absorb them.

One of the many impressive elements of the annual reports is the way the authors (Laurence Johnson, Alan Levine, Rachel Smith, and Sonja Stone) use what they describe. The 2010 report, for example, describes the growth of visual data analysis as an educational tool; the New Media Consortium then, on its own website and with little fanfare, provides an example of visual data analysis using Wordle: “a word cloud, which gives a visual representation” of the themes which have been most prominently featured in all seven of the annual [Horizon] reports. Those of us who are immersed in reading and producing blogs are obviously familiar with tag clouds, but what our New Media Consortium colleagues have produced here as a supplement to a free online “boxed set” of all seven Horizon reports adds a stunningly beautiful and inspirational twist to what has become commonplace for us.

Another impressive element is the often overlooked e-learning potential of the hyperlinks—provided within the report—to other learning resources. Having called attention recently to the potential for online learning provided via innovative websites such Smarthistory and even through well organized archives on blogs such as one created and maintained by Lori Reed, I was particularly ready to pursue the opportunities provided by the “in practice” and “for further reading” sections following each description of the six horizon technologies explored in the 2010 report. Like any good online bibliography, these sections serve as rudimentary knowledge management systems that lead us to additional information when we are ready to pursue it—just-in-time learning at its best.

What better way to control that flood so that we as trainer-teacher-learners have a chance to swim rather than to sink?

Next: Horizon 2010 Technologies


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