I’ve been kind of hanging out on the periphery of the ongoing discussion about informal learning and networks and groups that has been bouncing around the last couple of months, but a post from Teemu Leinone and specifically a snip in the comments started something in my brain. Here is the snip:
The problem of the edublogasphere (and actually the whole blogasphere) in the context of learning is that people in the sphere do not – at least often – form any groups (an entity of individuals with an objective).
As I’m trying to think more and more deeply about what networked learning really means in the context of how I might want my own children to apply it their own lives, I think this quote struck me because it made me consider how little I’ve actually engaged in group learning around a particular objective within the network. It is, as Teemu says something that doesn’t really appear very often. This has become, for me at least, a very individualized experience. I’ve referred to it in the past as “nomadic learning” because it happens in a very non-linear, concrete objective-less way. (Technically, I think most are attaching the word nomadic to it because of the mobility of the technology to learn, not the randomness of it.) My learning has a general focus and direction, to be sure, but it’s trajectory is determined by whatever is in my aggregator or on my screen at the moment. There are no written down goals or outcomes that I am attempting to achieve which is one of the reasons this is so different from classroom learning.
Additionally, while I am absolutely “writing to be read” here, meaning that I am conscious and on some level hopeful that others will read and engage in these ideas, I’m not reflecting on these ideas with the direct purpose of advancing the the conversation among a group of others that are connected in our study of this topic. If no one responds or engages, that’s ok. More than anything, blogging, in essence writing is a way for me to cement my thoughts into my brain, a purely selfish act.
But what I think struck me about Teemu’s post is that it makes me wonder about the potential of that group focused study that I could be doing yet am not. And why there seems to be so little of that. I think on some level, the independence or randomness of this learning is what makes it powerful, that it can be about anything that we are passionate about at any given moment. But I guess I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be reaching out more to others to create groups around more focused topics of study, or whether that would work for me.
Just some pre-dawn thinking while struggling with a big cookie hangover…
(Photp by pbo31)
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Clay Burell says
While the omission is probably innocent, can we add the word “doing” to the “learning” so we can open this conversation up to taking education beyond information?
Again, probably innocent. But the US already knows so much, yet does so little to improve its standing as a world leader or world citizen – shouldn’t “action,” “agency,” and/or “citizenship” be much higher-frequency words in the lexicon of US education than they are?
Who are the champions real-world, relevant, project-based learning writing or blogging today?
Or to put things more humbly, why do I feel like studying and learning information and skills really do dominate our talks about education in an almost fetishistic way, and one which is very open to question?
Just curious. Sincere questions.
I’m with you on several points of your diagnosis, though.
An interesting metaphor, the nomad. I’m looking for something less planar, more spatial, but can’t find the simple label yet. I see it, though: it’s more a mass of objects in space, all exerting gravitational force on every other body, and thereby keeping the educational discourse from straying too far from its center of gravity. Individual thinkers are indeed atomized and disconnected from all others, but are still at the same time constrained by them.
It’s the old metaphor of the expanding v. contracting universe. Centrifugal v. centripetal. Don’t know where I’m going with it, other than it all seems to return to a concern that information will continue to be the Ptolemaic “sun” of our educational system.
And while I’m aware of the dangers of “educating for action,” I can’t help but fear that the dangers of educating for inaction in today’s America are far greater.
This is entirely too long; your post struck a nerve somehow, obviously, as I didn’t plan to write about this at all.
I’m tempted to delete it, it’s so amorphous. But I won’t. Maybe it will make sense to somebody.
It’s nice to see skepticism about current trends on your blog, Will, as usual.
Will Richardson says
I totally agree with you, Clay, that we need to get more focused on action. And in that context, obviously, we’d probably get more done in groups than as individuals. But little of that is going to happen in the context of US schools until we get some real leadership. Last time I looked, educating for action is not something that’s being assessed. But so the question that I’m struggling with remains. How do I do a better job of using these tools for focused action with others? Or, at the very least, figuring out why that’s not something I seem prone to doing. (Lots of complex reasons there, I’m sure.)
Dave Blodgett says
I share your sentiments, Clay, when it comes to looking for ways to apply many of the ideas being kicked around in various edublogs. Many of my teachers still are grasping at how the ideas I am foisting on them are supposed to manifest in the classroom. I myself have been struggling to formulate more of a cohesive message that I can deliver to my fellow educators that lives more in the realm of the pragmatic and active than the theoretical.
Both you and Will have identified the somewhat disjointed feeling I get as I troll the blogosphere, finding great nuggets here and there that help me add to my collection. Clay’s analogy made me think of the word “nebulous” more than nomadic, which certainly represents my feelings about the relationship between education and these new communication tools.
I suppose some of this is natural before ideas coalesce into practices, and perhaps this is just a medium that promotes more A) theoretical musings and banter and B)individual thoughts than a group discussion. Are wikis better suited to created action by dint of their collaborative nature?
Sorry so lengthy…
Will Richardson says
I feel that frustration as well, which is why I’m really turning my attention from classroom to personal learning. None of it is going to make a difference if the educators in the building don’t understand it for themselves.
Thanks for commenting…Will
Clay Burell says
Oops. Strike that Ptolemaic “sun” – obviously should be “earth” or “center.”
Happy holidays, by the way. 😉
The network ideas are great. For learning a second language I think that there are all kinds of potential for our students (connecting to networks of other learners as well as other kinds of teachers–your post: Supplementing My Kidsâ€™ Education from October) But as with anything new, there is a great deal of fine-detail ground work to be laid at the beginning that will require a lot of time and sweat. Itâ€™s a feeling Iâ€™ve often had as a teacher: Iâ€™ve got all of these new and innovative learning ideas. Now if I only had a secretary(!!) to help me with my daily preparations, run to the copier, grade all of these papers, communicate with parents, enter grades, etc, etc…. so that I could actually get down to the nitty-gritty work of putting some of these ideas into practice. Itâ€™s a balancing act and itâ€™s hard to move forward when you are bogged down with so many responsibilities.
But deciding on objectives and forming groups and networks will obviously have to occur if we are to provide students with these great opportunities.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment, John. Do we have to form groups and objectives, you think, in order for us to move our students into personal learning? I’m finding that more and more I’m separating the discussion about schools from the discussion about networked learning, as in I’m wondering if the two can co-exist…
Kyle Brumbaugh says
I have used the term ‘Guerrilla Learning’ a little more than ‘Nomadic Learning.’ Why? I am looking at things that students have an objective, it may or may not be the objective we, or the educational system, has for them but they do have one. Students use the tools that are available to them in the ways they can create the environment or reality they want. This means that they can use tools for the purpose the developer intended, or in another unrelated way to meet the goals/objectives they have. Look at all of the different ways kids have found to ‘hack’ their ‘MySpace’ pages…
I deconstructed the Wikipedia definition to ‘Guerrilla Warfare’ and applied it to the ways that students and teachers use technology. Look at it sometime… it gets a little eerie!
Miguel Guhlin says
Will, this post reminds me of one I wrote when guest-blogging at Speed of Creativity entitled, “Nomadic Existence.”
There’s a quote from Chris Sessums’ site (he was quoting someone) and my suggestion that WaterWorld might be a better analogy. To commit the unpardonable act of quoting myself:
In fact, the idea of electronic bands of nomad learners, on an open-ended world is a powerful analogy. But, the analogy only goes so far. A far better one, IMHO, is that portrayed in WaterWorld. We are a surface people diving deep for knowledge and ideas, scratching out survival on the surface. Constant learning, while not critical to survival, is necessary to thrive. Like Kevin Costnerâ€™s character, those of us who blog have suddenly acquired the appropriate webbing to navigate an uncertain ocean.
Thanks for reminding me of this…perhaps we’ll both come to “Dry Earth” by different means.
Around the Corner-mGuhlin.net
Dan Maas says
I really like this piece because it speaks to a belief that is forming in my mind as well. The lack of well-organized groups of learners working toward an objective is due to a lack of learning-leaders (once called “teachers”) working in the edublogasphere. It’s like “Lord of the Flies” in that kids are already out there and if they are left there by themselves, they will develop a culture of their own… nomadic learning. As educators, we need to get out there too and help shape this new blogasphere culture by forming groups and setting objectives to accomplish.
Happily, it is happening. I point to numberous wikis and blogs that teachers are sharing with me when I visit schools that demonstrate exactly that. We sent 88 people to the Technology in Education conference in Copper Mountain where you were a keynote and many of these examples are a direct result of that experience. These entries into the blogasphere do things like collectively study books with people outside the classroom including authors and some have raised funds to help needy students in foreign countries.
The bottom line for me is the observation may be correct, but only because we have just begun to use this tool for educating kids. It’s happening and fast. Thanks for showing the way!
Razan Khatib says
Good post Clay, I believe this is exactly what we are struggling with at Questler. Though our site is targeted to adults but still, we feel people do not put the context or the objective to learn -informally -consciously when they are browsing and looking for information. So asking people to join our learning network is not yet an instant solution to a direct need they have. Something we are thinking about constantly is how to make people get excited to reflect on what they learn everyday, the quests they have and the people they want to learn more from.
Terry Elliott says
There are learnings we do by ourselves and learnings we do with others. The nomadic learner has been the standard in American scholarship for a long time (although I think it could be argued that a document like “The Federalist Papers” was a true collaboration.) Having summarized what Will has already said, my question is this, “Is networked learning the new model or is it just an interesting side-track in our learning evolution?”
Where is the evidence that this networked system is really more than a tweaked nomadic system? The reason I ask this is that I have been working very hard to network with students and colleagues the last two years and what I mostly finding is the river pushing back. For example, I used GoogleDocs in a collaborative effort to produce a different kind of “paper” or at least different media of communication for my freshmen. I got some interesting results from the least of my students, creative and risky moves, but from my strategic students I got…well…more of the same.
I understand why. There are many institutional, social, and personal imperatives in favor of the nomad and against the networker. When you have everything on the line (which I do in my freshman comp classes for students with ACT’s of 17 or less) being a nomad is a lot safer that relying on someone else. I tell my students that they will need to be networkers in their future work lives, but will they? Are most of these “collaborative” tasks merely nomads in webbed clothing? I don’t know, but I am glad you brought it up, Will. and all the rest of you, too. Here’s hoping we are all much closer to a useful response by this time next year.
Will Richardson says
Terry…great to hear from you again. As always, you make me think. I’m not sure it’s a new model either, but if not, it’s the same model on steroids. Which may just make it a new model.
To clarify, I think I am nomadic within the network, but the network is where the power is. And, for me, at least, it’s becoming less about collaboration and more about connection. I mean, we are collaborating on some level by sharing these thoughts and ideas openly, and engaging the in the conversation. We just don’t have that defined goal that most collaborations seem to have. It’s almost too big, isn’t it?
Happy Holidays! Will
Will, when you think about nomads in the traditional sense they were people whose existence and survival depended on collective goals and collaboration. Perhaps your nomad learning is more structural and geographic and not philosophical.
What is often missing from many projects or networks is proper evaluation and discussion about the short and long term learning effects. I think that this is because we, who wish to embrace/implement creative use of digital media in schools, have become evangelists. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to start anew in a collective effort that more closely mirrors our individual experiences of the last ten years?