Teaching as transparent learning

I’ve gained much from being a transparent learner. Over the last nine years – on blogs, wikis, and recently Twitter – I’ve expressed half-formed ideas and received the benefit of constructive (and critical feedback). I generally focus on what I’ve gained, but I suspect readers of my sites and articles have gained something from the experience as well. Putting ideas out for discussion contrasts with formal “reach a conclusion and publish” model.

My thinking on “digital natives”, for example, has evolved significantly. I used to adhere to the view that today’s learners are fundamentally different. If you read blog posts I made (on elearnspace) from 2002-2003 you’ll see numerous references to the need for educational change driven by “today’s learners”. I’ve since largely abandoned that view. While learners today may be different, I’m more interested in finding a firm foundation of educational reform. I’m presenting on this topic at the upcoming Canadian Network for Innovation in Education in Ottawa. My work on blogs, articles, handbooks, and so on is an invitation to engage in conversation, not a proclamation of what I absolutely know.

Prominent and transparent learners

I can’t speak for them, but from reading prominent educational technology bloggers – Will Richardson, Terry Anderson, Stephen Downes, Grainne Conole – I’m left with the impression that they too seek not to proclaim what they know, but rather to engage and share with others as they explore and come to understand technology and related trends.

Watching others learn is an act of learning.

Let me explain. When someone decides to share their thoughts and ideas in a transparent manner, they become a teacher to those who are observing. Social technology – such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook – opens the door to sharing the process of learning, not only the final product. As a result, over the last few years, I’ve observed Alan Levine initiate and fine tune 50+ web 2.0 ways to tell a story. And D’Arcy Norman do battle with spammers while fostering significant adoption of blogs and wikis at University of Calgary. And Janet Clarey developing her voice in the corporate learning space, Brian Lamb embracing and then pushing the boundaries of open educational resources, and Alec Couros experimenting with open teaching. There are many others. All have contributed to my learning by being willing to share how they develop and advance ideas.

Last fall, during CCK08, the value of transparent learning became more apparent to me. Stephen and I structured the course to augment the role of networks for assisting learners in making sense of subject matter. We encouraged blogging, discussions in Moodle, language translations, cohorts in Second Life, and so on. As the course facilitators, we were active in sharing our ideas and views, but we were only two nodes in multi-node network.

The real value of the course was in fostering connections between learners and concepts. We haven’t follow up to see if the networks formed during the course continue to exist. I’m aware of several clusters of learners that are still involved in dialogue on Twitter, some who are conducting research on the course, and others who are active in commenting on the blogs of learners they met in the course. For each of these learners, CCK08 was important not only for the content discussed, but for the relationships and connections that were formed and continue to provide a source of inspiration.

Gary Klein and researchers on expertise suggest that novices and experts possess differing cognitive architectures. Experts utilize pattern recognition in comparing new situations to previous experiences. They are adept at recognizing nuances and focusing on important, rather than superfluous, elements.

Novices, in contrast, have not yet developed a rich experience base. As such, learning for novices is sequential. I remember my first days as an adult educator trying to tediously evaluate learning outcomes against Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. Each identification of a unique element required intentional effort. Over time, as I developed experience, I was able to readily identify suitability of outcomes based on the framework. Since then, I’ve largely given up on Bloom’s, but that’s a different post.

The varying cognitive architecture of those who are new to a subject and those with significant experience provides support to the value of peer-to-peer learning. A student who has just started blogging can likely relate better to someone who is still only considering blogging. Or a student who has just mastered key math, physics, or philosophical concepts is better able to relate to students who are still grappling with the concepts. I can’t cite research to support this assertion (though I would think it exists), but it seems to me that individuals who share similar cognitive architectures (novices with novices and experts with experts) have greater capacity to communicate.

Consider a group of researchers who have spent decades exploring a subject. They will be better able to understand new research in the field than a masters student with limited experience. By the same account, a student who has just overcome hurdles in understanding a new subject area can provide better help to others who are still struggling than could an expert who has long since forgotten the experience of being a novice in the field.

My argument is this: when we make our learning transparent, we become teachers. Even if we are new to a field and don’t have the confidence to dialogue with experts, we can still provide important learning opportunities to others.

I’ve recently become somewhat negative on the notion of lurking. From communities of practice research, we are told that legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) is an important stage in developing our confidence to contribute and belong to a community. I’m not sure I agree. LPP suggests we observe the discussions of experts and once we have a developed base in the field, we begin to participate and contribute to the advancement of the field. However, this places the needs of the field above the needs of the individual. As an amateur in a field, I will likely learn more from those who have a similar understanding to my own. I can relate better to learners at this stage.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need experts – we should constantly bounce our own emerging understanding off of the concepts already established in the field. But the value of dialogue and discourse in learning can’t be subjugated to the view that all contributions should advance a field. Transparency in expressing our understanding, our frustrations, and our insights helps others who are at a similar stage. Yes, we’ll participate in the broader discussions held by experts in time, but lurking is no excuse to deny others (who are also new to the field) our progressive insights.

23 Responses to “Teaching as transparent learning”

  1. dave cormier says:

    I like your point about LPP. I’ve been thinking (as you may have noticed :) ) about the role of ‘experts’ or at least lets call them ‘long-timers’ in a community and how that affects new people. I’m not sure lurking is enough really… ur better off being a contributing member in a community that works with you…

    very nice insight.


  2. The ‘cognitive architecture’ section caught my attention; I hope this comment is not too tangential.

    I’ve been doing a series of blog posts as my way of understanding Ten Steps to Complex Learning by van Merrienboer and Kirschner.

    I’m not pretending to be expert, or even very knowledgeable, but the experience has benefited me, and comments people make have pushed me to think more deeply.

    The latest post was on designing supportive information, which in the Ten Steps means cognitive strategies and mental maps.

    When you talk about cognitive architectures, I think the novices have (or are acquiring) simplified versions of the more complex architectures that experts have. That’s not to disagree with your common-reference point. I do think a key difference is the depth or range of the cognitive support.

    Just today, for instance, I was complaining about a website on which text appeared in bold blue with underlining. Almost instinctively, I clicked (there was supposed to be a link in the passage). No luck.

    So I see a novice designer’s model including “links are underlined.” A journeyman’s model might have “links are visually distinctive,” more abstract than “underlined.” And the expert might incorporate “should be” into that, recognizing that some developers can’t or won’t follow convention; the expert relies on mouseovers to “prove” link status.

    In learning situations like you describe, the novice can acquire the accumulated skill of the expert.

  3. David Truss says:

    I’m not sure if there are different classifications for lurking?
    Before writing this comment, I made many other decisions to share what I read… I saved this as a diigo bookmark, I chose to highlight a couple sections, I chose to share it with the ‘educators’ group. I also ‘broadcast’ on twitter that I was reading the article. All very ‘transparent’ (in other places) even before choosing to comment here.
    But there are many articles that I read where I choose to do only a few, or none of these things. I read, reflect, and move on. Is this lurking?
    Is lurking “an important stage in developing our confidence to contribute and belong to a community”? For some, yes, but for others it might be unnecessary. Those that contribute as amateurs can be useful within a community, and they can also create ‘clutter’ that slows the community’s learning/growing curve.
    I think that when we are networked and connected to many communities we might lurk and still contribute to other’s learning in different communities (or face-to-face)… and for that reason although it may be difficult to see any tangible benefits to lurking in one single community, there may be many benefits to the lurker’s other communities.

  4. I liked your statement that “when we make our learning transparent we become teachers.” I work with an Internet start-up company called Eduify.com and we are trying to do exactly that. We are developing technology to help students write smarter and faster and we are making learning transparent by making it socially integrated. Our technology allows students to write essays on-line and seek help from peers or professionals as needed. I hope you check us out, we are on Twitter @eduify and have an Eduify Facebook Group. Our site is found at http://eduify.com/beta and we are now sending out Beta invites for our service!

  5. George,
    Wonderful to learn your views. I resonate with your statement: Teaching as transparent learning. During my course of study in CCK08, I always like to engage with others – you, Stephen, Dave, Terry and various other guest speakers and heaps of co-learners. I found it an enriched learning experience. Relating to lurkers, I am still fascinated in the way it works… so may be wait and see in this learning. The new Community http://connectivismeducationlearning.ning.com is a community with both CCK08 ex-participants and interested members, so still like to see how it all evolves.
    Many thanks for your stimulating post.
    I understand that my recent post on learning on human network (a response to your post) may be too sensitive for others to read, but I am referring those organisations like Enron when it comes to problems.. and there are still quite a lot of uncertainties in the education and learning movement in the corporate world of training, due mainly to this economic crisis. Like to learn your views on it.

  6. Deb Jones says:

    Interesting reading George. I struggle with the concept of ‘lurkers’ and the perception of them not actively contributing to the learning community… But then I wonder whether this is partly dependant on the participants beliefs about learning and teaching… The traditional learner – generally passive, speaks when asks, has an objective to obtain ’something’. The traditional teacher… generally the active participant in the process, ‘tells’ and ‘informs’….I’m still considering your comments around participants lack of confidence to contribute etc. potentially not leading the learning, and therefore restricting other learners….. Online networking/community is a whole new paradigm for many learners…with very little guidance and ‘boundaries’ and I think that for the ‘average’ learner.. we are in a state of disarray as to how to behave in those spaces… I have facilitated online courses for a couple of years.. and spend much time reflecting on my own facilitation style as to how to engage all learners actively in the community – I wonder just how successful and amazing an online community could be if all participants didn’t lurk – had the confidence, were willing to take a risk, and valued their role as a ‘model learner’ or ‘transparent learner’ – thanks for the insights George :)

  7. [...] most recent stimulus was George Siemen’s blog post Teaching as transparent learning. In the post George explores the idea of learning by sharing: My work on blogs, articles, [...]

  8. [...] Teaching as transparent learning « Connectivism – Novices, in contrast, have not yet developed a rich experience base. As such, learning for novices is sequential. I remember my first days as an adult educator trying to tediously evaluate learning outcomes against Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. Each identification of a unique element required intentional effort. Over time, as I developed experience, I was able to readily identify suitability of outcomes based on the framework. Since then, I’ve largely given up on Bloom’s, but that’s a different post [...]

  9. [...] Clarey has written a very thoughtful post about a concept George Siemens put forth: “teaching as transparent learning” which she links to the the importance of  allowing “half-formed ideas” and [...]

  10. [...] have just read for the second time George Siemens post on Teaching as transparent learning.  It’s an interesting post that stresses the importance of engagement by novices and [...]

  11. Frances Bell says:

    The idea of ‘experts’ talking through their learning made me think about the notion of expertise in an online course. Even where the teacher/facilitator is an ‘expert’ most of the time, they could also genuinely be learners learning from the students in some particular aspect. A support for this (that would also promote transparency) could be to stress that novice / expert are roles rather than people. Similarly ‘lurking’ does not need to be a universal behaviour. Valid participant goals (that would make for productive dialogue) could be to make a few significant contributions over a period of time and to engage with the contributions of others, affirming or critiquing them.

  12. [...] lead me to think about CCK08 again was George Siemen’s post about Teaching as Transparent Learning.  CCK08 was very much in that vein and our learning in this degree seems also to be premised on [...]

  13. JBlack says:

    George –
    Wonderful post – am still chewing on the morsels on insight. But please, do write about why you gave up on Blooms — soon! I’m very eager to hear what you have to say on this issue.

    I’m not sure what to make of the “lurker” issue you raise, however. When I am in meetings, I greatly admire those who sit patiently listening to others then, with almost expert timing, magically synthesize what has been said, often times illuminating some angle missed or not yet explored. Yet, at the same time, I do not admire those who sit in silence because non-participation is safe. Would it be correct to assume these are the true “lurkers”?

  14. [...] above concepts have been applied in the CCK08 course that I have taken last fall 2008.  In this teaching as transparent learning  by George says  Last fall, during CCK08, the value of transparent learning became more apparent [...]

  15. Malcolm Creen says:

    “When someone decides to share their thoughts and ideas in a transparent manner, they become a teacher to those who are observing.”

    Do you not therefore mean “Learning as Transparent Teaching”?

  16. Lanny Arvan says:

    George –

    Do you think it matters in all of this that both the learners who showcase their thinking and those who view it are adults? The openness you advocate for seems to require both courage and a sense of taste. Might it be better to limit the sphere when those are more immature?

  17. [...] environment, where learners are empowered to pursue their individual curiosities, is the notion of transparent learning. Past incarnations of our school’s gifted students program have seen teachers participating [...]

  18. shubhra says:

    Rightly said. I think by narrowing the gap between the teachers and students can also make the learning more transparent. Students too should be involved in preparing teaching strategies.

  19. [...] Read more here [link] Tags:blogging, communities_of_practice, GeorgeSiemens, hackademic, learning, lurking, participating, social_media, teaching, transparency, Twitter, web2.0 [...]

  20. John Hannah says:

    On “lurking” – I wonder if there is a danger of homogenization in too much lurking. If the intent is to gain greater confidence to engage by first observing, I suppose it’s hard to argue against that. Also, I don’t think I would recommend unreflective posting which may happen i n the absence of at least a little lurking. But it may also be true that the would-be contributers are first observing so as to become familiar with that zeitgeist, the “format” the tone, the climate, the manner etc. inside that forum. And then their post will conform. This may inhibit originiality.
    Cheers, John

  21. [...] for Net Pedagogy Conference Edit:  Apologies to George Siemens for not acknowleding his post on Teaching as transparent learning. I had obviously absorbed it without remembering the source – very transparent! Share and [...]

  22. [...] post by George Siemens, Teaching as Transparent Learning, was very well resumed and I would only like to cite: “Watching others learn is an act of [...]

  23. [...] Siemens, George,  “Teaching as transparent Learning” . (2009) Retrieved from: http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=122 [...]