Learning Ecologies

I had the pleasure today of delivering a presentation on connectivism and learning ecologies to a group of museum professionals (Canadian Heritage Information Network) in Ottawa. I’ll post a link to the presentation soon.

Roundtable discussions revealed a current state of grappling with technology as a means of extending learning and knowledge presentation that mirrors what’s happening in other fields. Education, business, politics, media – everyone is trying to figure out “what has changed”. And what does that change mean?

I see several substantial points of change that are reframing our society and processes of functioning:

  • The rise of the individual
  • The increased capacity for connections and connectivity
  • The breaking apart of content
  • The creation of user-controlled spaces

    The roundtable discussions were excellent. An appropriate mix of cynicism, optimism, and attitude of experimentation provided a great climate for candid dialogue. A general concern appeared to be the desire to get people to use virtual museum resources.

    I think this is the wrong question. People don’t want to visit your content. They want to pull your content into their sites, programs, or applications. This is a profound change, largely not understood by educators. We are still fixated on the notion of learning content, and we think we are making great concessions when we give learners control over content (and start to see them as co-creators). That misses the essence of the change: learners want control of their space. They want to create the ecology in which they function and learn. Today, it’s about pulling content from numerous sites and allowing the individual to repurpose it in the format they prefer (allowing them to create/recognize patterns). Much like the music industry had to learn that people don’t want to pay for a whole album when all they want is one song, content providers (education, museums, and libraries) need to see the end user doesn’t want the entire experience – they want only the pieces they want. We need to stop thinking that learners will come to us for learning content – our learning content should come to them in their environment.

    What does this actually look like? Well, it means that our education platforms should be designed to allow for learners to pull our content into their space. We need to make content open and available to be accessed so that exploration and dialogue can happen on the learner’s blogs, wikis, or personal eportfolios. It’s not about us, it’s about them. The dialogue and learning will happen on their time, in their space, on their device. We must create the ecology that allows for maximum innovation, so that the greatest number of recombinations are possible.

    During the session, I was asked to provide an example of an online learning ecology. (I was asked later, “do you actually do this stuff, or do you just think about it”?). One of the most obvious learning ecologies is the internet itself. It’s a wonderful example of a space where we can learn from experts, informally, formally, in communities, etc. The structure of the internet provides many valuable lessons that should inform how we create our learning spaces. I will post more in the near future on effective learning ecologies. A quick final note – ecologies don’t exist only online. Our learning model should include face-to-face components

    Off topic: One challenge I often encounter in trying to communicate the value of connectivism and learning ecologies is how to communicate the implications of choice. When we take one approach, we are leaving many other factors unattended, but impacted. When we pursue blogs, we are making choices that change things. But that choice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Other parts of our organization will also need to change. It’s important to be aware of what we are leaving behind in our choices…and that one view (“blogs are good”) does not lead to universal application (“blogs should be used for everything”). This one-dimensional view is lazy thinking. Each tool for the appropriate task. So, when I advocate for social technologies (or informal learning), I am not saying that structured courses are irrelevant. Intent and task need to be tightly linked.

  • 2 Responses to “Learning Ecologies”

    1. Chris Castle recommended I read your blog,and so glad she did. We are working a lot with these ideas lately, having learned from work with K-12 teachers around ArtsConnectEd, a dual museum resource. We gave teachers “programs” that contained tons of content, all locked down, around specific subjects like photography or mythology. We also gave them access to the digital images of museum collections and the ability to save images and annotate them, rearrange them, etc. through a tool called Art Collector (http://www.artsconnected.org/art_collector/user/login.cfm?L=1)
      Guess what the teachers used? That’s right, they made their own resources using Art Collector. Powerful stuff, we need to keep thinking about ways to put the content into the hands of the user.

    2. Rob Reynolds says:

      I really like the list. I might expand on decentralization a bit. I think education is being changed dramatically by a shift from centripetal forces to centrigugal ones. Increasingly, teaching and learning are seen as things that take place beyond the book, the teacher, or th classroom. This is tied in to your other points, naturally.