Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stimulating self-directed learning

We had quite some confusion this week going on about the concept of 'networked learning' during an interesting day with learning professionals. For some this is really about networking online through social media and learning a lot by connecting with other professionals online. For others this is about face-to-face networks focussing on learning together from practice, like a community of practice. I guess it doesn't matter as long as you are clear what you are refering to. Be clear about the definition you use. A definition I liked a lot was: 'discussing difficulties with others, mostly during lunch'. You can simply imagine how this person has the brightest insights by lunching with a group of (self-chosen) colleagues :). Here's a graph with some dimensions of learning networks. If you talk about a closed, face-to-face, problem-solving network you talk about a different animal than when you talk about a fluid twitter community around a certain hashtag. Which is OK, as long as you don't talk about best practices and set fixed steps to nurture these networks. In that case it is good to be more specific. Some people clearly felt that learning networks should be organic and self-organised. I disagree because I think you can do quite a lot to support and grow healthy learning networks. I like to quote Barab: "you can not design communities of practice, but you can design for communities of practice".

Informal and formal learning was also part of the confusing language and I got to realize this is not a helpful language after all. Formal learning gets labelled as 'directive', informal learning makes people think they can't do anything to stimulate it. Though I also say I focus on 'informal learning' I will try to use a clearer language in the future. Learning is not informal or informal, activities can be more or less formal (and I'm sure people using the term want to express that). An example: my personal question is currently how I could learn handy things for my Mac computer. I could learn this through a classroom course, I could learn this by asking questions on Forum on online communities. I could also learn this by going to colleagues who have a mac and are willing to share. The learning is roughly the same process, the activities are participate in differ.

What can be more or less formalized and structured is the organisation of learning activities. On the one hand, a self-structured process whereby nothing is organised. On the other hand a well prepared and structured curriculum. Both have advantages, in a self-structured process the person is fully in control and takes ownership of his/her learning process. In a curriculum people have thought deeply about the field and what should be part of the content. Often trainings are put forward in a caricature whereby the participants only receive information. In reality many trainings also try to link to the questions and experiences of the participants. In between is the interesting area where learning professionals can be creative to stimulate participant-led learning. You can nurture learning communities. Stimulate professionals to blog. Add a coach to a workteam. You can connect people through twitter hashtags. Those are organised activities that try to combine the best of both worlds.

By the way I just found an article about 'emergent learning' and'prescriptive learning'. Might be better terms than formal and informal learning? What do you think?

For people interested in the presentation I can include my prezi. Though the text is Dutch, it is pretty visual too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book review: the new social learning

I read 'the New Social Learning' by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner. There was actually less new information than I had hoped for, I missed a deeper layer of understanding how social media changes learning processes. How do social media change individual, team and organisational learning processes? And how to facilitate that change process? Maybe I'm looking for something that doesn't exist :).

Nevertheless it is a comprehensive overview of what is possible with sociale media in organisations. So if you plan to work with social media to support learning and knowledge management in an organisation it is a practical book with lots of examples. Information is organised neatly per chapter around online communities, multimedia (stories), microsharing/microblogging, collective intelligence, virtual environments and the use of social media to support events. The chapters have the same subheadings. My favorite is 'respond to critics'. I fully recognize the questions that critics ask and the book helps you deal with the questions.

A new term I picked up is 'ambient awareness'. It is similar too, but not the same as 'distant closeness' which is more about intimate contact without the need to have one on one contact. The new ways of communication ask for new concepts. Ambient awareness refers to continuous online contact. Because of this continuous contact it is like you are together and can read each other's mood. Every small message is relatively unimportant but you have to see the relationships through the lens of the stream of messages.

It is an important new term to me. The critics often wonder why I follow people on Twitter who tweet about 'what they have for breakfast'. Next time somebody asks me about Twitter I will not explain that there are also people who don't tweet (only) about breakfast but focus on helping them see that the value is in the full stream of small messages. And the relationships built through that stream.

If you are interested in the book, you can follow news about the book on twitter through @newsociallearn or go to the website.

Extra tip I got through the book: Oneforty is a great site for information about social media tools, for instance the page about twitter tools.
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