The space where learners create learning

Here’s a bit more on my Blog Posts I Wish I Had Written piece from yesterday, which pointed to the Hybrid Pedagogy post Udacity and Online Pedagogy: Players, Learners, Objects. I really do find all of @HybridPed’s work spot on – in part because they pay attention to crafting well-written pieces. But this particular one struck a chord because its arguments resonated so clearly with my own experience.

Some notes before I take a short blogging break during a long holiday weekend:

Authors Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel cleanly dismiss the online learning world’s fascination with learning objects. My experience cuts across corporate education, knowledge management and now higher ed. And the idea of discrete, reusable objects as being the holy grail of learning has driven a tremendous amount of investment in real resources (time, money) and technology for years. Somewhere I am sure there is payoff; but it’s not related to learning.

I once consulted with a quick-serve restaurant firm that marched down the learning object path. One of the stories they told to justify the investment was that, globally, there were 7 different learning units on washing your hands before preparing food. Surely there is is only one proper method that the company could standardize on, thus reducing content management challenges in the hand-washing domain by a factor of 7. To me, that story illustrates something akin to good file management; name things properly so you can find stuff you need at the time you need it. That’s not about learning.

Objects are artifacts. We need them so we can interact with them (or better – to remix, as Doug Belshaw might argue). But they are not to be confused with learning.

Secondly, I really like this particular line in the article: “The [Udacity] classes work because there is space within them for learners to create learning.”

I commented that I thought this was a design principle to hang onto. And what I meant by that is that it provides a way to think about different sizes and shapes of formal learning events while still respecting the social, messy, unpredictable path on which real learning occurs. In my case it certainly helps frame a clear role for “classes” or courses. They are intentionally demarcated learning events within which [should be] space for learners to create learning. It’s like focusing on the negative/empty space of a sculpture or building; the artists or architect thought explicitly of those “empty” spaces as part of the design. As designers of learning events perhaps we should do the same.

And if we do design these spaces well, the activity of learners creating learning (I would think) should  carry over as a habit in non-course life. That to me seems like a beneficial difference between “traditional” classes/classroom settings and the type of innovation people like @HybridPed are writing about.

2 thoughts on “The space where learners create learning

  1. Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) says:

    This is a really rich extension of the ideas in our article. I particularly appreciate the way you’ve taken that one sentence and expanded on the kernel of it.

    “It certainly helps frame a clear role for ‘classes’ or courses.” This is an idea I’ve been pressing on quite a bit lately, trying to understand why we cluster learning into 10-week or 15-week units that can often feel entirely arbitrary. But I think you’re right that “events” can help enable and carve out a safe space for “social, messy, and unpredictable” learning.

    I like the idea of creating a model for classes that is flexible based on the subject-matter and people involved — some classes that are 5-weeks, some that are 1-week, some that are a weekend, some that are 15-weeks, some that meet once per week, some that meet multiple times, some that meet for 2 weeks and then don’t meet for 10 weeks and then meet for another 2 weeks, etc. So a framework for any class, based on the pedagogical thrust of that particular class. Barely toying with the idea at this point.


    1. Jeff Merrell says:

      Thanks Jesse. The idea of creating a model for classes that is flexible based on subject matter etc. is definitely an area worth exploring (as you did with the one-week MoocMooc). THAT may actually be the starting point of much innovation.

      It’s interesting now that I think about it. Even in the context of the master’s program in which I teach, there is a very conscious awareness of two units of time that mark off different learning “events:” The class unit and the program (full 15 credit) unit. We’re just beginning to mess around with what we can do at the program-unit level by implementing some new technology (Jive software) to enhance ad hoc collaboration and activity. But we did that deliberately and consciously because we clearly saw learning happening “above the class” and wanted to push that further.

      But this idea of flexible times for class events is truly intriguing. Will keep that conversation going.


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