Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learning Is A Team Sport...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how learning is changing (has changed?), influenced by paradigm shifts away from books and content towards the Internet, connections, and learning communities.

I chaired a round table discussion on "Learning Is a Team Sport" at our college's Festival of Learning. This post covers the highlights of that discussion and some of the thoughts we all came up with.

Here are my opening premises for the discussion:
  • There is so much information out there and so many information sources, that it is becoming (or maybe already is) impossible to learn on your own, that as educators we need to be aware of this fundamental change and be prepared to teach and learn differently.
  • This means more collaboration and cooperation between learners and between educators, an awareness of learning styles and a need to develop authentic curriculum and assessment
  • Technology of all types will be increasingly important
With these points in mind we began our discussion. One of the first points raised is how different our learning environments were to the learning environments of our learners. When I went to school, individual learning was paramount - the term paper and tests were king. The main sources of my learning information were:
  • Books
  • Encyclopedia
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
Today's learners have a different set of information sources:
  • Internet - Podcasts, RSS, Web sites, vidcasts...
  • YouTube
  • iTunes
  • 24/7 500 Channel TV
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
  • And more not yet even thought of...
The sheer volume of information is overwhelming - how do you make sense of it all? What is true and what is false? How do you apply context to all this "stuff"? (In this instance, "stuff" is a technical term...)

So what does all this information mean? It means that new approaches to learning are required:
  • New approaches to information gathering
  • Information evaluation, validation and interpretation - new literacy skills
  • Collaboration and cooperation in information gathering and analysis
  • “Skimming” or “Diving” the information sea - breadth or depth of knowledge
The rest of our discussions centred around the so whats - here are some of the highlights:
  • Need to understand learners and how the not only learn but how they find information and what they do with it -“while N-Gens interact with the world through multimedia, online social networking, and routine multitasking, their professors tend to approach learning linearly, one task at a time, and as an individual activity that is centered largely around printed text…” - Innovate - Will Richardson
  • When does collaboration become cheating?
    “Students see collaboration where their teachers see cheating. They're not even talking the same language. They don't have the same understanding of the world.” - NSCC Colleague
There was an awful lot of discussion around the second point as it is a current "hot button" topic. We encourage collaboration and cooperation and then we accuse learners of cheating. I personally think we need to re-invent exactly what we mean by cheating (plagiarism, copying, non-citing of sources, cutting and pasting from the Web...) so that we are on the same page as our learners (see the first bullet).

So what do we have to do as educators to engage in this new playing field?
  • Be Tech savvy
  • Understand our learners
  • Use project and problem-based approaches to learning (connecting learners to their world)
  • Stay in touch with industry
  • Allow learners to learn how THEY learn, not how WE learn
  • Emphasize collaboration and cooperation - know the new paradigm
These were the main points presented for discussion - there was a level of concern expressed about how to best do this - it's a work in progress for many educators who not only learned in the individual learning days, but have delivered that style of learning for many years. Most see the need to engage in team learning, the problem is we need to know the rules in order to play the game.

It was an interesting, informative, and somewhat passionate discussion that gave all of us lots to think about. The key from my perspective is that learning is now a team sport and we have to get on the field and into the game. If we don't we will be doing our learners a great disservice. Hmmm...

(If you want to see my presentation it's up on SlideShare)

Let Go Of The Content... It's All About The Connections...

I've been an educator, mostly an adult educator, for over 32 years now. I hold both bachelor and masters degrees in education, with my masters specializing in adult education and training. In all of my formal training as an educators content was king - I learned a lot of content, I had to have subject matter expertise and my "job" was to ensure that my students got all of the content that they deeply deserved.

Well guess what everyone - we are not in Kansas anymore - given our new realities of education and the learning tools available to our "learners" (yes, they are no longer students), as educators we are faced with a new paradigm - content is dead - it's all about the connections made and the learning communities that count now. In fact, I have come to discover that content is actually mostly irrelevant in my role as an educator, and what my focus has become is developing learners so they can learn for themselves and find their own content through the development of communities and connections. So what does this all mean?

We are facilitating (not teaching) a new generation (actually generations, as most adult learning environments these days are multi-generational) of learners for a new generation of jobs and careers, many of which have not even been created yet. Technology has become pervasive in most learning environments, and the one technology that has had the greatest influence is the computer and its greatest learning tool, the Internet.

Learners have the Internet as their primary tool for information gathering and research - in fact the so-called Millennials or digital natives (Prensky) have even been said to be 'wired" differently as to their approach to information finding and gathering and their ability to multitask information gathering. They are exposed to an almost unlimited amount of content on any subject. What is lacking are the following skills and knowledge:
  • Gathering information
  • Processing knowldege
  • Context and relevancy of information
  • Sharing and using information
None of these skills are content-centric or specific to a particular subject area, but rather they should be considered as essential skills regardless of the chosen profession or academic track of the learner. It is our job as facilitators to ensure that our learners acquire these skills in order to succeed in the information age.

As facilitators of adult learning we must step away from our traditional role of content providers and move into one of facilitating connections - connections with information, connections with learners for the development of team and interpersonal skills, the connections with multiple (and massive) sources of information, the connections between raw data and the skills needed to make it useful information, and the connections that learners will need to be successful in their chosen professions, whatever those connections may be.

The most important connections that we can foster are the connections of community - learning is now a team sport - there is just too much information out there for one learner to make sense of - we need to foster and develop the creation of learning communities and environments that will assist in the success of our learners. This will become even more important as more and more learners choose to do their learning in environments outside of our traditional "brick" classrooms.

So, let go of the content and get connected. It's our future... Hmmm...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Connectivism & Connective Knowledge

Along with over 1600 other people, I'm about to take part in "Connectivism & Connective Knowledge", a MOOC - a massively open online course facilitated by two of the leading lights in online, Web 2.0, interactive, collaborative, networked learning (I'm sure there are many other descriptors), George Siemens of the University of Manitoba's Learning and Teaching Centre and Stephen Downes, of the National Research Council of Canada.

Details and information on the course are available from the course wiki. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity to enagage in discussions and reflections with people from all over the world, to share and discuss what is going on with connectivism and online learning and teaching.

A lot of great planning has gone into the course and there are some amazing references available - check it out, should be an amazing learning experience...

(Photo - "Foobar Poster - The Internet" - Sebastian Prooth)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Perspective On The US Election

I've become a fairly interested bystander in the US election process - as a Canadian I obviously cannot vote, but the impact of a US presidential race is felt world wide. The airwaves, Internet, and blogosphere are full of information on who is leading, where, why, and how.

A friend of mine pointed me to Perspctv, a polling tracking site. I've added their widget to my blog, so you can come here to follow along, or head to Perspctv to keep up on where things are. Looks like an interesting campaign that's going down to the wire. Whoever wins, the impact will be felt world wide, for better or for worse. Let's just hope it's for the better...

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Dog Days Of Summer And Other Things That Make Me Go Hmmm...

Here are a few miscellaneous items that have been piling up here - thought it was about time to get them posted:
  • How has it been that two months have gone by since my last post? Where did July and August go? I know I put them here somewhere. Hmmm...
  • Why is it when you take three weeks vacation in the summer you get only three or four days of sunny weather, and your first week back to work is a cloudless, sunny heat wave? Hmmm...
  • How did I manage to get through the Spring allergy-free, yet the last two weeks I've been swallowing Claritin and snorting Flonase? Must be global warming. Hmmm...
  • The Beijing Olympics were a great spectacle and a success by most measures, a real indicator of the power of China when it puts its mind to something (please pay attention everyone). Has too high a bar been set for future Olympics? Hmmm...
  • Hurricane Gustav is just about to slam into New Orleans, bringing back to mind the tragedy that was Katrina. Why is it that people stayed? I'm all about roots, and home, and family, but why live in a place where it appears every few years you run the risk of drowning or at least getting wiped out? When will enough be enough? Hmmm...
  • As someone on the outside looking in (and realizing the impact of the result on all of us), what's with the American political process? Last wek at the Democratic National Convention, the CNN talking heads (I think that's a new career path) were upset that ther convention wasn't mean enough and no one was called names - isn't it enough that it takes over two years to settle and election that here in Canada we settle in 30 days? Stop keeping the world waiting - the stress is too much. Hmmm...
  • The Republican party has hammered Obama for the longest time over his lack of experience and then selects a running mate for John McCain that a little over two years ago (about the time this campaign started) was the mayor of a small town in Alaska. You can't have it both ways. Hmmm...
  • Time to get back into a regular blogging schedule. Seems easier to do when I'm busy. Hmmm...
  • Why do they call it the Dog Days of Summer anyway? Hmmm...
(Photo - Harvey the Boxer - by Frosted Peppercorn)