Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Co-Learning and the Fluid Future, some quick remarks on the #etmooc dialog

I just watched the #etmooc conversation, The Case of #etmooc:

and have few quick remarks.

Modeling, Vygotsky, learning to learn

At one point Rhonda remarked: "...you sort of role-modeled how to do connected learning for us..." Others picked up the modeling motif from then on. As a kind of conceptual anchor, I’d like to link that to Vygtosky’s account of language learning. To be sure, he doesn’t talk of adults as modeling language for the child. Rather, he writes of the child as learning to use his own language to direct his behavior in the way that adults direct the child’s behavior through language.

He writes, in effect, of internalization. And internalization is a general mechanism. The aim of the so-called Socratic method is for the student to internalize the questioning-function that is, in effect, modeled by the teacher. When you’ve gotten the point, you no longer need Socrates to interrogate you. You can do it yourself.

And that’s also going on in one-on-one music instruction. The student needs to internalize the instructor’s ability to spot problems and provide exercises to work on them. Long after you’ve left formal lessons you still need to work on your technique, whether mere maintenance, or extending it into new areas.

At some point in the dialog Jeff used the phrase “learn to learn.” That’s crucial, ever more so in a world where skills obsolesce rapidly. Surely the best way of learning to learn is to internalize the capability of an active learner.

The Fluid Community

There was a fair amount of talk about the fluid nature of the #etmooc community. There seemed to have been a lot of drop outs (though there were probably a lot of invisible lurkers as well) and the remaining community is self-selected. Such are things. The interesting thing, though, is the community persisted beyond the formal end of a course of instruction. This, of course, could happen as #etmooc floats on the open internet rather than existing in a closed learning management system, where access to online facilities is typically shut down at the end of the course. So one also remarked that there were “so many entry points" and Alec remarked that is would be interesting to have an “ongoing precourse” so that people could enter at any time.

In other words the boundary of the course/community is fuzzy, fluid and open. What does that imply about future possibilities?

We have the open internet, with lots of activity of all kinds, and lots of communities and confluences of people. A course like #etmocc is simply a coordinating area, a nexus and crossroads, for certain kinds of interests and capabilities. People drop by, hang around, learn something (or not) and move on. And within this large scattered arena of loosely organized communities of co-learners we have more structured environments for different kinds of education.

The educational system we’ve got has been based on the assumption that one learns early in life and then, at some point, one stops learning and becomes a productive adult though work life and family life. Once that threshold is crossed, one has no need for further education.

As I said, that’s the assumption beyond our institutions. There’s a strong and sharp boundary between the period of your life when you get educated and the rest of your life. And there’s a correspondingly sharp boundary between places of education (schools) and places of work, family, and recreation. In practice, of course, that’s not the case. We have all sorts of add-ons to allow for education and training beyond the point that one leaves formal full-time schooling, whether that’s after high school, or after two, four, or more years of higher education.

What happens if we drop the assumption of a strong barrier between a learning period of one’s life and, shall we say, an earning period? Does the development of online co-learning also elide the distinction between full-time professional teachers and students? Are we all teachers at some time in some setting?

And so forth.

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