Food for thought

I left my poor blog starve to death these days. According to Suw, it should be easy enough to resurrect it. Hope it still works! I’m not good at all at managing my priorities – I kept on posting drafts with one-two ideas and a link, but never succeeded to come back and write comprehensible sentences for publishing them. Someone called me a procrastinator – well, this is what I am. I always want to do more things than I’m able to in a limited time period…But let’s come to the point that made me blog at 1 am:

Few days ago, I found a message on the onlinefacilitation discussion list at Yahoo, talking about Stephen Downes’ “fantastic presentation” on Reusable Media, Social Software and Opennes in Education at a conference in Utah and pointing to both the PPT and the MP3 files. I downloaded the PPT and it made me curious – a “Blogger of e-learning”? what could this mean? Then Friday afternoon, after finishing my presentation about Open Source Communities I was working on for the last few weeks, I downloaded the MP3 and copied it to my MP3-USB stick, to transfer it on my laptop at home. But waiting in the bus station, I thought it could be nice to walk a bit- it was a beautiful Indian Summer day- and listen to the presentation. I intended to walk for 10-15 minutes, but after one hour I was still walking and listening, carrying the heavy laptop on my shoulder and totally charmed by what I heard.

What was it all about? The presented paper was titled “The Turning Point”. I have the feeling that this is what we were looking for when at BlogWalk2 we agreed there was a bit more behind the “blogging metaphor”, but we were not able yet to express it.

It’s about open vs.closed – and not only regarding learning matters. For me, it was the perfect timing -I had my head full of features of the Open Source culture. What Downes says is that we have the chance to turn toward a new approach in learning, and to transform the current broadcasting- where learners are actors and are obliged to play a pre-written role – in conversations. I read about markets being conversations (The Cluetrain Manifesto), about blogging as conversations(finding your identity in conversations with othersLilia Efimova), and I had in mind the extraordinary examples of Barbara Ganley (who changed totally the learning style of her students using blogs as support and stepping out of her teacher role to become one of them) and of Lee Bryant (who’s company managed to grow a knowledge management system organically, by talking to extensive numbers of people involved) at BlogTalk 2.0.

That story of the Little Prince goes the same way. (If I would like to get education, I would look for a friend and I would make a long trip together with him. This way we would come to know what do we need for life!)

All we have done by now was to transpose the old methods of teaching and learning to the digital space provided by Internet. And most of us were feeling that this was not enough. It is useful, because it supresses time and distance constraints, but it’s not enough.

Downes says “In general, new technology is introduced in two stages… First, it duplicates existing products and services… Second, it obliterates them…” We are still in the first stage, but advancing toward the second will force us to make some choices. While the traditional media and the traditional learning system will struggle to keep their advantages, there is a chance for us to be able to build a new type of learning that’s open and conversational.

Asked what would be his definition of e-learning, Downes says e-learning should be like electricity, like water, and not like LEGO. It should be available in the wall, and it should be changing every day.

He brings a lot of examples of open models that eventually replaced the closed ones, claiming that we need simple, decentralised and open learning software (a “Blogger of learning content”). “Otherwise LMSs will eventually kill learning, instead of fostering it.”

“We need diversity, symbiosis, backpropagation and emergence.”

“Instead of organizing learning, we should find out how networks re-organize themselves.”

“Nobody can learn only by listening, nobody can teach only by speaking.”

And here comes what he points at as the second stage: we have to gain our voice and start speaking, we have to gain access. Learning has to become something people do for themselves. This is why we need open structures.

This speech of Downes gave me wings: I was constantly asking myself how the world would look like if people would be encouraged to learn what they want, how they want, and when they want. To pick up their own masters. To be able to find friends to do parts of the travel with.

Blogging made this possible – nobody can dictate you what blogs to read, nobody can force you to make a post if you’re not ready with digesting your thoughts. We can see the signs of this new type of learning – some people are doing it already, and – accidentally or not – most of them have something to do with blogs. Is this something for the grand public? Not yet. But, as Downes says, it’s important to start by giving an example yourself. “We need to contribute what we know to begin this atmosphere of learning. What that does, it’s to create the marketplace, the model and experience of sharing, a part of the network. And that’s really all you have to do. You don’t need to rewrite the world- you just need to contribute a bit of it. Feed forward!”

I found the speech really great, and having the MP3 record made it even more interesting- it was really as I was there at the conference, blogging it live! And by sharing this with everyone, Stephen Downes really made his point and gave us an example!

September 12 2004 09:29 pm | Uncategorized

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