Connected Learning hangout – educators across contexts

Really excited about participating in this Connected Learning Google Hangout…in a couple of hours: educators across contexts. Mostly because it’s a chance to have a live conversation with some amazing educators: Maha Bali, Shyam Sharma, Lenandlar Singh (fellow conspirators / contributors in edcontexts.org), Tania Sheko, Asao B. Inoue …and possibly even the one and only Simon Ensor  (which will no doubt add an interesting and exciting twist to the conversation).

But also because anything edcontexts-related makes me think really deeply and in interesting ways about education, learning, teaching – and how this relates to what I do in a work context – and perhaps importantly – as a human being.  To be honest, I’ve always felt a LITTLE out of place in the edcontexts group – everyone else is an educator in a higher ed, teaching, or academic context…and here I am, working in a corporate / organisational context doing eLearning stuff. But what I’ve realised, after being involved in it for a year, is that – this is the point: that we ARE from different contexts, bringing different perspectives of teaching, learning and education into the mix.

What I’ve realised is that we ALL learn and teach, every day, in informal contexts – in our everyday interactions with others, as parents, friends, family members, employees, employers – living with other people necessarily involves teaching and learning. And this is the beauty of the ‘edcontexts’ concept: it’s really just about telling a personal story, sharing a perspective about teaching and/or learning in any context – and it’s the nuance of the context that matters and makes it interesting. We all have a voice, we all have a story (many stories) about this – edcontexts is about sharing those stories so that others can relate and learn – and as with any ‘re-telling’ of a narrative, YOU learn a lot from the process of telling/retelling the story. And one of the things I love about being involved in the edcontexts.org project is reviewing posts – the range and variety of articles we get is amazing, and the differences in expression – hearing the different voices through the writing – is fascinating (yes, this is a blog post in itself…which I have been meaning to write for ages…).

We’ll be talking more about what ‘edcontexts’ means in the hangout. Look forward to seeing how the conversation pans out.

 

Conversation spaces for deep learning

Preface: this is a post I wrote back in March-April 2015 but hadn’t published as I’d wanted to create a more readable version of the diagram (yes. It took THAT long. Mainly because, as is often the case with draft / unpublished posts, I forgot about it then lost the momentum / motivation to go back to it). I’m digging into the blog draft archives and posting them without significant editing to try to develop a ‘WorkOutLoud’ attitude and become more comfortable with publicly sharing work-in-progress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about conversation spaces lately: public and private; online and offline; formal and informal places and spaces, and how each of these might support various ways of knowing and learning.

The seed of this thinking was planted by Kandy Woodfield’s excellent and thought provoking post last year on the ethics of (open) social learning and working out loud. Kandy’s post prompted me to start considering the role, pros/cons, and differences of open, public, professional learning spaces vs closed, private, personal ones – and how our learning across these contexts interact to influence our identity, connections, conversations, mindset and behaviour.

This thinking has been kick-started again as I’ve reflected on recent ongoing private conversations with a friend. This is a person I have only known for about 6 months, who less than 3 months ago I’d have called an acquaintance. The (what feels like) accelerated status from acquaintance to friend has occurred largely through these private conversations, in which we’ve explored complex topics at a personal level, through a variety of mediums: in-person conversations, text messages, email, phone calls. These conversations have been open, honest, challenging and confusing, where I’ve learnt as much about myself as I have about my friend; that have challenged me to think about things that I otherwise wouldn’t have (or wanted to); and inspired and supported me to change the way I approach certain situations.

It’s a personal learning experience that feels something like therapy, counselling, or coaching conversations – but without the formality or power dynamics inherent in these contexts. John Stepper’s WOL circles (based on Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’ circles) – an informal model for peer coaching and support might be an apt comparison. But yet more emergent, organic (serendipitous?) – without the guidelines, explicitly articulated purpose, or group dynamic.

As learning practitioners and educators we often ponder how to achieve deep, personally meaningful learning that inspires and supports ongoing, long term behaviour change. The type of learning that – in an organisational context – translates not only to impacts on business measures, but broad and lasting cultural change. That in an educational context – might lead to a breakthrough transition: from uncooperative/disruptive students with low self esteem to enthusiastic students proud of their achievements with a newfound thirst for learning (This inspiring EdContexts post by Éllen Cintra is a great example). The type of learning that prompts individuals to examine within, reflect deeply, question long held beliefs, and change their behaviour or habits.

My instinct is that all of these learning experiences come about through similar underlying processes. I have been wondering about the characteristics of this type of profound learning: how it emerges, whether it could be achieved in an intentionally designed environment, and the conditions that are needed to facilitate it.

And what I’m thinking might drive this type of learning is conversation. Conversations of: openness. honesty. empathy, shared understanding. shared purpose, trust. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Mutual, ongoing support. Conversations that make you FEEL deeply as well as think deeply. That engender emotional, as well as cognitive connection. It may not be so much about finding a solution to a defined problem, as it is about uncovering, unravelling, & exploring complexity and supporting each other to figure out how and what might work.

Can environments be ‘designed’ to support this type of learning?

‘Design’ in this context is not about developing the right set of ‘learning resources’. It’s not about setting up an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) and hoping for the best – or manufacturing reasons for people to ‘interact’. It’s about creating the right type of ‘conversation space’ for these personally or professionally meaningful conversations (and learning > relationships > behaviour change) to emerge.

Here is a ‘back of the envelope’ set of conditions that I’m thinking might be important:

  • Private or semi-private (e.g. a closed group) conversation spaces. High degrees of trust and vulnerability are critical for deep learning. This may be difficult (impossible?) to achieve in an open, public space. Personal conversations, private/direct/text messages, coaching or performance conversations, journals, WOL circles are all examples of private conversation spaces.
  • In-person contact – maybe it’s possible to develop the same level of trust and vulnerability exclusively through online interactions, but I’m still not entirely sure (reflecting on this conversation on Terry Elliot’s blog re the nature of connection). At the least, it might take longer and be more difficult than if there were opportunities for face to face contact. More ‘present’ forms of online interaction like Google Hangouts, Skype or video calls might help bridge the gap.
  • Regular, ongoing contact, ‘check-ins’ – this may be essential for the ‘change’ aspect of this learning – ongoing, mutual support, talking through issues, encouragement to try (and keep trying) different courses of action, following up and reflecting on what seems to work (or not) is a form of social accountability, and helps motivate, kickstart & continue behaviour change.
  • Empathy / shared experiences and/or purpose – empathy can be so important for developing trust. Maybe because when empathy is present there is no judgement. Empathy might come from shared experiences and/or a shared purpose. Or might simply emerge from listening without judgement.

This is something I drafted a couple of months ago, to start mapping out some of this thinking. I always intended to post it as a ‘thinking out loud’ artifact, but wasn’t inspired to write the framing post and backstory for it until my personal conversations with my friend, and the conversation on Terry’s blog got me revisiting this thinking. (Thanks Terry – and thanks to my friend who has been integral to the backstory. I think you might know who you are).

conversation spaces - work in progress

These are the original scribblings and notes that the above diagram evolved from (you can see why I needed to convert it to a more legible format…):

conversationspaces-evolution

Writing-meeting up-collaborating

I’m conscious that I haven’t published on this blog for a while – and that’s partly because I have been writing elsewhere. I’ve also been to some new meetups and collaborating (co-writing, reviewing, commenting, conversing) in various communities and associated offshoots I’m involved with.

I have some half finished (or half-started?) posts in the making. But ahead of our upcoming #OzLearn chat on working out loud (inspired by Simon Terry), I thought I’d short circuit them all and do a little retrospective work out loud post on some of the things I’ve been doing. Kind of like my friend Helen Blunden’s “What have I been up to?” posts (which I always enjoy!).

Writing

Much of my writing recently has been associated with EdConteXts.org – a great project which I’m facilitating with a bunch of standout educators across the globe. It’s been enlightening – mostly because it’s led me to read widely, in areas I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise, and to collaborate closely with educators who introduce me to new perspectives, ideas, contexts in learning and education, and connections in different domains. Plus opportunities to write in new contexts, including:

Meetups

July ended up being packed with new meetup experiences – I attended 3 new ones (none of which I hosted!):

  1. ResponsiveOrg meet on co-working & new ways to work, organised by Mark Woodrow. It was my intention to attend one of these since I saw Simon Terry tweet that he was speaking at a responsivecoffee event in Sydney. Although I wasn’t able to make that one, it piqued my curiosity of the ‘responsivecoffee’ / ‘ResponsiveOrg’ concept. I signed up to notifications of their meetup events. The stars aligned: the July event was on coworking -something I’d been looking into for the Sydney Third Place group (e.g. similar to these coworking events Helen has been doing in Melbourne). It presented a great opportunity to check out a prominent coworking space in Sydney (The Hub), a responsivecoffee / org event – and to explore potential common interests between ResponsiveOrg and Third Place. So, the Sydney Third Place event for July became an invite to join me at the ResponsiveOrg event. It was a really good experience. I’ve started writing more about it (another post).
  2. Third Place all cities Google + Hangout – Helen had the genius idea of organising a G+ Hangout as an opportunity for Third Place people across cities to meet (virtually) –and also to experiment with Hangout features and functionality. I’d always wanted to do some sort of cross-city event, and hadn’t done a Hangout before so thought it was a great opportunity. Helen has written more about the event here. My impression? Whilst I can see Hangouts being an excellent tool to meet and collaborate virtually on specific projects, they (and any virtual meeting spaces) may still have some way to go to achieve the type of immediacy and intimacy (& serendipitous distraction) of an informal face to face meetup. I think part of the reason is because it’s difficult to hear more than one person talking, you invariably end up having one person speak at any one time. This gives it the ambience of a more formal meeting, particularly for 10 or close to 10 people. Whereas in an informal face to face meeting of this size, people would naturally fall into smaller side conversations – whilst still being in the same physical space as the rest of the group (and having access to surrounding conversations) – these natural divisions are impossible to achieve in a virtual meeting space (breakout areas=separate subgroups). Ryan and I are doing another in a few weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see if my impressions change after that. Maybe once you relax and get used to the medium, the (perhaps, mental?) divide between virtual and physical starts to close.
  3. eLearning collective meetup – I’d been meaning to check out this newish meetup group started by Kerrie Burow, especially since our conversation on video based learning via Ryan’s blog. It’s always nice to meet people you interact with online. As an organiser of Third Place meetup events in Sydney, I’m also interested in checking out alternative meetup groups – for inspiration and potentially collaboration. I finally had the chance to attend an eLearning collective meet a couple of weeks ago. It was a good event – more semi-formal (with organised speaker/s and ‘round table’ discussion) than the completely informal get-together-&- have-a-chat format of Third Place. Excellent turnout (possibly about 30-40) and a whole different set of learning people in the room – perhaps with a higher proportion of education/higher ed and vocational ed & training (VET) than corporate (as tends to be the case with our Sydney Third Place people). Having perused the topics and attendees of their previous meets this didn’t altogether surprise me. But it’s also something that intrigues and interests me: the formation of links and connections across these different contexts, which are often perceived as being distinct from each other – but at the core deal with many of the same issues: learner engagement, relevant & meaningful learning experiences, facilitating collaborative and student centred pedagogies (via technology). There is more that I can and will write of this meetup. But I’ll save that for a separate post.

Why rhizo14

So, we’re now in week 2 of Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning ‘course’ (I use that term in the loosest possible way) and I’m only just now sitting down to write some posts about it. I’ve been exploring the various spaces (P2PU, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, participants’ blogs …), reading, commenting. I initially contemplated limiting my participation to just that. But, I feel I’ve got to (steal?) some  time now to block out the chatter, reflect, consolidate and try to make sense of the chaos. It’s a challenge because the conversations are so compelling, and the exploration so much fun it can be difficult to tear yourself away.

So: why rhizo14?

It all started when I saw this post from Vanessa Vaile in the G+ Learning and Change community. I’d previously seen Vahid Masrour post about it too, and I just had to take a look…

. G+_rhizopost_VV

As soon as I read Dave Cormier’s ‘Unguided tour of Rhizo14’ (a ‘course intro’ of sorts…), I was hooked.

What got me hooked

  • I love that Dave acknowledges right up that it’s going to be chaotic and that you may find yourself lost (& possibly thinking things like: “this is the biggest time waster ever”, “that Dave guy has no idea what he’s talking about…”). My experience with xplrpln taught me that messy learning can lead to big breakthroughs in thinking – and that the process entails periods of feeling very perplexed and lost. So the promise of chaos actually appealed immediately.
  • I love that he presents this as an experiment and says “I mostly don’t know what I’m doing”. Clearly tongue in cheek but what he’s really saying is that his MO is to try new things. I love this attitude. And this notion of the course ‘convener’/ ‘instructor’/ ‘teacher’ (again, all terms used in the loosest of ways) not having all (or even any) of the answers and learning along with everyone else again reflected Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott’s approach to their role in xplrpln (as “scholar-practitioners”). I love this type of learning. It democratises the experience and  –  I think, is probably an essential position to take when delving into complex topics. Because in complexity, there actually ARE no ‘correct’ answers. (So let’s not pretend there are). And much of what you gain from  learning this way is how to navigate uncertainty, the courage to share ‘half baked ideas’ (trademark Jeff Merrell) for others to explore, comment and build on, and the ability to analyse, think critically about, build, adapt and remix the half baked ideas that others put out.
  • I was  intrigued by the multi-platform setup (P2PUFacebook TwitterGoogle+, participants’ blogs, and anywhere else you want). Multiple access points and multiple ways to engage provides options for participants, lowers the barriers for engaging (participants don’t have to ‘learn’ or get used to a new and unfamiliar platform), and provides an opportunity for people to dip in and out of different groups. It’s also a potential source of complexity and I’m intrigued by how this will impact the learning experience. I’ve also never used Facebook seriously as a learning tool (very much exclusively social – and not much at that; I’m not often on it, and really, if I am it’s invariably to comment or ‘like’ a post about friends’ babies or children….) , so interested to see if and how my perspective changes on it.
  • I love that he depicts it not as a ‘course’ –  more like a party or going on camp. Pitching it this way immediately changes the ‘feel’ of this experience, from something potentially esoteric or onerous, to something totally social, fun, and doable: “You might just like to chat with people.” (Yeah, I can do that! And I like doing that!). “You might try to make one really good friend.” (xplrpln showed me it is entirely possible to make more than one good friend through interaction in an online course. An opportunity to do that again is hard to resist). “You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little.” (I’d like to aim for the former, but I’ll still get something out of it if I only manage the latter. And the decision of what and how much is left entirely up to me. I like that.). “Don’t know where to start. Write something somewhere and tell us why you joined.” (Ok. Here you go. Bit late, but clearly that’s irrelevant in a course with no explicit objectives – other than those you impose on yourself).
  • I loved the sense of excitement I felt at reading his intro – the sense that this was something that would explore the edges of what’s possible in open online learning. And who could resist being part of something like that?

So – despite the fact that I’m feeling somewhat over committed already (what with a Masters to finish, helping get the new #ozlearn Twitter chat up and running, organising a Sydney Third Place meetup, working full time, with a 3 year old and family I don’t really want to neglect….), I’m here.

What are my objectives?

So seeing as the one of the key things of rhizo learning is about finding your own path (there are no ‘course’ objectives…), here are some of mine. I’m sure more will emerge as time goes on….

  • explore and engage with people on the full range of platforms – including ones I’m not used to. Observe what differences or  similarities there might be:  in people, types of conversations, tone, and  interaction across different platforms….
  • discover and develop meaningful relationships with new people with interests that intersect mine
  • reflect on the ‘course’ design – and implications & experience of rhizomatic learning. Consider what and how various components  of the design and this type of learning might be applied or adapted to support better learning in a corporate workplace environment

Next up: my week 1 post – in poem form.

Emergent thinking in #xplrpln

One of the most interesting things about participating in #xplrpln is observing how our current thinking evolves and new thinking emerges as a result of engaging with others’ ideas – either through reading and/or commenting on blogs, participating in a discussion forum, chat session, or reading and responding to tweets.

It’s fascinating, this process of wading through the threads of thought, picking and teasing out the threads that you identify with, playing with them,  to work out how they fit in with your own, and – as has happened more often than not over the past 3 weeks – integrating new thought-threads to evolve and tweak your own thinking.

I’m as interested in the process of how learning occurs through participatory open online education experiences like #xplrpln, as I am in the content being covered. One of the things I’d like to do is to observe and describe the interactions and experiences that have the most impact on my learning and thinking as we progress, to try to better understand the open online learning process (more to come on that….)

***

Post script: Inspiration

This rather short post was inspired by Maureen Crawford’s awesomely poetic suggestion (challenge?) to wite more regularly in order to get out of being too precious about your writing.  Her own thoughts-in-progress style reminded me of the reason I started this blog in the first place: to explore, experiment and reflect on ideas. Narrating thoughts in short regular bursts seem like a perfect way to do this.

So there’s my “try something new” for this week. Thanks Maureen!

#xplrpln: Week 1: try something new

Well, we’re now at the END of week 2 of the ‘Exploring Personal Learning Networks’ open online seminar…and I’ve finally got to getting down a post on week 1 (BlogFail!).  Have been WAY too preoccupied with exploring, commenting and conversing on all of the interesting stuff that others have posted. Which is Good, and kind of the point of this type of (cMOOC) experience, but I recognise it’s also important to leave time for individual reflection and take stock of what I’m learning.

And…since I’m doing this, I might as well start at the begininng.

Why I’m doing this seminar

I was really excited when I saw the overview of this seminar / cMOOC. This was not just because it was on PLNs – something I was interested in exploring further – but because it focused on exploring PLNs from an organisational perspective, and the impact of networks both internal and external to the org.

I immediately saw a link with some of the ideas and themes I was discussing with my supervisor for my Masters research: knowledge creation-sharing- management / organisational learning / innovative teams / open innovation / Communities of Practice. I had an ‘aha’ moment when I realised the external connections in an individual’s PLN could potentially function as sources of open innovation for organisations, and the proposal in my previous post is my initial delve into the academic literature on this.

So: my main motivation in participating in this learning experience is primarily to enhance my understanding of PLNs to inform my Masters research. Another goal is to experience a connectivist MOOC (cMOOC). I’ve had #etmooc envy since reading about Jeff’s experiences on his blog, and been itching to get into one. I’m keen to really explore complex ideas in depth with smart people who have an open attitude to learning (and in doing so, expand my own PLN). So far, it’s certainly shaping up to be exactly this.

Try something new

The theme of week 1 was ‘try something new’. I love this theme. What I love about it is that it introduces spirit of adventure, and invites a mindset of experimentation upfront. It reminds me of the creative headspace that #DS106 encourages. Most of the new things I’ve tried in the last week have been inspired by the #xplrpln community:

  • Exploring and engaging with communities in Google + for the first time (main site of the #xplrpln community)
  • Now using HootSuite to follow twitter streams (now following #cicmooc, #ooe13, #DS106, #ds106dc, #lrnchat!) and to find interesting stuff more easily – thanks to this post by Keeley Sorokti
  • Finally participated in a #lrnchat (something I’ve been intending to do for YEARS, but never seemed to be ‘able’ to make time…until I caught the ‘try something new’ bug)
  • Exploring interesting ideas with a bunch of new people who have totally inspired and stimulated my thinking
  • Used Pinterest for the first time – to chart a narrative of my PLN (or perhaps, more accurately PLE) – see below for more.

A view of my evolving PLN/PLE – on Pinterest

I was quite inspired by the posts from others reflecting on their own PLNs. I liked how some attempted to map their PLNs using mind mapping tools to provide a visual of their network (Kind of like a basic SNA diagram). I was also taken by Helen Blunden’s narrative approach, describing her experience meeting her PLN, using a tool she’d never used previously (Shadowpuppet).

I liked the idea of using this exercise as an opportunity to experiment with a tool I’d never used before. And ever since I read about Jane Bozarth exploring Pinterest to create narratives, I’ve been interested to try this too. So I attempted to map a narrative of my evolving PLN on Pinterest:

Pinterest_PLN

Reflections in light of week 2

I started mapping my Pinterest PLN idea last week, and over the week, as we’ve debated and discussed the definition of a PLN in week 2 of #xplrpln, I’ve come to realise that what I mapped last week, was probably more my PLE (Personal Learning Environment), with portions of PLN distributed across this PLE.

Regardless, it was quite a valuable exercise, as it made me reflect on where I learn stuff, who from, how, and the types of things I learn across the various platforms within my PLE. It also raised a number of questions for me, including:

  • What distinguishes a PLN from a PLE? There was a LOT of thought provoking discussion about this over the week. I think I’m leaning towards reciprocity or the potential for reciprocity as the difference between a PLN and PLE.
  • What differentiates a purely social network from a PLN? This is a slippery one for me, as I don’t particularly differentiate personal from professional learning when thinking about my PLN. And I also think, if we’re talking about reciprocity or potential for reciprocity as a defining feature of a PLN, having a social connection is integral to this reciprocity, or potential for reciprocity. So, for example, even though I define my Facebook network as largely a social network, there are people who I connect with (albeit occasionally) to exchange ideas about parenting. Thus they would form part of my PLN.
  • What are the different features and affordances of the various platforms that might make up a PLE, and how does this impact what, how, and who you learn from? For example, in mapping out my own PLE, I realised that my LinkedIn consists largely of a local professional network with whom I mostly learn and share stuff that directly impacts my day to day role (e.g. instructional design, elearning design / dev, training, job opportunities…). Whereas twitter is my connection to the global L&D community to learn about ‘big ideas’ that I’m interested in (innovation, creativity, org learning, change, open ed…).

There are a lot more thoughts and questions that have emerged from other interactions, discussions, blog posts in week 2…but I might save that for my next post!

Road to research

A couple of days ago, I re-enrolled into the Master of Learning Sciences and Technology program I first started back in 2009. And afterwards, I started freaking out. Just a little. Reasons being:

  1. It’s been 3 years since I was last enrolled in this program. Whilst it was undoubtedly a valuable and intellectually stimulating experience, I also recall a lot of stressing out about uni work on the weekends and in the evenings after work.
  2. A helluva lot has happened in these intervening 3 years. Not least of which is that I now have a kid who I adore spending my weekends and evenings with.
  3. Somehow, I let Prof Michael J Jacobson talk me into staying in the research stream. And research stream = 12,000 word dissertation. And yes. That’s a big part of why I’m freaking out.

I’m not even quite sure how this happened. I went into enrolment resolved to change from Research to the Professional stream. Although I’d previously harboured ambitions to do research in a past life, the thought of undertaking a PhD now makes me slightly ill. But instead of saying that out loud to the Prof., I found myself looking interested when he said the amount of work involved in the dissertation would be about the same as the Professional stream project  (really?!), and empathising when he told me how disappointed one of his former (Professional stream) students was when told he couldn’t easily gain entry to a PhD because he hadn’t done any previous research (wouldn’t have happened if he’d done the Research stream..). Then, all of a sudden I was talking research topics.

Here are some of the ideas we discussed:

  • Productive failure – this refers to a finding by Manu Kapur: students given complex, ill defined problems without any prior instruction, whilst not able to correctly solve the problem, later demonstrated better understanding of the concept than students receiving direct instruction (worked example, practice, feedback).  They attribute this to the fact that students in the ‘productive failure’ condition generated a lot more ideas about the problem when trying to solve it, thus gaining a greater understanding of its structure and ability to apply their knowledge to other problem contexts. Whilst this is a very interesting learning phenomenon with big implications for learning design, I’m actually interested in exploring how it might relate to innovation. There’s commonly a link made between organisational innovation and failure (or experience gained from failure) – and I think Kapur’s research goes some way to explain why. I’ve always thought that if I were to do research, I’d want to apply it in a context I know. So the idea of taking an idea that has previously been researched within a school context, and exploring if and how it generalises to an organisational environment could be interesting.
  • Technology facilitated collaborative learning – this is an area I’ve always been interested in, and there’s a lot of scope for a lot of interesting work here. It’s just a matter of narrowing it down.
  • Design of learning environments for the future – this is the title of a book that Prof Jacobson and Dr Peter Reimann edited which incorporates lots of interesting topics (incl. using visual representations in learning, virtual worlds, collaborative teams, personal learning communities…)

So I don’t know…but I might just be starting to get over my freak out and getting a little bit excited about this research gig after all.