Five Themes for the Web 2.0 Learner

In recent post I mentioned that Mission to Learn turned one on May 15. (Note: this was way back in 2008 (!) – but this post has remained relevant.) As chance would have it, I spoke on a Web 2.0 panel that morning at the annual meeting of Medbiquitous, the organization that was the subject of my very first posting here on Mission to Learn. My topic for the panel was “The Personal Knowledge Management Challenge: A New Learning Literacy for Web 2.0.”

As is usually the case, I had to submit an abstract many months before actually appearing to speak, and in the interim, my thinking about the topic evolved considerably. Preparation essentially became an exercise in retracing my own experiences of learning in a Web 2.0 world over the past year and trying to extract key themes. As usual, I looked to many who are wiser than I for guidance. Here is what I have arrived at so far:

Being acutely aware of the flow of information to which we are continually exposed as well as the challenges and opportunities it represents. Those already overwhelmed by information overload on a daily basis may feel this is an obvious point, but I suspect it may be significantly less obvious to digital natives than it is to digital immigrants. Even for the overwhelmed, it is easy enough to eventually become numb or so highly selective in our “hearing” that learning opportunities pass us by. Or perhaps worse, we may fail to account fully for the myriad influences at work in any flow of information.

Self Knowledge
An increased awareness of how we tend to interact with others, with information, and how we learn most effectively. The value of tools like personality assessments and learning style inventories in organizational settings (including classrooms) is often questioned, but for the individual learner faced with a wide array of media and communication possibilities on the Web, I think these tools and other approaches to self knowledge and personal goal setting can be invaluable in helping us to sort through the noise and set priorities.

The ability to recognize and embrace complexity and to “read” skillfully to extract and construct meaning. I put “read” in quotes here because it applies to more than simply textual content. I may be overstating the case, but I feel this theme goes beyond traditional notions of critical thinking, though certainly critical thinking is at its core. Two of my sources of inspiration for this theme are David Warlick, who discusses “reading” as part of his conceptualization of 21st century literacy, and Dave Snowden, who has written extensively on complex problem solving—a skill I think is all the more critical in a Web 2.0 world.

Not simply to form connections—one of the more obvious activities of the social Web—but to do so in an effective, authentic, and ethical way. Here I look again to David Warlick, who views the ability to express oneself in a compelling way as a key aspect of 21st century literacy. How else will you be heard among all the noise on the Web? Warlick also stresses ethical behavior, which I interpret as critical to building trust and creating a high-value learning network.

Also, I have Stephen Downes’ notion of networks vs. groups, and particularly his emphasis on diversity in mind when think of connection in a Web 2.0 world. On the one hand, the effective Web 2.0 learner needs to develop and maintain a reliable network; on the other hand, we have a tendency remain the proverbial birds of a feather who flock together, even given all the possibilities the Web offers. I’ve discussed this briefly before in one of my digital curator postings, and Michele Martin has fleshed out the topic much more thoroughly in her homophily posts.

What types of validation, if any, does the learner seek for engagement in learning activities on the Web? Validation can range from inner satisfaction at achieving a personal goal to commentary and reviews from others on the Web to receipt of a formal degree or other credential. The informality of the Web 2.0 learning experience presents challenges to validation, as George Siemens has noted and as I discussed in my earlier Imagine There’s No Courses posting. The sophisticated Web 2.0 learner will need to be aware of validation strategies as they evolve.

I finished up my Medbiquitous comments with a nod to Fischer’s concept of the teacher as network administrator and Siemens view of the teacher as curator (see my earlier Connectivism Considered posting) and also suggested the evolution of the “post-organizational” learner, a learner significantly less dependent upon traditional academic or corporate learning institutions for management and validation of learning.

This is just a quick overview, and I hope to dig into all of the above themes more deeply in future Mission to Learn postings and other writing. In the meantime, I welcome any comments. Do these themes resonate with you as a lifelong learner? Are there key elements I am missing? Let me know.


1 thought on “Five Themes for the Web 2.0 Learner”

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