Learning Set Free

Set learning free!There’s a passage in one of George Siemens’ recent postings that I like so much I’m tempted simply to quote it and hit publish. In reviewing an article on “courseocentricsm” Siemens says:

I like the idea of thinning our classroom walls and allowing connections to be formed between concepts from other subject areas. But that responsibility shouldn’t rest on the educator. “Getting on the same page” ([article] author’s words) seems a bit at odds with opening up class rooms. We need to all get on our own page, form our own connections, our own understanding of different fields. It seems that the desire still runs high for educators to apply increased organization when problems become intractable.

And here’s the kicker (italics added):

What is really needed is a complete letting go of our organization schemes and open concepts up to the self/participatory/chaotic sensemaking processes that flourish in online environments.

Well, a few thoughts before I hit publish:

First, I think those who historically have flourished in the offline world – many of them partially or fully self-educated – have intuitively embraced this “self/participatory/chaotic sensemaking” process or been fortunate enough to have someone or someones guide them towards it. But in a less open, less connected world, it is possible to get by without putting much stock in sensemaking. It’s even possible to become president.

Second, the world that the Web engenders – i.e., our current world – pretty well insists on even “ordinary” individuals developing strong sense-making skills if they expect to thrive. Depending on your perspective, this is a subtle shift or an obvious shift, but either way it’s a powerful shift that individuals ignore – or are deprived of – at their own peril.

Finally, thinning walls between classes and courses is an excellent goal. I know from too many years in graduate school what silos academics can construct. Indeed, don’t just thin the walls. Bust ‘em down. Set learning free!

But all of these building metaphors suggest a physicality that tends to be felt too literally – and makes all of this sound more daunting and frightening than it really is. The Web enables a sense-making mindset to flourish (and how!), but it is most fundamentally a mindset, and it can flourish in classrooms and pretty much anywhere else if cultivated properly. (The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Web of the Classroom, a Classroom of the Web.)

Update: Be sure to read Ellen Behrens response in defense of the traditional course.

Jeff Cobb
Mission to Learn

A few related postings that may be of interest:

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