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The Perfect Storm of Opportunity for Learning

Social_knoweldge Great article in Educause--Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail and Learning 2.0. Some key quotes:

The world has become increasingly “flat,” as Tom Friedman has shown. Thanks to massive improvements in communications and transportation, virtually any place on earth can be connected to markets anywhere else on earth and can become globally competitive.1 But at the same time that the world has become flatter, it has also become “spikier”: the places that are globally competitive are those that have robust local ecosystems of resources supporting innovation and productiveness.2 A key part of any such ecosystem is a well-educated workforce with the requisite competitive skills. And in a rapidly changing world, these ecosystems must not only supply this workforce but also provide support for continuous learning and for the ongoing creation of new ideas and skills. . .

It is unlikely that sufficient resources will be available to build enough new campuses to meet the growing global demand for higher education—at least not the sort of campuses that we have traditionally built for colleges and universities. Nor is it likely that the current methods of teaching and learning will suffice to prepare students for the lives that they will lead in the twenty-first century.

The article goes on to argue that

. . . various initiatives launched over the past few years have created a series of building blocks that could provide the means for transforming the ways in which we provide education and support learning. Much of this activity has been enabled and inspired by the growth and evolution of the Internet, which has created a global “platform” that has vastly expanded access to all sorts of resources, including formal and informal educational materials. The Internet has also fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs.

Learning 2.0--learning with blogs, wikis, open source content, etc.--these are the tools that we need to build a 21st century workforce and keep people engaged in lifelong learning. These tools have also transformed the ways that we learn, from "knowledge as substance and pedagogy as transfer of learning" to "we participate, therefore we are--knowledge is socially constructed." The heart of the article (for me) is this:

There is a second, perhaps even more significant, aspect of social learning. Mastering a field of knowledge involves not only “learning about” the subject matter but also “learning to be” a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice.

That is, to be truly proficient, we must not only have certain knowledge, we must know how to be a full participant in the community of practice that builds up around that knowledge. We must not only know the skills and knowledge associated with being a social worker or a doctor or a teacher, we must also know what it is to BE those occupations--the habits of mind, the approaches to problems and learning, etc. These are types of knowledge that we can foster through Web 2.0 tools and the social learning and connections that we build.

Great stuff--worthy of further reading and discussion. I'm out the door to a meeting, but if you get a chance to read this, I highly recommend it and would love to know your thoughts.


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Hi Michele,

Funny you should bring this up. It's been something on my "to do" list for weeks: to post a blog about why we need relationships for learning. This idea is more formally posed in: Smith, M. K. (1999) 'The social/situational orientation to learning', the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-social.htm Last update: December 28, 2007.

One of my favorite quotes from this piece: "Learning is in the conditions that bring people together and organize a point of contact that allows for particular pieces of information to take on a relevance; without the points of contact, without the system of relevancies, there is not learning, and there is little memory. Learning does not belong to individual persons, but to the various conversations of which they are a part."

In my area, the intercultural relationships are the ones with the richest outcomes: We relate to each other because we are similar, but we learn from each other because we are different.


Betsy, this is a great companion piece to the Educause article! My own experiences of learning since I began blogging have strongly supported this notion of social learning and how relationships inform the learning process. If you blog more about this, I'd love to read it--do please send the link!

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