Learning is Conversation

This is a remix and update of some previous posts.

Let’s start with the Cluetrain Manifesto (1999), and update it for training & education (my previous post).

We are online learners …

  • We are not seats or audiences or users or target populations, we are human beings and OUR reach exceeds YOUR grasp.
  • Networked learners are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, learners are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most education and training organizations.
  • To traditional educational institutions, networked conversations may appear confused, may even sound confusing. But we, the learners, are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, and no rules to slow us down.

Thesis #1: Learning is conversation.

Stock & Flow

If learning is conversation, then online conversations are the essential component of online learning. Online communication can be divided into two parts (Lee Lefever):

Flows = Timely & Engaging (e.g. radio, speeches, e-mail, blogs)

Stocks = Archived, Organized for Reference (e.g. web site, database, book, voice mail)

One reason that blogs are so engaging is because they allow flow. On the other hand, stock on the Net is everywhere. In the case of digital learning content, fewer people are willing to pay for plain old stock, such as self-paced online courses. Learning content is now a commodity and over time the price of commodities tends to zero.

You need flow to provide real value for learners (remember that they’re becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding), as flow provides the essential element of context. Social interactions help to put it all together for each learner. For instance, MIT’s open courseware initiative makes the stock available for free, but you have to pay to participate in the flow (class membership, MIT degree). Without the stock, there is little to guide the flow, so you need both but stock alone is almost worthless.

Networks Enable Connections

Will Richardson made this statement about the changing needs of learners in a networked world, “ … now that we have access to people and knowledge, learning is ‘network creation’ and we can learn through ‘collaborative meaning making’.” The web enables connections (constant flow) as well as instant access to information (infinite stock).

Because of this connectivity, the Web is an environment more suited to just-in-time learning than the current and all-pervasive course model. Learning on the web is moving from stock to flow, and devaluing all content out there. For web-savvy learners, entering an online course and then losing access to the system, notes and connections after the “course” is seen as ridiculous. These learners are what Mark Federman, Chief Strategist of The McLuhan Institute calls UCaPP:

“The UCaPP world – ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate – is a world of relationships and connections. It is a world of entangled, complex processes, not content. It is a world in which the greatest skill is that of making sense and discovering emergent meaning among contexts that are continually in flux. It is a world in which truth, and therefore authority, is never static, never absolute, and not always true.”

Now that the Web is nearly ubiquitous, we are moving away from a ‘horseless carriage’ metaphor for the web. Online courses and curricula are old metaphors posing on the new medium. Tagging, folksonomies, wikis and social bookmarks are new metaphors designed within the new medium. Tech savvy learners are exploiting the inherent capabilities of the Internet and creating new social tools. Hence the rise of Web 2.0 – the web being built by the digital natives. These same natives are the new, discerning, and well-informed, customers for training & education organisations.

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