Learning in the Collective – #etlead

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Nerd Alert! Do you remember the ultimate collective? Here is a “twitter feed” from the Borg. (Courtesy of Schizmatic.com) 

The traditional role of student and teacher has been changing. “…anyone who has particular knowledge of, or experience with, a given subject may take on the role of mentor at any time.” say Thomas and Seely, of A New Culture of Learning. They go on to describe how this happens continuously now because computers and Internet access allow anyone to view “an almost unimaginably diverse array of information and points of view.”

My husband and I have been active in the blogging community for years. We produce our own blog which showcases our life. We also read innumerable blogs on a variety of issues and converse with people via these blogs. Many of these blogs are quite controversial in the sense that there are often strong opinions and many heated and passionate conversations.

Authors Williams and Jacobs write about blogs and how the readership often depends on the “theatrics” of the bloggers and commenters. When the very nature of the exchange becomes entertainment, more people want to watch.

Significantly, rather than alienate a readership by exposing one’s personal traits and idiosyncrasies, this adds to the very popularity of a blog. As Jacobs explains, this is part and parcel of the theatre of interpersonal communication, played out to an undefined, virtually infinite public space. Indeed, this ‘exhibitionistic behaviour is encouraged, supported and even sought’ by the ‘cyber-voyeurs’ of this theatre; viz. ‘the readers of blogs, who post comments in reply to entries, often positively reinforcing the opinions of the blogger, but sometimes disagreeing on points of philosophy, politics or social comment, and occasionally ‘flaming’ the blogger for opinions expressed (Williams, 2004).

This theatric element of blogging also lends itself to a being more of a learning collective in the sense that more people participating makes the interaction richer, and in some cases more educational because of the diversity of opinions.

In the formal structure of my master’s program, I have participated in several MOOCs. These massively open online courses are a very current example of learning in the collective. People pop in and out of the MOOCs as their time and interest permit. Those who are taking the class for credit benefit from those who join, as the conversations certainly improve as the numbers of participants and the information they share increase.  The authors ask how one might harness the power of the collective. I think the movement towards MOOC education is one of the answers to their question.

I thought it was interesting that the authors of A New Culture… borrowed from Annette Lareau’s research which found that “…children who live in lower-income homes perform significantly less well in school as a direct result of poor educational attitudes and a lack of exposure to educational resources at home.” She goes on to illustrate that students from higher-income homes made significant gains because of their summer activities, namely reading. I think the point of the reference was to illustrate that people do cultivate information to become more educated in what they are interested in. They did not go on to address how or if the students in lower-income home cultivate information. This is the part of the story that seemed missing. Has anyone studied how/if concerted cultivation occurs in lower-income homes? Does the digital divide come into play here? I am really curious about this.

I contemplated how I learn in the collective and also how my students might learn in the collective. An interesting post by A. Littlejohn summarized other examples of learning collectives which are happening beyond the world of education. Crowdsourcing and digital networking in order to collect new ideas and improve on existing ideas happen frequently in large forward-thinking companies. Even though these type of activities are prevalent in business, they are now making their way into mainstream education.


Works Cited:

Herman, M. (2013, January 11). Are moocs the next phase in collective learning?. Retrieved from http://www.englishinstructorexchange.com/2013/01/11/are-moocs-the-next-phase-in-collective-learning/

Littlejohn, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://littlebylittlejohn.com/change11-position-paper/collective-learning-examples/

Thomas, D., & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace.

Williams, J., & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology20(2), 232-247. Retrieved from http://ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/williams.html

The education collective. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.theeducationcollective.com


3 thoughts on “Learning in the Collective – #etlead

  1. Barbara, you make such a great point! I have wondered about the high and low income influences as well. We’ve known about the influences in vocabulary and background knowledge and the subsequent effects on literacy, but it is curious. I have heard about MOOCs, but have not participated in them as of yet. After reading about the collective experiences, MOOCs do sound interesting. It really makes you wonder about the future of graduate studies and college classes, don’t you think? I worry about my two sons who are going off to college next year. They have never experienced learning in the collective, nor have they taken online courses either.

    • MOOCs are an interesting way to access knowledge and information that was previously available in for-pay college experiences. I hope that these types of educational delivery are here to stay.

      I was thinking about your sons… seems like they probably have learned in the collective and didn’t realize it. If they are online and learning about something they are interested in… I bet they have had this experience. I bet they’ll be fine in college. College is all about new experiences, right?

  2. Hi Barbara,
    I am not a fan of learning in this style. I am a people person, a face to face, let’s sit down across each other and share the same space in time and share. This type of learning and sharing is not working for me at all. However, I understand that times change and as educators, we must change as well or at least be less resistant to it. However, I do believe that there will always be a place for the type of communication and leaning that I prefer. So much of communication is in fact non-verbal, so how can we translate that in the few blurbs on Twitter? There is also a vast space available for misunderstanding as well.
    I am glad that you enjoy your experiences, and I enjoyed reading your perspective.

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