Posts Tagged ‘cck08’

In which I leave it to others to consider the rhizomes

The connection between connective learning (connectivism, if you will) and complexity was, I think, obvious from the start. I seem to recall encountering the Cynefin framework very early on in connectivism explorations– perhaps even as a session in CCK08?

And it became equally obvious that, as one begins to try to explain the whole connective learning thing to others, complexity has to be part of the conversation. So as I catch up on some reading and see that Dave Cormier has mashed up rhizomes, connective learning, and the Cynefin framework, it makes perfect sense to me.

Cynefin framework

Except, I discovered a while back, apparently it doesn’t make total sense to others. In fact, I used the very same illustration Dave did in a presentation about implications of connectivism shortly after the conclusion of CCK08. And I wound up with the impression that it left the wrong impression. Not because the framework was wrong. Or that the presenter—then or now:-)– was wrong (although perhaps my powers of explanation or lack thereof may have played a role), but simply because the graphic didn’t lend itself as well to a conversation about learning as well as it did to a conversation about problem-solving.

Don’t get me wrong—“real” learning in my mind is ALL about problems and trying to solve them. And as I understand it, considerations of rhizomatic learning are related to but not the same as connectivism, so perhaps relevance is in question. But I offer my experience as an alternative perspective with the thought that maybe it’s a shortcut for anyone who wants to go this direction. The deal with the Cynefin graphic in this permutation is that it seems to get interpreted as bins for sorting things into, kind of like when you go to Ikea in hopes of solving your household storage problems. And the result seemed to be that people walked out with the idea that complex learning concerns are best (or could be) isolated in one corner and addressed with the best practice of not using best practices.

Which, you know, seemed kinda wrong.

Fortunately, by time another presentation opportunity rolled around, I had run into an alternative view, graphically speaking. And I hereby apologize about the sourcing of this, because I think it came from several directions, none for which I can now find appropriate links. The graphic was a nifty chart I saw in a presentation deck from Michael Quinn Patton, whereby I later saw a (subsequentally mentally filed) note somewhere that suggested that it somehow stemmed from Ralph D. Tracey’s conceptualization of complex responsive processes. (The differences and relationships between complex responsive processes and complex adaptive systems are worth consideration, but are well beyond today’s scope, and in part beyond what is essentially very basic knowledge on my part regarding this whole ball of wax. Yes, I’m probably in over my head here.)

In any case, in the interest of throwing out an alternative illustration about learning complexity, here’s the “original” chart as I encountered it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009

And here’s my interpretation of learning imposed upon it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 - Modified: C. Tschofen, 10/2010

And, finally, here’s the reason why I think this has done a better job for me in communicating how complexity creates changes in learning and challenges for people:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 – Modified: C. Tschofen 2011

I admit to some trepidation about the somewhat implicitly progressive implications of such a graphic, which, worse case scenario, gets interpreted as a kind of “how wild and crazy are you” challenge. But I have found it works well in exploring people’s comfort zones and even worldviews. Do you sincerely believe that most things can be planned and the future reasonably accounted for? Then here’s a zone of understanding where perhaps only the outside edges are fuzzy. But maybe other folks don’t think that way. So here’s an idea of where they might reside and perhaps a few words describing how they think, and maybe there are some blurry lines you could share. It has been useful for seeing learning as not just about outcomes, categories and choices, but about processes, options, and opportunities.

I think this illustration has helped people understand that learning is not so much about sorting as it is about various continuums. In one example I cite, very specific disciplinary learning that is machine delivered lives down in the lower left hand corner. Much of the rest of life occupies space farther afield. And developing an understanding that, while problems might be usefully categorized, learning can be shifted within and between the simple, complicated, complex, and yes, the chaotic, with some level of personal agency, has been useful. (To be clear, I am not saying that Cynefin understanding doesn’t address this in some form– just that the above graphic seems to work better for me.)

In a recent and connectively related post, George Siemens notes: “It is important to realize that MOOCs are not (yet) an answer to any particular problem. They are an open and ongoing experiment.” This view of MOOCs might explain why there is tension about expectations, responsibilities and assessment in MOOCs, and perhaps this tension can be addressed by understanding that burgeoning MOOCs reside in various locations on the agreement/certainty graphic based on the nature of the learning they offer. (Whether MOOCs are ultimately the right unit of analysis for examining complexity and change in learning is a completely different question that has me somewhat distracted.)



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In which connections occur.

Following a quick note and blog posts from the unbelievably productive Jenny Mackness, I listened to my first (and to date only) ChangeMOOC recording in which Geetha Narayanan presented “dangerous ideas”—or “inconvenient truths”—about learning and education.

As I understood it, Geetha’s presentation offered a glimpse of experiential learning based in a local community, with an explicit recognition of the “expansion of the inner self” as a purpose of learning; the development of learning as tied to craft on a local and hands-on level; and an understated nod to curriculum content and measurement.

The presentation was packed with concepts that are clearly highly developed and detailed in their own right, and so I focused on ideas that resonated or dovetailed with my own experience while recognizing our different individual situations and responsibilities in our different parts of the world.

In particular, Geetha’s work focuses not just on adult learners, as does much of the conversation in the connectivist MOOC spaces (which, by the way, I see as different from MOOCs offered for content delivery/coverage purposes), but on young people. While still in the process of formulating questions that allow me to express tacit learning in this area, I think a critical point is my understanding that sustainable learning may be brought into being not by intentionally creating and trumpeting change (“before/after”) for those bridging two or more systems (adults), but in trying leapfrog to where that which might be “new” in a historically comparative perspective is quite normal and business as usual. Perhaps this needs to be a consideration for connectivism or networked learning where, when attempting to draw these ideas into “conventional” learning climates, there is a tremendous amount of energy expended on addressing skepticism and the need to prove its worth in comparison to “traditional” learning (in whatever sense that is understood).

Instead of asking “How can we change what we have and make people do something different?” my question is more along the lines of: “What happens when we are (largely) embedded in a different worldview of the purposes and processes of learning from the start?” This difference may seem impossibly subtle, but I think it’s important.

I was also struck by the somewhat wistful comments of the session participants–“ I wish I had a school like that.”  I do often wonder, having heard similar comments quite often, whether this expresses a desire for a different school, or is more an expression of a desire for the opportunity to experience/facilitate different learning. I think these are ultimately two very different questions or wishes. The assumption of school structures as essential may on one hand be viewed as obviously practical or economically necessary in terms of scale, but on the other hand seems to be a “legacy future,” in which the way things are and have been have so colonized our minds that we have lost the ability to image anything else. Additionally, such comments raise a question of agency. Perception of personal agency is exactly that– personal, as well as complex– meaning agency is not something to be judged by others. I would note  that deviating from a status quo in any context, including learning endeavors, requires serious decision-making with a slate of both clear and completely unknown long-term consequences for all involved, and the strategies available are regarded by many as “high risk.” (An understanding of emergence, complexity and resilience goes far in mitigating the perceived risks and addressing the actual ones, and, in a neat circle, I would suggest that learners who have learned to navigate uncertainty early on are much better at doing so.)

Uncertain waters

This recognition of the difference between school and learning also relates to the issue of scale brought up in the presentation. Geetha referred to the idea of Clayton Christenson’s “disruptive innovation” as a bottom-up effort that would spread and scale. And indeed, scaling the school model she is working with – with the paradox of the small and local as a focus within individual schools—was identified as an explicit goal.

While I do not know the circumstances and parameters involved in Geetha’s work, I do feel that some generic assumptions about scale might need to be examined, both in the idea that scale, meaning large numbers, must absolutely occur as an indicator of success, and in how scale might be confused with sweep, meaning that when people look for scaled results, they expect to see many instantiations of the same thing in one place—district-wide, state-wide, nationwide in “schoolish” terms.

Scale in terms of increasing numbers seems a bit of a throwback to an industrial, production-based perspective, whereas sustainability and the development of the self rests much more in quality and enduring presence than on more, more, more.  And as an example, if MOOCs have been evidence of anything, it may be the idea of what I seem to want to call disaggregated scale, where “sweep” is not in evidence. By this I mean the presence of individuals or small clusters scattered across wide distances (however we wish to define “distance,” whether geographic, temporal, or cultural). Indeed, I was struck by the fact that among the participants in Geetha’s session were names familiar to me from previous connectivist MOOCs, many from CCK08. Each one of those participants, I would hazard, represents a “node” that facilitates or expresses ideas gained in and through the connectivist environment—creating a form of networked “scale” over four years (!) that is not evidenced by the participant numbers, or perhaps even network mapping, and is certainly not that solid blanket or sweep of sheer numbers in contiguous space.

By the same token, I wonder if youth learning represented through experiential self development is a “movement” (the “newness” of which probably depends on personal and cultural history, as Jenny indicates) best viewed and “scaled” not as a program to be implemented on a school-by-school basis, but through an understanding of such endeavors as the outgrowth and potential of a more disaggregated, self-identified/identifying and flexibly sustainable network or connective activity.

Finally, I would note that Geetha follows another principle of disruptive innovation, in focusing her efforts on populations (in this case of young people) that might otherwise evoke reactions of indifference, helplessness, or even desperation among school officials or the culture at large. Where populations are already underserved or when “best practices” are clearly inadequate or irrelevant, there is room for new visions. But the often subsequent idea that any program, or any new vision of learning, is going to be appropriate for or desired by all young learners—and/or their parents or others—over time may be another “legacy future” stumbling block. While new ideas are often implemented with the assumption that, once proven, it will be the responsibility of authorities or even community members to “get people on board” and convince others of the need for change, this effort to “scale up” may well be a draining effort that takes energy away from the actual act or emerging result of leapfrogging that is critical for those who are most prepared for and need the “new and different” to be their own, sustainable “normal.” (The issues of voluntary participation and resulting questions about equality in learning are too large to address here, but fresh perspectives may be needed here as well.)

Perhaps one of the best ways to rephrase my understanding of experiential learning which allows growth of the inner self is to return to the concept of “craft,” which, while a minor point in Geetha’s presentation, is one very worthy of consideration and embedded in my reflections on learning. As Geetha noted, there must be an understanding of the hand and not just the mind. I have found that viewing learning as a form and expression of craft, both in its connection to physical presence and activity, and in the idea of “crafting” or creating on that broad and fuzzy cusp merging tradition, improvisation and innovation, seems to remove many of the inappropriate burdens that are currently placed upon education.

Crochet in the tent

If  “awakening, discovery, recovery and revitalization” of the self, rather than the acquisition of testable knowledge (and the idea of this as a dichotomy is a simplification and shortcut here) should be the outcome or emerging vision for learning, then the processes that lead to it seem to demand different visions as well.

Richard Sennett notes that the act of craft and resulting crafted products serve entirely different purposes than those of machine production and products. Craft is embedded in culture, tradition, and connection—creative unity, perhaps, as Geetha phrased it– rather than some idealized goal of perfection. So too, it seems, would education focused on the growth of the inner self contain the paradox of the both local and individual within a connective context, and the inherent understanding of experience and engagement as the point of learning, rather than learning as a means to an externalized and idealized “perfect” end.

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Live bodies

In which it is quiet on the blog, but I speak in public. 

In early February I had the opportunity to talk to and with a few K-12 teachers about the potential of open education resources and personal learning environments. It was a sizable conference, with an attendance of about ten for my particular session, and about six other sessions running at the same time. 

The focus of the session was to describe the changing landscape and culture in which ples and oers operate and my experiences in this “new land” — a bit of a tour, rather than outright advocacy, although I make no secret of my support for individualized and connective learning.

In a long-past life in museum ed, I coordinated lots of learning workshops, with a focus on getting to the “hands-on” part. In this case, I figured on half a session of “intro info,” and half for play. That said, my first intro draft consisted of a four-page outline and 62 slides, which took me 2 ½ hours to talk through… and I could have said more. (Be afraid, be very afraid.) Once I got that out of my system, I whittled it down to 12 slides and about a half-hour’s worth of description… with the thought that session participants could then engage with each other and a wiki I had drafted, and I could step aside.

Um… a good plan that went a bit awry due to low tech saturation. All in all, it was a cultural reminder that while I’ve embraced back channel chat, will take notes on the computer and won’t hesitate to look up references mentioned by the speaker while a presentation is still in progress, bringing a laptop  to a workshop session is still pretty odd behavior at the K-12 instructional level (even with universal wifi at the conference). But good questions were asked, I hope I provided coherent answers, and an angry mob did not follow me home (nor did anyone’s head explode, which my teacher friend John felt could happen), so who could ask for anything more?

Poor man. Felled by "ologies."

Poor man. Felled by "ologies."

And the session was, for me, a bit of a “final project” for the world of CCK08: could I communicate, in everyday language (avoiding terms like epistemology and ontology, because ologies are known narcotics) basic connectivist concepts in relation to OERS and PLES? I think I was successful at this. (Thanks to Wendy Drexler for her Networked Student video, which didn’t even exist at the time I wrote the conference proposal and thus subsequently made my presentation much easier, and Mike Bogle for his word cloud depicting the CCK08 self-organizing network of communication tools.)

So, I’ve had my out-on-the-fringes say in a face-to-face public. Not surprisingly, the world has continued in its usual orbit and I received no indication that I should hold my breath while hoping that anyone in a traditional education institution will throw off his or her sweater vest and run naked through the daisies into decentralized learning nirvana. But for anyone interested, the  “OERs and PLEs” snapshot/starter wiki (one of the billions, I imagine, consigned to the Graveyard of Fallow Wikis) and embedded presentation slides are available.

Keep your clothes on.

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In which I have been told several times in the past few days to “step away from the computer, and no one gets hurt…”

Yoohoo! Step away from the computer!

Yoohoo! Step away from the computer!

What with the last days of the formal Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08) course activity falling on a long U.S. holiday weekend, I’m feeling rather scattered and pulled among local and distant networks and groups, and suspect I am not doing any of them complete justice. And unlike many courses, CCK08 is concluding, based on my level of participation, with many loose ends, rather than with any culminating event or sense of closure. This, however, makes sense given the emergent nature of connectivism and connectivist discussions.

Among the things I would not want to leave undone is offering a sincere “thank you” to George Siemens and Stephen Downes for imagining and instigating this course. I hope you guys (that’s a formal collective honorific in Minnesotian) also had fun somewhere between all the challenges, as I did. I rather suspect this was a historic event, and it was a privilege to be part of it.

Thanks, too, to fellow participants in the CCK08 journey. I’ve greatly appreciated the new sights, sounds and thoughtful voices of this online adventure.

I have reached this juncture with at least two important “take-aways.”

The first is my perception of the level of patience and courage it takes to watch the (pick your adjective) masses give a carefully considered and perhaps personally significant (no matter what the previous level of sharing and collaboration) concept a good airing… or trampling, as the case may be. Yes, using the theory to explore the theory leads to its improvement, but it still seems to me that this would require some deep breathing. Don’t mean to presume, mind you. Maybe it’s all in a connectivist day’s work… but it still made an impression.

Secondly, the other educational modeling and content offered in the course has had immediate and ongoing implications on a local level not necessarily visible to the online CCK08 community. Social network analysis met user experience strategies in a casual conversation. Authority and validity became a highly relevant dinner table topic for younger learners. Some interactions cooled as implications and personal interpretations of connective knowledge became more specific; other connections were forged. And both leading up to and throughout this course, there has been the delicate dance of facilitating and advocating personal and local learning with a growing understanding of connectivism and related concepts, while trying respectfully to avoid (at least occasionally) the toes of those with different understandings and responsibilities.

Some of the loose ends relate to reflections on my own learning. There are parts of the theoretical basis for connectivism that I have not yet fully grasped. Additionally, concerns I raised in an early post about connectivist learning, technology access, inclusion and some forms of cultural knowledge remain. At the same time, I understand why these might be viewed as issues of oranges and apples, in that connectivist theory was never intended to address some of these things.

Some things are simply beyond connectivist theory.

Some things are simply beyond connectivist theory.

I do now understand why technology is not necessarily viewed as a linchpin of connectivist theory. Connective learning done well means the technology is essentially invisible, much like good physical and mental health and personal safety invisibly support learning. But my concern remains that, for those who don’t have these things, they become major stumbling blocks. I might summarize my altered perception as: For those who enjoy physical access to technology, and who have or can develop the skills of utilizing communicative technology, technology is a virtually transparent enabler of connective knowledge. But for those who don’t or can’t, technology –or its absence —  ironically becomes highly significant. That said, future developments may ameliorate and change the fundamental conditions in which such disparities are found.

Some things are not reductively sleek.

Like connectivism, the complex essence of a Thanksgiving weekend Fishhouse Parade is irreducible.

I would also note that my learning altered my earlier perception that connectivism is “reductively sleek.” I now understand the practice of connectivism as an irreducibly complex process. I would also note that connectivism doesn’t have to be perfect, or perfectly understood, in order to foster significant ecologies for learning and growth around these concepts. However, I continue to wonder if the degree to which connectivism is emphasized or promoted or desired as a social process (in spite of the recognition of less-explored conceptual and neural facets and the concept of networked autonomy) may make it less intuitive or supportive for some learners.

Certainly, my interest in education and connectivist ideas has not waned during the past weeks, but I would admit to suffering from a bit of mental fatigue on these fronts. Thus, other loose ends include the many posts by fellow participants that deserve comment, and George Siemens’ recent questions about the growth of online learning and what new learning might look like. These are things I’d like to think more about… but maybe not this week.

Thanks to all who have contributed to CCK08’s unique learning environment. It’s been an extraordinary opportunity, and I hope it will be the first of many such learning models.

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In which the best I can do is try to “be the change…” 

Do schools and education need to change?

Yes, at least for some.


1. Because some learners are unhappy/ worried/ stressed/ frustrated/ bored/ ill-served.

2. Because learners are easily and commonly convinced that these conditions are trivial/normal/good for them.

What obstacles are in the way of change?

Upright and locked positions. The ease of the status quo. Fear of loss. Fear of loneliness. Lack of confidence in self and others. Unexamined cultural or personal assumptions about “well roundedness.” Presumptions about the superiority of academic knowledge. Vicious circles. Fondness for the devil one knows. Adulation of the past. A “survival of the fittest” view of the world. Hierarchical mindsets. A linear conception of learning and life.  A “tragedy of the commons” approach to knowledge. The belief that quantities are limited while supplies last.

How do we create educational change? 

Prioritize learners’ happiness. Examine their futures. Act on new perceptions. Trust learners’ choices and self-knowledge. Be adventurous. Be available. Fold, spindle, and mutilate. Find like-minded travelers. Accept their different journeys and destinations. Balance idealism and realism. Show commitment. Ignore some stuff. Experiment. Facilitate resiliency. Cut everyone some slack. Draw the line at dysfunction. Listen carefully. Speak up when necessary. Accept uncertainty. Understand ambiguity. Live with imperfection. Compromise wisely. Know that terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. Breathe deeply.  Model hard work and happiness and learning.

Lather, rinse, repeat.


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CCK08: Skyped

And in other news..

I think I first used Skype in 2003 or 2004. We called the other half of the family (thanks to the dispersal of technology genes on two sides of the ocean) for Christmas and wound up talking to at least eight family members. Our pork roast baked to leather, and our elfin, eager gift-openers became more than a bit disgruntled. But the conversation and technology worked, in an echo-y, satellite-delayed way. It was new and fun (and free), and we confirmed that another year of live candles on the tree had passed without involvement of the Feuerwehr.

The problem with being an early adopter, though, was that, barring total strangers, there really wasn’t anyone else to talk to.  (Skyping total strangers, while done at the time, never really got the thumbs up here…) So while we could hold fascinating conversations about the weather with the technologically-minded brother, the rest of the family wasn’t quite as ready to make the leap.

We worked for a while with inefficient redundancy, calling people on the phone to ask them to hang up their phone and turn on their computers so that we could talk to them.  It may have saved a few dollars, but it also got old fast. I asked other folks I needed to contact if they used Skype, but never did find anyone where “skyping” became a natural, casual and easy contact method. Eventually, Skype got bumped from the applications folder, and life went on with email and the six-cents-a-minute phone card.

So it was pretty entertaining to re-enter the Skype world with Lisa, Kristina, Andreas and Eduardo during an impromptu Friday CCK08 un-session… in a sincere but comedy-of-errors kind of way. In an effort to get everyone in on the same conversation, Ustream video and audio went to multi-moderator option went to text chat went to Skype, which I downloaded on the fly. My head cold was so bad I couldn’t hear myself talk. A quick dash around the house confirmed that the elves had absconded with our headsets for their foreign language practice. Thus, everyone’s conversation got cycled back through my computer’s built-in mike. And the VERY LOUD FAN in my aged Mac Powerbook G4 began gasping for air the middle of things, drowning out everyone’s audio. Like Kristina, I, too, felt like I was hindering the conversation more than helping it.

But still, there is something “connective” about mild, technologically-induced hardship. (And it was way warmer in my office than out on one of those high ropes challenge courses.) Maybe it was just me, but it kind of felt like kids in a hayloft with a bedsheet/parachute. Could it be done?  Would there be blood? (And can I have your iPhone if you don’t make it?)

I suspect that few participants, like Andreas, had already perfected their parachute jumps, but they were very patient with scaffolding the rest of us in. Education was well served. And this little venture also served, from an education perspective, to reinforce my bias that improvisational and playful learning is engaging. No one staged this ahead of time, no one engineered the obstacles, no one defined specific expectations for the outcome, and the outcomes, not necessarily quantifiable in terms of discussion points covered or conclusions reached, were still somehow satisfying and potentially useful to participants … at the very least in the form of cautionary tales about the impulsive use of connective technologies.

 The fate of future CCK08 connections via Skype? Who knows? I’m more of a Twitterer, I think.  (Yes, indeed — insert your own joke here.) But I’m planning to leave Skype in my dock for a while again. If nothing else, Christmas is coming soon.

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In which I explore the rudiments of a concept and reflect on connective knowledge through listening…

There’s slow food. Slow travel. Slow blogging. I’m a fan across the board. So it’s no wonder, then, that I’m also inclined toward what I’ve decided to call “slow listening.”

Someone I’d consider an internationally known “slow listener,” Studs Terkel, died last month. The Washington Post reported:

Terkel was an artist of conversation who once described his work as “listening to what people tell me.” He was unusually skilled at drawing out his subjects, who told him about their dreams and memories, their fears, frustrations and anxieties, the condition of their lives….

Despite his national celebrity status, his presence as an interviewer was barely discernible in most of his books. Like a psychoanalyst, he allowed his subjects to talk freely, with minimal questioning.

Anyone listening?

Anyone listening?

I still remember finding Terkel’s books in a small back room of the junior high library, and realizing we were probably being duped in history class with the incessant focus on military battles and famous people/men and grand pronouncements.

This encounter with Terkel, among other things, led me toward the small and local in studies and research, and to the use of oral interviews (i.e. oral histories) as a technique and a resource. I never fail to hear at least one fascinating concept, colorful adventure, or something deeply personal. Skin a skunk caught in the trapline on your walk to school? Apparently the teacher sends you home, right away. Need to smuggle liquor from Canada across border during Prohibition? It helps if you know a train conductor. Painful memories? Those shall remain private today.

Researchers have a deep appreciation for people who are willing to share so much of themselves in relation to someone else’s goals. But interviewing isn’t just about people “telling you stuff” and then writing things up. Interviewing in this context is also about listening carefully and deeply and repeatedly. This is how I define slow listening, and this is really hard work. As the Associated Press reported about Terkel:

For his oral histories, Terkel interviewed his subjects on tape, then transcribed and sifted. “What first comes out of an interview are tons of ore; you have to get that gold dust in your hands,” he wrote in his memoir. “Now, how does it become a necklace or a ring or a gold watch? You have to get the form; you have to mold the gold dust.”

While I was drafting this post, one of the people I follow on Twitter noted that teaching, lecturing, writing etc., were easy, but face to face encounters with new people were exhausting. I identified completely. Because broadcasting, while “work,” is not nearly as exhausting or time-consuming as listening slowly… as sifting through the “ore.” And doing both at the same time? Almost impossible, even according to brain research.

Much of the listening I do nowadays is channeled through online environments, but the effects and affects are often the same. The whirl and world of online information is like one big, never-ending interview. It requires huge amounts of sifting. Some sifting can be achieved technologically, but some still must be done cognitively… through listening. And, for it to be of value to me, through listening slowly.

This has been a particular issue for me as I try to mesh my understanding of connective learning with others’ understandings. In particular, I “hear” an underlying popular assumption that connectivism can be “measured” or detected by language-based exchanges between people. How many blog responses, how many Twitter followers, how great the conference attendance, how numerous the posts?  

Connecting socially, listening slowly.

Connecting socially, listening slowly, or both?

I keep coming back to George Siemens’ description of three facets of connectivism. Social connections are one type, and biological/neurological and conceptual are other types. These layers or facets seem important in understanding listening. Certainly there is an overt social act involved in “active” listening, where the speaker talks and values the attentiveness of the listener, and the listener elicits and appreciates the sharing of the speaker.

But an understanding of slow listening seems to relate more to the conceptual and even neurological facets of connectivism. For me, slow listening is a major tool in the development of insight and intuition.

When I began working online in small venues a while back, I thought that it was the relative newness of the digital experience that made it seem “off.” Through slow listening, I realized that I was frequently encountering explicit and tacit statements that said lurkers must step forward or they were cheating the group, that we should share raw thoughts as they pop into our heads for the sake of knowledge production, that we must connect socially and emotionally. It turns out these things go against some very situated inclinations that I have as an introvert, a learner, and a modeler (be it as a parent, a professional or an educator).

Listening, and, hopefully, listening well, comprises a large part of what I have been able to contribute to past ventures. (Yes, “listening” to dead people included.) After a “long” while in digital terms, discussing what I have heard, or what can be interpreted or inferred from what I have heard, is another part. 

It takes time to listen to a range of voices, or to one voice with enough thoroughness, to adequately discern the emergence of broader contexts or messages. At the same time, listening is not all about words; it’s about subtexts and gestures and tone of voice and style and behavior and immediate context. This is what makes listening, whether in person, online, or in multimedia environments, so intense. Many times these non-verbal things contradict the actual words. But these intersections are where the insights are the greatest and, sometimes, where the most internally consistent patterns are discovered. Additionally, slow listening is not a single act; it’s a cumulative process, one in which premature statements are simply not valid, because patterns and themes are not yet apparent.

But many days, my processes for listening and sifting seems to run up against a culture that promotes and even demands high-speed, high volume transparency and production. There are days when I wonder if this culture is suggesting that if the development of my thoughts can’t be documented and updated like a Wikipedia page, I’m not “participating.” 

The “contribute more and quickly” phenomenon may be an issue of perception. But even so, it feels a bit like living in a foreign country (or eating at McDonalds). I can adapt for a while to the understanding that, for many in this country, immediate transparency and visible mutual reciprocity is the measurement of validity. But “home” for me is where validity is conceptually cumulative and tested over time. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive views, but they do not always align on a temporal and affective plane.

This perceived push for rapid disclosure and exchange is not necessarily an unusual phenomenon in a world where an estimated 60% to 75 % of the population is considered “extroverted.”  Seeing this iterated in the online environment doesn’t really come as a surprise, either. But it does, perhaps, have some implications for the ideas of “community” that are being considered, studied, defined and sometimes even prescribed for online life.

Yep... slow listening.

Yep... slow listening.

Does this mean it’s OK  to “just” listen slowly and never let people know what I’m thinking? Well, sure, it’s “OK.”  But this doesn’t do any good for causes and ideas that are important for slow listeners. Advocacy of slow listening does not imply advocacy of doing nothing else. I would say that slow listeners are busy and contribute in their own ways, on their own time… but we need to know we’re not going to be meeting some widely assumed hallmarks of community or participation, and sometimes this will have a cost.

There’s no real resolution to this post. It may serve, perhaps, as an explanation of one particular flavor of brain. And maybe one could draw some practical or cautionary conclusions about the “implementation” or “use” of connectivism as an educational or community framework. Certainly, community building, on or offline, is a worthy endeavor. But requiring or tacitly expecting overt social connections and behaviors (whether as posts or conversations or anything else, especially at a certain volume or rate) seems to neglect two-thirds of connectivist theory. And I can guarantee that this won’t bring out the best in those strange, slow listeners.

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