Posts Tagged ‘MOOC’

“…walk softly through life… I haven’t wanted to make a fuss about where I am going until I have arrived. I have avoided noisy confrontations whenever possible… making relatively little noise until I had arrived at my destination—and it was too late to stop me…”  — Carl Rogers

The learning choices in our household over the last ten years or so have been kind of hard to explain. The “results” to date have been the source of frequent questions (or questioning) and much bafflement. Many of the stories involved are not mine to tell. Thus, general principles such as those laid out here can ultimately seem too cryptic to be useful. Still, it seems that we have reached a reasonable point for a retrospective interlude. So here are few things that we — learners all– have gleaned.

1. Mix-and-match learning, or edges-of-multiple-systems learning, (or “knowmadic” learning, perhaps) is much more feasible than institutions and their personnel would like to admit, allow, or set a precedent for. Site- or time-bound learning programs can accommodate, at least in part, off-site and asynchronous learning, if someone dares to say “yes.” (Institutions will always say “no.” People within them can say “yes.”)

2. For many reasons, some fair, some not fair, and many that are grossly unfair, learning on the edges is not “do-able” or acceptable or perhaps even appropriate for every learner, for every family, or for every learning resource or institution. Edge learning is not a process of wholesale substitution. It is not a single “new and improved” system with more or fewer bells and whistles that can still meet all the tacit needs and expectations of an old system, whereby everyone then can go back to sleeping well at night. Different needs, different goals and different processes reflect a fundamentally different worldview. The cost of this is consistent and insightful attention and a futures orientation, often accompanied by a goodly quantity of time. This calls affordability into question, however one calculates that.

3. When it comes to acquaintances, teachers, administrators, parents or fellow learners, not everyone will like you, believe you, trust you, understand you, or treat you respectfully. It helps to recognize that what is expressed as judgement is often more about fear (not that this makes it any more pleasant). On the other side, those who are able and willing to trust the learner’s own sense of what is needed and to quietly say “yes” to this will often change a learner’s world forever.

4. The best learning process is the one of showing up wherever the desired learning is. Consistently. On time. Even if it is in an unusual place. Even if it is with unusual companions. In spite of odd looks or overt objections from the peanut gallery. Don’t be obnoxious. Don’t be out to prove something. Just listen, or do the work, or the practice, or whatever applies. Let time be the ally. Nothing– no genius insight, no dazzling performance, no social media coup– beats consistently “representing.” And staying. And going again. And again.

5. On a practical and concrete note: selectively use the damn standardized tests. No need to unduly advertise the action or the results. But having numbers in your back pocket saves a lot of unimaginative debate if a wall goes up. In crossing edgy territorial boundaries, nothing quells the naysaying and obstructionist eyebrow-raising faster than (yes, narrowly subjective) “data.” (A passing observation: some people seem to suffer less cognitive dissonance if unorthodox methods get orthodox results, while other experience more.)

6. Always, always have a backup plan or three in sight. Even when things are going well, changes and opportunities are always on the horizon. And it doesn’t hurt to have some of these optional paths be a 45 or 90 degree change of course from the current one. It’s not always going to make sense to replace something; sometimes paths need to be re-formed and re-routed.

7a. Take with a respectful grain of salt those who would like to claim (usually with a sorrowful little smile) that a change of course means someone (you) made a mistake. True, there are egregious mistakes that can be made. But these are often more an issue of framing: one person’s disaster is another’s call for course adjustments to meet emerging needs and circumstances. And while adaptability and resiliency are trendy concepts often bandied about in status quo environments, these lifelong skills can only be modeled and practiced in ill-defined and fluid circumstances.

7b.  Change and resiliency on learning journeys are much easier to practice when there is a consistent and mature core of emotional and personal support and guidance. The argument for change and adaptability in learning is not one that supports familial or parental or institutional or peer chaos, or even otherwise harmless flakiness. This is not about letting people run wild. (On the other end of the equation, using others’ learning journeys to fulfill personal ego needs –aka stage parent syndrome–also hurts everyone involved.) This element, too, becomes an “affordability” factor.

7c. In light of the two above points: All edge learners and facilitators are helped by being serious students of psychology and family and organizational systems. Because dysfunction…is. Some people struggling with personal issues have contact with and responsibility for learners and (conventional and non-conventional) learning situations. The unfamiliar (such as unusual learning processes or unusual learners) increases unresolved personal stress and pain, and even adults sometimes cannot stop themselves from directing this pain onto those around them, including children. It is important  (if sometimes difficult) to know when empathy is appropriate, and where healthy personal boundaries must be drawn.

8. The purpose of learning on the edges is not to ensure that learners are receiving the right learning “content” at the right level of challenge (although this may be a by-product). This conversation and process is not about “prepared for college” or “doing well in school” or “gifted” or “accelerated” or “early college” or “STEM“ or “arts schools” or “MOOCs” or “virtual schools.”  It is about defending the unique space required for and of authentic beings. It is about ensuring that each developing human being has the room and support to become whatever and whoever he or she is best at being.

9. Historically honored hallmarks of learning (graduations, degrees, awards) become uninteresting or pale in comparison to processes and goals defined and accomplished by individuals whose work cannot be slotted into standard expectations or measurements of success. That said, alternative forms of documentation, both for process and for product, abound and are increasingly significant.

10. A learning path or process is over (or only over) when the learner says it is. Often, there’s no end in sight.

“[This] work… has altered the thinking about power and control in… interfaces… which have been dramatically changed by persons who trust their own power, do not feel a need to have ‘power over,’ and who are willing to foster and facilitate the latent strength in the other person…. It is not that this approach gives power to the person; it never takes it away.” — Rogers


“…individuals whose work cannot be slotted into standard expectations or measurements of success…”


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In which I make explicit tacit understandings on my part…

Our household recently received a box of old (ah-hem, 1970s) comic books from an uncle who was cleaning out his storage room. We found the advertisements even better than the comics themselves. Who wouldn’t, when the inside front covers feature a full-page ad urging kids (well, boys) to convince their parents they are responsible enough to own a Daisy B-B gun… by cleaning their rooms? Or how about a Deluxe Super Power Model Secret Spy Scope to “pull in distant people, houses, wild animals and natural wonders”?  Or you could learn “the secret of teaching yourself music” by sending a no-obligation coupon to the esteemed U.S. School of Music.

A comment from a worldly browser: “Huh. Something for everyone, I guess.”


Something for everyone?

Something for everyone?

When I decided to follow the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Massive Open Online Course (CCK08 MOOC), I focused on the word “open.” In reading through blogs, I have come to suspect others focused on different advertisements. So what did I think I was really “buying,” and how does this differ from others who were paging through the same comic book?



Unless I missed something, the only “registration” for this endeavor was to put in a name as someone who had an interest in the course, without any specific commitment. I’m not sure about what other bookkeeping may have occurred, but I do wonder if the concept of “massive” came from a conflation of interest and intent.

I would agree with the suggestion from last week’s Ustream session that to investigate the changes in participation as a (not untypical) social phenomenon might result in some interesting data. But clearly, “massive” was a descriptive element added in response to a storm of initial interest, rather than prescriptive requirement or promise. I am disinclined to say that a less-than-massive (however one defines this number) level of “active” (however one defines this term) participants is a referendum on the “success” (ditto) of the course.

Additionally, in the dance of more formalized education that implies the presence of instructional design, the materials and processes and discussions are often adjusted along the way to accommodate learning needs (happening here, I believe). Later versions of similarly planned learning trajectories grow and evolve. So massive or not, CCK, minus the “08,” is not a finite event in which there are winners and losers based on a head count or the number of explicit social/verbal connections.


“Open” educational resources, “open” universities and “open’’ courses all seem to embody different shades of meaning. But for CCK08, I went with the idea that open is open is open. To moodle or not to moodle, or to moodle intermittently? All valid options. Blogging/not blogging, etc.? Valid options. Lurking? Valid. Selective pursuit of the materials? Valid. Future use of the materials? Valid. Rabid discussion or pedagogical pranks? Valid. (My eye-rolling? Valid. :-))

Demanding a measurable (assessable) return on investment seems within the rights and obligations of those operating within the current, traditional scope of the tuition-paying landscape. I am not in that group. So instead, I felt that the word “open” required me to suspend most assumptions about expectations for facilitators and participants. Among assumptions that remain(ed): Sincerity of intent and transparency of process for facilitators and participants. As far as I’m concerned, these requirements have been met. To be clear, this is not damning with faint praise. I think this is pretty big educational accomplishment in what is, in spite of best intentions, often a creepy treehouse forest.



M...O...N... Oh, wait. That's something else.

M...O...N... Oh, wait. That's something else.

Well, yeah. But until we’re steeped in the putative Singularity, I still have both continuous flow and abrupt transitions between online and offline learning and life. So, name or not, CCK08 has an “other than online” dimension for me. And, to expand on the “open” concept: the other-than-online learning, effort, and socio-cultural and affective results are not obvious, measurable, or immediately reciprocal within this particular temporal expression of the online CCK08 community. (And if this seems somehow insufficient, I’d suggest avoiding parenthood.)



Is it possible that this word is the most heavily laden in terms of expectations and assumptive mental models? This links directly into the recent questions about instructional design and authority. Anyone who’s been kicking around various academic landscapes has visions and versions of what this term means.  I suspect that folks who teach in formal environments might have a stronger inclination to keep or assume a primary focus on this concept.

If nothing else, uncovering and articulating assumed understandings about what a “course” looks like, whether in agreement or in contrast, seems to be very important for understanding the challenges and possibilities of connective knowing, especially for those working within rapidly changing academic environments… or with rapidly changing learners.

Now, if only those x-ray glasses really worked…

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