Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts on hierarchy and learning

How deeply is written language embedded into our social structure, and our patterns of learning? Can we even separate out our dependency on hierarchy from our written language?

Ronfeldt (1996) on the hierarchical organisation:

'As numerous anthropologists have written, with its rise, hierarchy supplants kinship as an organizing principle.'

Ronfeldt notes that the rise of the hierarchical form was dependent on the information technology revolution of formal writing.

McLuhan & McLuhan (1988, Ch.2): 'It is no accident that the Christian church, dedicated to propaganda and propagation, adopted Graeco-Roman phonetic literacy from the earlist days. The impact of alphabetic literacy is strong enough not only to break the tribal bond, but to create individualized consciousness as well. Phonetic literacy - our alphabet - alone has this power.'

Our dependence on writing, regardless of the shift to digital propagation, has shifted our focus for learning to those faculties that writing promotes: analysis, logic, control, sequencing, and others. But as our world shifts beneath us, we are ill-suited to cope with the change if we rely solely upon this medium, and the associated hierarchical way of thinking.

  • McLuhan, M. and McLuhan, E. (1988). Laws of Media: The New Science. University of Toronto Press
  • Ronfeldt, D. (1996). Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks – A Framework about Societal Evolution. Available at: <http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P7967.html> [Accessed September 2012]

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The problems with educating a quadriform society

I've recently seen an inspiring video on social evolution (Ronfeldt, 2012; thanks to Harold Jarche for the link) which gives incredible insight into the problems that our society faces today. Ronfeldt presents his model of society by classifying human organisations into four distinct forms: Tribes, Institutions, Markets and Networks (TIMN). Each form brings benefits for survival and cultural development, but can lead to its own problems. In this model of progression, societies tend to adopt the forms in the T - I - M - N sequence (though not always rigidly) resulting in an increasingly complex society, where problems created by the dominance of earlier forms of organisation are solved by the successive forms as they become more effective through information technology revolutions. The network form is now starting to gain increased power through the adoption of internet technology.

The addition of a new form of organisation can cause widespread social disruption, but ultimately brings about benefits. The addition of the market form to western civilisations has brought great gains to society, but not without risks, as evidenced by the ongoing and widespread economic downturn. It follows that the addition of the network form of organisation, resulting in a quadriform society, brings the potential for new solutions to our problems. These possibilities are still an unexplored country, and there will be continued barriers to their adoption. However, with a growing realisation hitting home that networks are important, we finally have a model for understanding why they are important.

Relevance to current situations

The reason that this model has such resonance for me is that I see links with the current situation for the education system in the UK. We are currently organised by a mixture of institutional control and market suppliers. The government and its agencies ensure consistency of standards, whilst acknowledging the need for freedom of choice in exactly how services supporting that education are to be provided. Recent events have brought to light the potential for corruption (Garner, 2011; Orr, 2011), and weakened faith in our education system. In particular the accusations tend to rest on how market forces are undermining the integrity of education. The natural reaction of our society is to demand tighter institutional control, and yet this runs contrary to the progression that Ronfeldt describes.

What are the solutions?

It would follow logically from the TIMN framework that allowing networks to play an increased role in our education system could repair the damage and allow new efficiencies to be realised. These networks are yet to be realised, and the future is uncertain, but it is an avenue that might free our education system from the current conflict between institutional control and the undesirable effects of market-based education. As global citizens, we must take it upon ourselves to go forward into this new territory. For my own part I intend to build on this line of enquiry as a subject for my dissertation, in the hope that it might provide a piece in a much larger and evolving puzzle.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Backchannel resources from #LSG12UK

Learning & Skills Group Conference 2012

It's been a hectic three days of online webinars this time around, with an incredible amount of ideas and information exchanged by the LSG community, which is more open than ever this year with membership free to all.  The Twitter feed was particularly active, trending above the Spice Girls at one point!  Kate Graham emerged as this year's power tweeter, with over one fifth of all tweets in the stream according to the initial results from my archive (see the link below).  As always, a big thankyou is due to Donald Taylor for hosting.

I find that the best way to make sense of the sheer volume of information is to collate it all in one place and share it with others to promote some conversation afterwards.  So, here is my collected list of resources shared on the backchannel of the Learning & Skills Group Conference 2012, as lists of social bookmarks on Diigo.  I will keep updating this as more become available, and if I (or you!) spot any I missed in the Twitter stream.

In the meantime, I look forward to chatting to you all wherever it may be: in the comments box below, on Twitter, or on the LSG site.  I'll be posting some more detailed thoughts on individual sessions in the days to come. 

Day 1 - Tuesday 26 June

Day 2 - Wednesday 27 June

Day 3 - Thursday 28 June

Other useful links & resources

Recordings of the sessions - including the lively text chat!

Interesting tools mentioned - especially free stuff

Recommended books - some published by speakers, others not

Video clips - don't worry be happy ;)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The one about archery

Over the course of the last year I've been keeping this blog from a professional perspective, but now it's time to write a post about something a bit more fun.  I've been a regular archer for the past six years or so, and teaching it to beginners for three of those, so it's high time that I take a moment to reflect on my experience of learning processes from a physical skill, as opposed to my normal workplace and academic pursuits.
Nowhere have I felt the reality of the term 'analysis paralysis' more than when I came to teach the sport to others.  After an enthusiastic few weekends on the Archery GB leader course (or GNAS as it was then known as), I was keen to get started with teaching beginners.  But one thing started to diminish my enjoyment of the sport.
I suddenly found myself shooting terribly.
Trying to hold a whole new set of information in my head whilst shooting brought my performance down because I was over-analysing my own shooting.  Having a new sense of awareness of what could go wrong just seemed to make those very things happen, and identifying your own faults is always problematic.  I eventually managed to get past this, and I'm still enjoying both participation and teaching, in fact I've developed the beginners course for our club so that it can be delivered consistently by any of our leaders.  I even called on some of my new knowledge about learning to better inform the design, which is deliberately minimalist, since I don't want our beginners suffering from analysis paralysis!

A year of blogging

It's now a year since I first started this blog, and it's been an interesting one for sure.  I started keeping a blog as part of an effort to get my head around the use of social media, but it's starting to feed into all of my learning processes now, especially as I make extensive use of blogging as part of an online course.  So what have been the best things about keeping a blog for the past year?

Having my thoughts captured allows me to look back over the past year and how my way of thinking has changed.  After a burst of short rambling posts centring on my exploration of forums, I found some interesting things to write about, which led to some unexpected highlights:
  • My summary of the Learning & Skills Group and Forward Thinking conferences drew a good deal of attention from the associated communities
  • I received an entry on Janes Hart's Top 100 Articles of 2011 for a set of three of my articles
These were a real boost to my confidence in using social media generally, knowing that a wider audience would listen to my ideas, but towards the end of last year I did find myself burning out a little, something that gets referred to as social media fatigue.  Sometimes you just want to switch off from the world.  It also reflects my enthusiasm coming up sharply against the wall of reality - you can't do everything at once, and other priorities tend to get in the way.  Since then I've made an effort to write about different aspects of my learning, and I've continued to keep up blog entries within the bounds of my online course too.
Where do I go from here?  I think it's time to bring in a new personal angle on learning, which brings me to my next post...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Would you like to play a game?

Gamification is hot on the lips of many people at the moment, from sales and marketing to social networking.  It's also gaining strength in the field of learning, particularly the online context.  Games for learning aren't something new, but the recent success of online gaming does seem to have fuelled new interest.  World of Warcraft is a runaway commercial success (a big draw in itself) and has huge communities of practice who discuss the best ways to succeed in the game.  Imagine attaining that level of engagement for a workforce!

There are similarities between creating an engaging game and an engaging learning experience, but there's a thin line to be walked here.  Making a learning  activity seem trivial can easily switch people off - who wants a badge for everything anyway?  But make the experience relevant, challenging and interactive, and there's a chance you're on to a winner.  Score yourself a really meaningful achievement:

Unlocked: Performance support through gaming

Games can also invoke a lot of positive psychology, making us feel better about ourselves through participation.  A well-designed game can actually be fun to play even if we fail, which makes us keep trying.  There is a note of caution here of course.  At some point learners have to make the transition to a real-world task, where failure has real consequences.  One has to hope that they have acquired real mastery so this doesn't happen often, and the resilience to deal with the negative feedback failure wil incur!

It's a big wide open field, and I'm looking forward to a lot of fun exploring it.  Let the games begin...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The best laid plans....

I've recently finished a project for my Masters degree, running online support for some associates of our company, in a very  different context to my normal work of producing online resources.  Whilst the online support has (after some initial scepticism) met with genuine enthusisasm, I have to reflect that things didn't go quite as I intended them to!  I had to some extent fallen into the trap of teaching as I have been taught recently, which is asynchronously using forums and blogs.  Whilst these tools do have their place, not everyone is ready to integrate them into their working practice, because they aren't directly relevant and something they don't want to spend time on when they are busy.  Fortunately I did build in a synchronous element using web conferencing, and integrating this tool into their working practice has allowed many of the participants to interact in a new way.

Overall the the project served a useful purpose for participants, and it has been hugely informative for my future practice in this field.  Through critical commentary and feedback from my tutor I have been able to piece together what needs to be done better in future.  Ultimately the key is identifying a meaningful and valuable assessment of what is to be learned, and ensuring this meets the needs of learners in their context.  Get the wrong idea about what they need to learn, and you're on unsteady ground before you start, because there's no motivation for them to engage in the tasks.

So my plans went a little astray, but with persistence and enthusiasm we have some emergent learning outcomes all round - for me and the participants!