Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Key to Learning is Community

Photo by Adam Lindsey

I've come to a minor realisation at this point in the Teach and Learn Online blogging path. It came to me after being asked to give a presentation/demonstration at the AUSTAFE conference this year.

When describing what it is I'm trying to 'prove' at the demo/presentation, I ended up deciding that I am the learner, and that I'm trying to show that the line between teacher and learner is no longer there.

What I mean is, this blog - I set it up in November 2004 just to try out blogging. I chose my profession to blog about and quickly learned that blogging and everything that it entails very much affects my profession. Along the way I have learned valuable skills, read important papers, and most importantly networked myself into a very valuable little community. This community is what will sustain my learning in this area. The connectivism that it offers me is extremely important as there could be no way I alone could watch and learn everything there is to know about eLearning, networked learning and flexible learning... and what ever other idea there is coming around the corner. Its 'just in time' learning, its 'on the job training', its 'work based learning'... what ever you want to call it.

Many people see my blog, see it as publishing, authoritive, and somehow suggests I'm an expert or wanna be expert in the field. While I'm not complaining about this view some may hold (it gets me a bit of work from time to time), what they really should see in this blog is me - learning.

Sure, I'm not the first to say all this, many people have said it. I've heard Steven Downes say it in his audio recordings plenty of times, and have been reading enough about connectivism and networked learning for anyone to think I should have understood this. I did understand it but something was in the way of me appreciating it. Perhaps it was individualistic ego, perhaps it was all the requests for presentations and workshops making me think I was more teacher than learner, certainly it is the educational traditions so deeply woven into my mind and culture that has prevented me realising it. Teacher or learner, which one are we? I'm both, I'm neither! "The best way to learn is to teach" that's what writing to the Internet offers, an opportunity to 'teach' what it is you are learning.

But all this is fine, so long as you have that community to help you process learning in this way. That community is well available in the subject area of eLearning etc. But what about the mechanics of the T3 Volkswagon Transporter? Another blog I keep in an effort to achieve the same learning process but about my car. There is an online community for VWs, they call themselves the Aussie Vee Dubbers, but they're not blogging, they centralise their communications around an online forum - content management system style. Then there is my growing personal interest in buying land and getting into farming! That's right, I dream of being a farmer! How good would it be if the area you were to set up in, all the land holders kept web logs? You could quickly get an idea on what crops work, what pests are developing, what markets and infrastructure there is in the area, what land is for sale, etc. But are farmers blogging? They would certainly be journaling their efforts, its part of the practice of good farming, but I expect very few are networking their journals into an online community - ala blogging...

So, aside from the obvious IT skills needed to blog (which is really just learning how to learn in the new era) the key ingredient is community. People actively engaged in the subject being learnt. How and who will build these communities? Is this the role of tertiary education and/or industry in the new era? Or evangilists like me getting out there and pushing for the next generation...

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Wendy Zammit said...

Hey Leigh, you've touched on my far and away favourite topic, the importance of creating community in learning and the need to develop facilitation and community building skills along with technical skills. In the courses I'm running (Mentoring Coaching and Communication) every group follows the model I learned in the Alternatives to Violence workshops-( which are still by far the best place I know to learn how to build community. They drum into you the mantra "We are all teachers and all learners" and that the more you step out of the power role the more you empower the group members. And I'm learning that the same skills translate to building community online. Congratulations, you're really onto something. And yes last year one of my students who was involved with a large number of people in a huge communal land project which had fallen apart due to poor communication got the whole thing happening again using online facilitation.

Alison said...

I'm a farmer and I blog