Harold Jarche, Jane Hart and Stephen Downes have been discussing learning generalised into concepts of dependent learning, independent learning, interdependent learning.
I like things in threes, and wanted to try these out in a practical sense of how people work their learning.
One of the more important principles I have set myself is independence. When I show a teacher how to do something, my goal for them (whether or not they share the goal at the time) is for them to achieve relative independence from me and the organisation they are affiliated with. Some of the more contentious examples of this thinking involve my discouragement of the use of an LMS or organisational email. The argument goes something like this:
Why would people, in an increasingly casualised teaching and research work force, invest time in learning a system that makes them dependent on and limited by their employer - especially if the functionality of that system is surpassed by external tools that also serve to give that person independence and the organisation gains as well?
Similarly, why should a student invest time in a system that makes them dependent on the organisation they are not likely to keep a relationship with for longer than 3 or 4 years, often much less - especially if the functionality of that system is surpassed by external tools that serve to give that person independence and the organisation gains as well?
It is easy to explain with email. You join or enroll with an organisation and for reasons that are not clear, they issue you with an email address with its own password and its own peculiar ways of operating. Inexperienced in the trappings of dependence, you build up a reputation, a network, even your professional reputation in that email system, only to be faced with a big problem when it comes time to leave that organisation. All the functionality of that email system can be surpassed using your own email address that frees you from the risk of dependence.
This scenario plays out across almost all the dwindling systems provided by the organisation. With the quality of external, utility even "cloud" based systems already surpassing what can be provided by the organisation, the question of should I use external systems can be answered by what both stand to loose and gain. What do you lose or gain by asserting independence? What does your organisation lose or gain by your assertion of independence?
- Do you use their restrictive Internet, or bring your own in via a wireless USB key?
- Do you build up a profile page on the organisation's website, or simply link it to your Linkedin profile or stream your own site into it via RSS and embed codes?
- Do you build your teaching and/or learning inside their learning management system, or do you build it outside on more popular channels under your own name, and link it in to the LMS if you have to?
- Do you publish research only on the restricted journal or do you negotiate release so you can link another copy on your own web?
- Do you use the lecture recording system, or put it out on your own uStream or Livestream channel with the connected functionality and cross posting features?
Even those who have come to see the benefits of using external platforms fall into the same institutionalised trappings however. Recently I attended a seminar by James Neill for an initiative at UC called Hothouse. James arrived ready with his own uStream channel, but the host had also arrived with a uStream channel for the Hothouse. Confronted with the choice, James accepted to stream over the Hothouse channel, thereby surrendering his independence and accepting dependence on the Hothouse project. As it would turn out, the Hothouse forgot to click record on their stream, and so Jame's lost doubly, and the Hothouse gained very little.
An alternative would have been for James to stream on his own channel, and to link to and mention the Hothouse in his talk. The Hothouse could add James' recording to their own playlist, offsetting a variety of liabilities, and benefiting from the immediate exposure to James' network. James would also benefit from exposure to the Hothouse network while accepting responsibility for his own presentation. Hothouse gets networded, Jame's keeps independence. Its a win win situation. See also Out from under the umbrellas, and What would it be like to be the rain.
An institution, even an initiative within the Institution, has more to gain by networking. Take for example the Otago Polytechnic's Youtube channel. I set that channel up not to upload videos, but to collect and create playlists of any videos found on Youtube about Otago Polytechnic. The desire for an Institutional identity is still served, but without weakening a network and asking individuals to forgo their own identity for the sake of a collective. See also groups vs networks.
Where I personally draw the line in this independence, is in setting up my own domain. My personal challenge and long term experiment is to see how far I get free ranging, and how well I can manage an online identity that is distributed across free online services. I still follow the rules of thumb in terms of backup, but by cross posting rather than saving on my unreliable hard drives or servers. I agree however, that ultimate independence is in setting up your own domain and managing your own media. It doesn't have to be at the exclusion of popular channels, but that is more hassle and cost than I'm prepared to take right now. See also Tools for Conviviality.