Posted by: Gillian | May 29, 2010

Ink-blot learning

Learning comes in so many different guises that people keep wondering if they are ‘doing it right’.  Steve Mackenzie has just posted an interesting question in the Facebook group Connectivismeducationlearning about whether informal learning (i.e. not-for-credit) needs to be task-based and socially supported.

My view is that social support groups are undoubtedly very useful in many situations e.g. work teams, dispersed project professionals, communities of tightly-defined interest, intra-family challenges/pledges… The individual gains not only knowledge/skills/understanding but also semi-public esteem and recognition for having acquired learning in a pre-determined field.  This is true whether the learning be highly complex professional project work needing ‘deep learning’ or the ‘surface learning’ that will win the village pub quiz on Friday.

Such social support and need for external (social) validation of achievements is perhaps less applicable to those who like ink-blot learning. Ink-blot learning is where you learn a bit of this, a bit more of that, a bit of something else, etc and suddenly some of the bits clump together to form a new, possibly unexpected, large ink-blot and a whole raft of ideas and knowledge suddenly make sense. This type of learner, if they seek external support at all (and some do not), will probably shy away from any idea of semi-formal ‘check-in’ times or learning contracts and will just gather information that interests them.  They will explore – and if that exploration is not in the ‘AA-map’ to learning: tough.  These people may want – or semi-forlornly hope for –   a series of pointers about what else may fit the areas of interest. To mix metaphores, these learners are the self-directed ships’ captains who may radio the Harbour Master or another vessel but essentially sail their own ship wherever the wind takes them.  The end result of this learning is always ‘deep learning’ because when it makes sense it is understood in many dimensions.

Is it better to declare where you are going in learning, or just to go where you wish?  There can be no single right answer, no ‘doing it right’.  Different people prefer different support structures and some learners require massive input for short-term delivery while other learners need space and opportunities to reach their own conclusions.  There are endless variations on the theme and probably endless PhD projects but, at the end of the day, learning something, somehow, is better than learning nothing at all.  There is no ‘doing it right’.

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