Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 02, 2006

It was pretty much a given that most if not all of the responses to this question, posted on the Learning Circuits blog, would be "no". So this is probably why Tony Karrer sent me an email asking whether I would contribute.

My response, naturally, is "yes" - but this needs to be understood in a very specific way.

First, to turn to Rodolpho Arruda, who offers several good reasons why people should blog:
  • blogging can organize and promote someone's research
  • you can get feedback from people
  • postings to reduce the "distance" between us
  • active students can intensify their learning spiral
  • it forces you to do your homework
The point, and I take it as such, is that blogging is an excellent research and learning tool for professionals, one significantly better than most alternatives (perhaps I'd skip blogging if I could have sat in on those evening meetings with Russell, Wittgenstein and Moore - but not for much else, and I'm probably want to write about it, as Anscombe eventually did).

But here the caveat mentioned above comes into play, and it is this: if (as Dave Lee suggests) other technologies can do the same job just as well, then we can let go of the idea that every professional should be blogging per se: "Web 2.0 has created all sorts of ways for people to share content and create new meaning alone and together. Blogs, wikis, lists, voting, rss feeds, timelines, photo sites, podcasts, vlogs, plogs, mashups, etc. let everyone find their own way of making meaning." (aside: I wish people would stop using the phrase 'making meaning' - meaning isn't something that is made, it is something that semantical entities (which are made) have.)

In order to see this in a clearer light, it is in my view useful to look at what the role of a professional should be in a networked environment. Because we are now able to move from an environment where some (failed?) professionals move from their own domain and into teaching, to an environment where every professional can incorporate some teaching as a part of their regular practice.

To gloss over a lot of stuff at this point, this is the difference represented in the shift from traditional classroom based learning and network learning. The idea of the latter is that learning occurs when the learner immerses him or herself in a community of pratice, learning by performing authentic tasks, learning by interacting with and becoming a member of the community.

But this only works if the members of the community share. It only works if they are prepared to make talking about what they are doing a part of doing what they are doing. As Arruda points out, there are good reasons why they should do this. But I would add, it's the only real way to effectively incorporate large numbers of new members into the practice. By doing and showing, practitioners can as effectively teach as teachers teach by telling
(indeed, I would argue more effectively). And they can do it without having to establish a special infrastructure and institution.

This leaves the question that Jim Belshaw raises, that of time. Where does a busy professional find the time to blog (much less record video, create MySpace pages, create mashups, and the like)?

The answer I have given when asked is to suggest that they replace offline in-secret activities with online and open activities. Professionals engage in a great deal of professional discussion - not merely specific cases but also generalized issues. They read (and often write!) professional literature, they write to each other informally, they exchange resources and information.

For example, the group leaders and others in my organization call regular meetings at which they give us updates and other information. Why not just blog it as it comes up? They are more likely to cover more information, there is more space for others to respond, and they can skip the meeting!

The problem is, of course, that such people are not typically able to write a post quickly. So if they have a session with, say, upper management, and they need to pass something along, it will take a lot more time to write it out than to simply state it in a meeting. Yes, this creates a much greater demand on time on the part of the other people, but since the leader is in control of the process, he picks the method that favours his own schedule.

What needs to happen is that the normal note-taking that happens in the meeting - whether by an official recorder or by attendees (or, ideally, both) becomes the blog. The process of having the meeting is the process of creating the post. The result is that the creation of the blog post takes no extra time, and so both the group leader and other staff save a lot of time.

Yes, there remain issues. For example, the first thing people will think about is that these meetings are often secret, or at least, contain confidential discussions. Yes, which means that posts need to be flagged as 'open' or 'confidential' or 'author only' (even Blogger has a 'draft' and 'publish' mode).

So - should every professional participate in the community fo practice in this way? Understood thus, my answer would be yes. And I think that after a time, once a significant number of professionals did act in this way, the reasoning would become apparent.

What can you know about a professional who doesn't blog his or her work? How do you know they are competent, that they have the respect of their peers, that they understand the issues, that they practice sound methodology, that they show consideration for their clients? You cannot know any of this without the openness blogging (or equivalent) provides. Which means, once a substantial number begin to share, there will be increasing pressure on all to share.

Don't expect this to happen quickly, of course. The professionals - who inherited a system created in the Dark Ages - will not lightly let go of their mystique.

(p.s. having the respondents reply on their own blogs, rather than the centralized Learning Circuits blog, represents a step forward for that organization).

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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