Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Where the Future Lies

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 27, 2011

Responding to Durff's Blog

In a post today I summarized Bill Cushard in Mindflash as follows: If I had to summarize the best advice I could give to e-learning developers, it would be this: "here are two key lessons for learning professionals:
1. Adapt to the on-demand world.
2. Embed learning into the context of people’s work."

I also pointed to the resistance against these two trends common in the industry. I would suggest that some of the sentiments expressed in this post are the cause of such resistance. We hear time and time again comments like "s collaboration is important because it emphasizes skills, team-building, and creativity that will be necessary in any student's future." But it's hard to make such an argument stick when the nature of collaboration itself is changing.

Collaboration brings people together, usually at a set place and/or time. It focuses them on a common objective. It emphasizes conformity and uniformity, orchestration and management, pulling as one" and "all singing from the same songbook." These are precisely the trends we are seeing erode in the future of on-demand and as-needed learning.

people often talk as though the alternative to collaboration is working completely on one's own. But this is not true. We still have to communicate and interact. But we can do so while remaining independent and autonomous. This mode of working together is called 'cooperation'. Online learning of the future will be based around a cooperative model, not a collaborative one.

That's the basis behind network learning (though you have to look at it a bit more deeply than surface observations (following Cluetrain) that 'learning is a conversation'. Understanding learning as a language sees each learner as an autonomous actor comprehending and creating communicative acts.

This has nothing to do with "respond to accelerating global competition," etc., Kanuka notwithstanding. Connectivism and network learning are about augmenting individual empowerment, not accelerating the old commodity-based and management-based economy. It's not some sort of modern free trade that homogenizes us all in a single environment. It is a fostering of diversity, a flowering of individuality.

Where this ties into the workplace is two-fold, both related to individual autonomy and diversity. First, it enables custom workplace support, where the performance support system is tailored to your interests and your resources. This in turn allows each individual to make a *unique* contribution to the production or value chain - people cease being interchangeable parts and begin becoming essential individual elements of the ecosystem.

So much of the writing I see about e-learning, whether present systems or future trends, seems to be focused on some sort of 'business reality' that the proponents seem to believe will prevail. That's probably why most of the pundits, even Siemens, write what are essentially 'business' books.

But the more they are pulled into the old language of 'competition', 'reducing barriers', 'productivity', 'collaboration', and other management-style ideology, the more they miss the actual revolutionary potential of these new systems, both for work and for learning.

p.s. the more I see blog posts citing 'traditional literature' to the exclusion of all else, the more disappointed I become. Don't be led down this garden path into believing that only academic literature is worthwhile. If you want to write about connectivism and network learning, the most important (not to mention original) work lies outside academia, not within.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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