Riding the Wave

Personal Professional Development in an Age of Chaos

Stephen Downes

National Research Council

Drowning? (1)

If you are like most people, you are drowning under a deluge of information

  • radio, television, newspapers, magazines Exhibit
  • meetings, phone calls, personal visits and interviews
  • email, email, email, spam, email (Exhibit)
  • websites? who has time for websites? Exhibit
  • marking essays and tests, reports, paperwork

Drowning? (2)

And if that weren't enough....

The stuff you knew last week isn't up-to-date any more:

  • The world map has changed (again... is Kurdistan a nation or not? What about Tajikistan?)
  • There's a new web application every day (meanwhile, the portal is filled with dead links)
  • Is chicken safe these days or not? What about milk?

Welcome to...

The Age of Chaos

You're in my territory now

Ways of Learning

Contrast between:

  • learning as adding to your store of knowledge...
    • memory of facts, dates, theories
  • learning as reshaping your personal world view

Your Knowledge...

Your knowledge isn't like this:

Your Knowledge (2)

Your knowledge is more like this:

70 more ways of looking at your knowledge

In Other Words....

Learning is not adding more to what you already know...

Learning is changing what you already know

Sure, there's growth, but it's a growth that's organic, a development of something that already exists (usually by increasing complexity) rather than an adding on

For Example...

Odd as it sounds, think of the old 3-ring binder policy manuals

  • Was basically a 'living document'
  • As new policies came in, old pages were removed, new ones inserted
  • The idea was to maintain a single, dynamic entity

Riding the Wave

As Douglas Rushkoff says, it's like riding a wave... think about learning how to surf: would you memorize the details of each and every wave? The wave today

Shallow Thinking

George Siemens: "What happens when we change how we interact with information? We "ramp up" our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking."

Linda Stone (Microsoft) "With continuous partial attention, we're constantly scanning incoming alerts for the one best thing to seize upon: how can I tune in in a way that helps me sync up with the most interesting, the most important opportunity?"

Pattern Recognition

"To understand is to perceive patterns" - Isaiah Berlin

Depends on:

  • range of sensory input
  • array of pre-existing patterns to match

Contrast with: analysis, searching, infrerence


That 'aha' feeling you get when you learn? It isn't the addition of a new 'fact' - it's the recognition of a pattern... a gestalt...
Works in language, too: "Consider, for example, the sentence: On tonight's program we will hear a discussion of sex with Dick Cavett."

Types of Patterns

Types of Patterns... 1) Peak shift 2) Grouping 3) Contrast 4) Isolation 5) Perceptual problem solving 6) Symmetry 7) Abhorrence of coincidences/generic viewpoint 8) Repetition, rhythm and orderliness 9) Balance 10) Metaphor

Social Patterns

Communities - online, are generally informal collections or groupings of people around a common resource (eg. Yahoo groups

Folksonomies - an informal system whereby people input 'tags' to describe resources - examples, Flickr, del.icio.us


Be the wave - Aggregate, remix, repurpose, feed forward. Why?

  • helps you view the same thing from different angles, points of view - this aids pattern recognition, integration
  • draws from and contributes to social patterns

Varela: "Cognition is not a representation of an independently existing world, but rather a continuing bringing forth of a world through the process of living. The interactions of a living system with its environment are cognitive interactions, and the process of living itself is a process of cognition. To live is to know."


-point of view (like a hologram - what you see is different depending on where you look at it from)


The purpose of cration is not merely to immerse yourself in the phenomena but to force yourself into taking a point of view, to create a context for observation...

It doesn't necessarily matter so much what you create as it does that you create


Participation Model

More Resources

George Siemens, Connectivism and web 2.0

Stephen Downes, E-learning 2.0

Stephen Downes, Stephen's web

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