#PLENK2010 The Elements of a Network Learning and Development Platform: A Beginning

I’ll begin today by summarizing my last post, orient this post toward an educational view and consider what it might mean in terms of the practical elements of a network learning platform.

Summary of My Last Post

When we look at our everyday activities and the communities where those activities are embedded, what becomes important in enabling our actions is not rarified decontextualized content knowledge, but rather the knowledge and understandings that are fashioned between us.  We are shedding the industrial era hierarchal rule based structures because they no longer fit the complexity we face, a complexity that now require collaborative ways of working.  We are also switching from a focus on the prediction and control of behavior to the joint pursuit of emergent practices and from what is the case on the ground, to what values we ought to pursue on behalf of our customers.  Learning in this view does not have a measurable essence, but it can have a use, which can become meaningful when it enables joint action.  It’s an approach to Dewey’s learning by doing that centers cognition in collaboration.

The Practical Side

Time to get concrete.  How do you help people not only learn, but also develop their capabilities?  Previous educational world-views are looking unsustainable and it’s only increasing given the trends toward what David Jones calls The Commodification of Knowledge.

(The) fundamental problem that I see in this (commodification) response is a limited and incorrect view of higher education.  . . . It’s a market driven, techo-rational approach that assumes a traditional analyse, design, implement, evaluate cycle that fails to understand the full complexity of what is required and the changing nature of surrounding environment.  . . . It assumes that there are people who are smart enough to predict what “consumers” will want from the University.

This is similar to the problem of push as described by Hagel, Brown & Davison (henceforth HBD) and their answer to my question is similar to David’s suggestion: Focus on what you do well, build a learning network around that, and allow the emergent practice to grow. Sounds like a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) supported practice.

So what are the elements on which to build a high functioning PLE?  What do you need to develop and grow your practice?

Need # 1 The Network(s)

Build a diverse, visionary and engaged learning network.  HBD suggests that you find the smartest people in your field (what you do well) to include in your network.  Get into their networks, learn what problems they’re attempting to solve (presumably the same problems you are or will encounter) and work jointly on solving them.  The time to build that network is now.  It’s too late to start when a pressing need arises.  I think there needs to be sufficient similarity to allow connections to form in any network, but there is also a need for diversity.  Achieving high levels of both is an important goal.

Need # 2 – The Environment

You can not predict where the next important idea or resource will come from in HBD’s world of “pull” learning; serendipity plays a great role.  This means that your daily environment is almost as important as any wider, but occasional network.  This fits in with an idea (mostly from Richard Florida) that we want to be in diverse, vibrant and exciting environments.  This isn’t pie in the sky thinking.  If you’re in a field that needs innovation (and what field doesn’t today) a diverse, vibrant and exciting environment is a worthwhile business investment.

Need # 3 – A MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

I see this concept serving many more and differing goals than is possible in a traditional course.  At one level it is a people curator, a natural network supporting device.  It’s is likely where the “smartest people in the room” will be (except that in a world ruled by serendipity, many people may become the smartest person at one time or another).  It is a place where the field leaders can connect with people and network their leadership role without becoming overwhelmed by the demands of the network (at least I hope the leadership in this course would concur).  People involved will have many differing goals, but I think that a MOOC will be most beneficial when it is understood as something larger in purpose and more connected with the world and with people’s everyday activities than a traditional educational course.  There may also be other forms in the future that fulfill a similar role, but this seems like a good start in defining a network learning platform.

Need # 4 – Access to a Network Weaver

A Network Weaver is

(S)omeone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier (more inclusive, bridging divides). Network Weavers do this by connecting people strategically where there’s potential for mutual benefit, helping people identify their passions, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.

There are many potential roles in a network, but one of the most valuable may be that of a connection propagator in a fluid network that is able to change with the needs of its members.

Not a Need, but maybe an adjunct: The Un-conference

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. . . . (and that tries) to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.

I’m looking at the concept of the un-conference as networked, distributed and collaborative open research.  More focused and directed than other network forms, but one that may help to round out the different types of network learning and development platforms that serve important purposes in people’s practices.

This is Only a Beginning

This is a beginning list and I would welcome any additions and ideas.  I don’t consider myself an expert, but I’m strongly interested in better understanding this project we’re involved in as a new type of learning and development platform.  Comments encouraged!

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