CCK08 Week Three: Eight Important Questions About Learning and Connection

Critical Life Skills
Week 3 of the CCK08 Connectivism MOOC is principally about network theory. I’ve written a bit about this, notably about network analysis (Rob Cross) and network mapping (Valdis Krebs, who was this week’s ‘virtual guest lecturer’).

All week I’ve been reminded of how, especially once we reach age 50, we tend to rely more and more on our networks — both human networks (communities) and knowledge networks (the places we store what we’ve learned). This is partly due to the fact that we have ever more knowledge to handle, and partly because as we age our short-term memory weakens. Someone once said, famously, when asked how he could command such an enormous store of knowledge, “I keep my knowledge in my networks”.

I’ve started using IM, VoIP, and Google Desktop to recall my know-who (“who should I talk to about X again?”), my know-what (“where was that great tapas bar in Vancouver?”) and my know-how (“what was step 6 in my Innovation Process?”)

With a lifetime’s practice I’ve learned to keep in mind that I am only a complicity, a space through which stuff passes, and that my purpose is to touch the right stuff in just the right way as it passes through, in a way that brings meaning and joy and value to myself and to others in my social networks, my communities. To do this I use a particular process (sense, self-control, understand, question, imagine, offer, collaborate) to address each issue, project, decision, and challenge I face each day.

Much of this process is social, and it is conducted with members of my communities, my social networks. In fact deciding who to include in which networks, which networks to participate in, and how, and which people to invest time in and seek conversation with (and perhaps even which to trust and love) is probably the most important type of decision I make each day.

This week, for example, I decided to meet with Jon Husband for breakfast in San Jose (instead of going back to bed after a 6am media interview on my book). That important breakfast conversation inspired yesterday’s post. And shortly after that I met with Second Life friend Michelle Paradis for lunch in Santa Cruz, as prearranged, and discovered to my delight that she had invited five other fascinating people to join us: strategic change guru (and another Second Life friend) Gary Merrill, creativity and narrative consultants Kenton Hyatt and Cheryl DiCiantis, and Living Strategy advisors (and animal menagerie owners) Arian Ward and Beth Alexandre. Between the seven of us we discovered a remarkable number of connections and common friends (many of which also included some of my Tuesday dinner companions) — to the point we realized that we were all essentially already ‘hidden’ parts of each other’s networks, one or at most two degrees of separation apart. (Thanks so much to the amazing Michelle for arranging all this!)

So I began to think about how we make the decision on whether and how to accommodate new acquaintances in our already time-constrained and attention-constrained networks. After all, a recent study by Tom Davenport concluded that the most effective (i.e. productive) people in organizations tended to be those who had the strongest networks and who somehow were able to invest a substantial amount of time each day in nurturing those networks.

My right sidebar lists what I’ve been calling my ‘gravitational community’ — the people with whom I have gravitated because of common interests and passions, mutual admiration, respect and love. My lengthier blogroll has been moved off my home page to make room of this more important (to me) list of key networks. These are people I allow and even encourage to interrupt me, anytime, for instant conversations — if I had known them before the days of the Internet, they would be the people who I’d invite to drop over unannounced, anytime.

All of this raises some very important questions about networks:

  1. How do we best decide who to include in our networks (or to put it another way who are the people we’re meant to be in community with)?
  2. How can we learn to accommodate more people and build deeper relationships with those in our networks, without sacrificing other important activities in our lives?
  3. How much time should we invest in networks, with which members, in what ways, and how do we make the most of that time?
  4. How do we discover the people who should be in our networks, but currently aren’t?

My knowledge networks — the places I store and access knowledge that is important, useful or memorable to me, are somewhat easier to manage, because I use my blog to capture what are to me the important parts of what I read, see, hear, discover, experience and learn, so I can then use Google Desktop or the search bar of my blog to recall what I’ve learned later, and even ‘re-learn’ it quickly.

So much for networks. The mindmap above is an earlier list of the things I believe are most important to learn, the modern ‘survival skills and knowledge’ list. I’m an advocate of unschooling (self-directed learning) and I believe that we are naturally able to learn these things ourselves, as soon as we discover they are important to us. But I also sense that the modern education system has stripped most of us of this natural learning ability in order to make us obedient and subservient. The Connectivism discussions make it clear that we’re as puzzled and divergent in our views about learning as we are about networks. This brings us to four more Important Questions:

  1.  If learning is, as the instructors of this course contend, nothing more or less than ‘making connections’ (neural, conceptual, and social), how do we learn to learn the things in the chart above and the other things we need to learn to be self-sufficient, useful members of communities — to be who we were intended to be?
  2. How do we discover what it is we need to learn?
  3. How do we learn to critically assess what we see, hear, and think, and overcome the prejudices, prejudgements and worldviews that block us from being open to new ideas, insights, perspectives and knowledge?
  4. We all have learning ‘disabilities’ of one kind or another. How do we recognize and overcome them?

I’m hoping that the Connectivism course will help answer these questions over the next nine weeks. If it does, it will be an extraordinary accomplishment. If it succeeds, it will probably be due not to the catalyzing questions and readings of the course ‘instructors’, but to the collective conversations of the hundreds of people engaged in thecourse, with each other, in community. I’m hanging in to find out.

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2 Responses to CCK08 Week Three: Eight Important Questions About Learning and Connection

  1. You and Stephen Downes were both being read by me on a daily basis before I heard about this course. If everyone revealed his identity and there were time to check everyone’s blog or website, I suspect we were drawn to this group because of certain commonalities. There isn’t a groove in my brain labeled “Save the World”. I think we’re past the tipping point on that one but it’s comforting that you and David Suzuki disagree. I suspect that we are a group that still believes in possibilities – that our efforts will lead to something better – hopefully in this world but having lived a life in the church, the next world is where I have placed my hope.

  2. I thought your comment about age and memory was interesting. I shouldn’t admit it, but I’m 4 years off the big 50 & I’m starting to find my memory isn’t what it used to be and I am very conscious that I am strong my knowledge else where than in my head ie my networks. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of memory, more in terms of a new way of learning, but I think you’ve got soemthing.

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