#CritLit2010 Some thoughts and reflections on conversation and COP

How could we learn effectively in a learning network?  What are the critical literacies required whilst learning in a networked learning environment? What is learning capability? What is meaningful conversation?  These are some of the questions that I would like to share and explore.
First, may I refer to Learning Affordance by Roy Williams and Learning for a small planet by Etienne Wenger and share some of my views and questions?
My comments in italics
p9. Learning capability as a relationship between individual identities and social system – in terms of trajectories across a multiplicity of communities defined at multiple levels of scale.
How is it conceptualised, practised & mediated nowadays? Through social media – FB, twitter, Linked in, Youtube, Amplify, Ning, wiki, where people traverse through or form small clusters of networks and small communities (like some of us here) and are conversing from small chats to discourse (academic debates – based on critical “thinking” and analysis), from daily trivial to business ethics, professional practices, narratives, story telling and sharing of feelings and emotions.  These are all rich “bits & pieces of information & experience” that each of us have gained in life, where we sometimes would share without reservation when trust, respects and empowerment are endowed.
People joined multiple networks, clusters of networks and communities, and morphed along existing and emerging media/networks.  Different people (innovators, early adopters, majority, digital migrants/natives, visitors/residents) would engage with multiple levels of scale, with real/digital networks or Communities of Practice (COP) at various stages of “learning”, each basing on their personal needs and aspirations.

Are there patterns relating to such trajectories and levels of scale?  Would a study on these yield significant learning too? (May be social network analysis, narratives research, appreciative inquiry etc.)

So what does learning capability mean within such clusters of networks or COPs?  Would it be a capability of such individuals to participate, engage, share and elicit information and responses which makes senses to the individuals, to the groups, or COPs? These add values to each others’ conversation which could lead to some “wise” & creative concepts, that underpins the themes, the story told by each one of us. This could also be summarised as sensemaking (based on a participative and sharing culture within the organisation, networks or COPs).

p10 Developing the necessary discourse is admittedly only a very small part of the process.  It takes personal commitment, leadership, and communities with the political will and goodwill to engage meaningfully in the necessary conversation.

In a formal setting, yes, one needs personal commitment, leadership, and communities.

With the current climate and ecology, I could see million clusters of conversation (both meaningful and trivial conversations) happening all over the media on a daily basis – Twitter, FB, and Youtube are just few examples away from actual work (i.e. informal learning, as one could call).  So, would we really need to have conversations happening within institutional environment for learning to be significant?  I would argue that the more informal it is, the better the “flow of ideas”, and the more creative would the “conversation” become.  This adds a different dimension to the learning capability.
I always notice that in formal workshop or conference, people are too scare to criticise a system, an idea, or a methodology (especially when everyone thinks – don’t fix it if it is not broken)  Examples are straight lectures, 100% teacher talk).  Why?  Are there many who would dare to challenge the thoughts presented by the “gurus”, experts etc.?  Are there many who have the “capacity” to challenge? I am not saying that the lectures are not of great value, but if we seriously think about the learning that may happen in a lecture, then we would need to rethink its value in the long run.  I must admit that I don’t remember most of the lecture content. So, instead of lecturing, conversation could be a much better way to help and support people to learn, especially with people who wish to engage in deeper learning, or in social learning.
So, what would be needed to nurture a meaningful conversation in a network/class? One of the concepts behind is to study why people have difficulties in engaging in such conversation.  Would the conversation be held in “layman terms”?  Are those syntax, semantics, pragmatics embedded within the conversation?  I borrowed those learnt from Critical Literacies here.   So, what does it mean for me?  It means that I have to re-learn them in order to engage in meaningful conversation, this would help me to avoid unnecessary utterances that is perceived as “grumbling with pain even though one is not ill” (that looks like a Chinese idiom).

There are further challenges on learning conversations, in that each of us have our own learning needs, and learning constraints (time, work & family loading, personal issues), which means that we could only afford to spend time “wisely” in order to leverage the benefits which are afforded by the learning conversation.

Who is taming who, well illustrates the tension between technology and people, as discussed in Heli’s post on Pragmatics versus diversity.  Also, this further highlights the impact of technology, the media on our daily life, our learning, and our communities or networks.

Another challenge could be the difficulties we often encounter due to conflicts of values – educational, cultural, religious, personal etc. that are difficult to resolve amongst networkers of networks or COPs.

Further challenges include identification of sites, blogs, and artifacts that we could trust and rely upon in learning and research with networked learning.  How would we be able discern the genuine from the fake sources of information?  I found this internet detective helpful in understanding the importance of identification and filtering of information in networks.

Theory does not precede practice.  Practice also transforms the discourse.
Would it depend upon the type of discourse over the conversation (in the media, COPs etc.)?

Help increase the learning capability of human societies by reshaping the public discourse on learning with elements of Social learning theory.
I suppose this centered around the conversation as part of the learning capability.
In summary, I like this concept of learning capability and learning conversation, which may contribute to significant COP learning, and thus help in solving some of the social problems.

My concern is: what happens to those people who would prefer to learn independently, or who are not accustomed to social learning.  I could still see many great scientists and thinkers who are independent critical thinkers, and they would prefer to learn alone.  Are many PhDs still independent scholars?  I don’t know.

So some people would prefer to learn in their own way, at their own pace, without bothering to resort to open social conversation. How do they learn?

Would cognitive development (independent learning over the net without too much conversations) be another “great way of learning” especially for those who are not so sociable in life.  For me, I am not sociable in my Catholic church, but I could still pray and practice my religion in “mass”.

May I propose some concepts which may be linked to these learning capability?
This Theory of Constraints have been adopted in the mid 1980s and the main concept is to identify the constraints and restructure the rest of the organisation around it.

The challenge for some of the existing institutions is that it is still based on the traditional models of schooling, and as we realise all those constraints, they could be structured around authority, power, hierarchy and bureaucracy.

So, my point is: no matter how great the conversations (especially learning conversations) are, how great the COPs are, so far these COPs, networks are only influencing the “educational systems”, without really making any significant transformational impact on the system.

In order words, if we apply the concept of Theory of Constraints, one needs to identify the constraints of these educational and learning practices. Then by applying the concepts of Constraints (as in Complexity Theory – by either amplifying the positive feedback or dampening the negative feedback) the “learning conversations” would have its emergent effect of self-organising, and growing within and with-out the institution boundaries, causing a significant shift in the institutional culture.  This would foster a climate of community and networked learning across the institutions, based on learning conversations amongst educators and learners.

Would this shift in educational practice cause a shift of authority and power in institutions?  What are the implications of these on the  institutions? How would institutions exercise control (constraints) over any cultural and educational shifts?  How would authority, power and control be resolved in an educational context, especially in educational institutions when exposed to the influence of external communities of practice (COP)?
Thanks to Etienne for such a great paper which provided valuable food for thoughts on networked learning.