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Social Learning: Learning to Share, Sharing to Learn

2008 February 3
by Kim Cofino

I am constantly inspired by the supportive and encouraging environment out here in the education blogosphere. After reading Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0 (so nice I have to mention it twice), I am reminded of the power of the social learning going on in this environment.

Anyone involved in the field of education in general (and technology education in particular) knows that our jobs are changing rapidly. Much too quickly to learn “everything there is to know” before we enter the work force. As Brown and Adler describe,

Mastering a field of knowledge involves not only “learning about” the subject matter but also “learning to be” a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice.

In a traditional Cartesian educational system, students may spend years learning about a subject; only after amassing sufficient (explicit) knowledge are they expected to start acquiring the (tacit) knowledge or practice of how to be an active practitioner/professional in a field. But viewing learning as the process of joining a community of practice reverses this pattern and allows new students to engage in “learning to be” even as they are mastering the content of a field. This encourages the practice of what John Dewey called “productive inquiry”—that is, the process of seeking the knowledge when it is needed in order to carry out a particular situated task.

I am learning constantly, and my job changes just as quickly. Being involved in this social learning environment is allowing me to learn consistently and steadily along with the changes as they come. It is this powerful learning environment that has helped me shape my views on 21st century literacy, keep me up-to-date on the most powerful methods of connecting learners, and push my thinking towards the future.

It is this personal experience of “learning to be” in this environment that makes me realize just how powerful this will be for our students. I am amazed and inspired by the power of this network to stretch my thinking and to broaden my horizons. It is clear to me that this experience of social learning will only become more and more essential to education as the tools become easier and easier to use.

One of the most important aspects of this experience, for me, has been the willingness of others to share their learning, and the encouragement and support that is received when I share my own thoughts and ideas. Seeing as I’m the first-born in my immediate family (and thus, somewhat spoiled) I have never been the best at sharing. But this open network of learning, thinking and discussion has always felt like such a natural place to share.

It continues to amaze me that others find my thinking helpful and that every day I have a new follower on Twitter or a comment from a new reader. I am amazed and empowered at the ability to be both a learner and a leader in this environment.

Two weeks ago I (who, me?!) was a guest on the fabulous Women of Web 2.0 podcast! Jennifer Wagner, Vicki Davis, Sharon Peters and Cheryl Oakes interviewed me? What could I possibly have to tell these superstars of education who I have been following and learning from for years? Just the possibility that this could happen not only makes learning, thinking, and sharing more exciting, but also so much more personal. Being part of a network that grows and shifts and changes as rapidly as the learning occurs means that there is room for everyone – such a different feeling from the traditional classroom.

The week before my WOW2 appearance, Chris Betcher invited me and Susan Sedro on his fantastic The Virtual Staffroom podcast to talk about technology integration. Two people who I constantly look to for advice, who I think of as my mentors, who inspire me to do new things in new ways. And they wanted to hear what I thought!

Around that same time Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach invited me to be an “Expert Voice” on Social Networking for the next month for the Powerful Learning Practice professional development Ning that she is working on with Will Richardson. Just to be involved in something with Sheryl and Will is exciting enough – let alone being called “expert” on something, anything!

Finally, just last week Julie Lindsay invited me to travel to Qatar Academy as a consultant for 2 full days of 21st century literacy training. Not only am I so honored to be thought of as an expert in this field, but to be given the privilege of working with an entire primary school full of teachers for two full days as a consultant – I can not think of anything more exciting!

Looking at the new 2008 Horizon Report, this type of social learning is only the beginning:

The next generation of social networking systems—social operating systems—will change the way we search for, work with, and understand information by placing people at the center of the network….The real value of the network lies in the way it helps us create, identify, and sustain relationships….

Placing people and relationships at the center of informational space will have a profound influence at all levels of academia. It will change the way we relate to knowledge and information; the way we do research and evaluate credibility; the way educators and students interact with each other; and the way students learn to be professionals in their chosen disciplines…

Imagine the impact of tools that place those people and relationships at the center of any research inquiry: concepts clearly linked to people; connections between those people and others clearly indicated; a much more complete picture of the topic would emerge, more quickly than is possible with current tools.

These are the kinds of experiences I want to ensure that my students have. I want them to experience the fun and excitement and empowerment of learning and mastering a skill. I want them to feel like they are connected to learners just like them, and that their network can grow and change as their needs shift. I want to bring this kind of connected learning to each and every classroom so that all students can enjoy learning the way I do. This is what makes my job so fun and interesting – isn’t that what we want our schools to be?

Tags: chris betcher, susan sedro, julie lindsay, jennifer wagner, vicki davis, cheryl oakes, sharon peters, wow2, women of web 2.0, qatar academy, plp, powerful learning practice, will richardson, social networking, educase, minds on fire, social, learning, 21stcentury, horizon report, future, hz08, flnw08

5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 3, 2008

    Great post and yes thoroughly endorse your comments about they way we want our schools to be. I saw the start of that excitement again in my students when they commenced their first blogs last week, and I saw it last year when we used skype with Korea and again when they shared little travelogue digital movies with Las Vegas.

  2. February 3, 2008

    That’s cause your work is awesome. Maybe we should hire you as a consultant while you’re still low-priced consultant? (smile).

    Miguel

  3. February 4, 2008

    Murcha,

    I think it’s that experience of actually seeing the reaction from students that helps teachers realize just how powerful this experience is for them – especially for those that may not be involved in their own PLN to start with…

    Miguel,

    Thanks! Cheap is fine with me :) I like the learning!

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