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Posts Tagged ‘learning

A few months ago, I tweet-wondered this out loud.

I ask again: If we can now work just about anywhere, what could modern offices offer?

As an educator, I also ask: If we can study anywhere, why do the majority of classrooms still look like classrooms? Why do they not look more like a Starbucks, as this educator envisions?

Mindsets. They not only shape thoughts and behaviours, they dictate design and implementation.

Let me give you an example. I still get requests for contacts for vendors who can construct “special rooms” in schools.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009. Photo by William Oh.

There are not many good reasons to have special rooms. Having a place to show off when visitors come a-knocking is not a good reason. Having an excess of funds is not a good reason to build a special room.

Having rooms that challenge pedagogy, perplex teachers, and enable meaningful, powerful learning is important. But do we need special rooms to do that? What messages does that send if we do?

Every room should be special. That way they become ordinary and accessible to all. Every teacher should have professional development to learn how to integrate technology effectively. Every student should be consume and create because of technology-enabled learning.

To do any less is to make lame excuses while spouting 21st century rhetoric.

I felt privileged to play active roles in SSI Enables 2016, an event held yesterday that was organised under the umbrella of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore.

Delivering my keynote at SSI Enables 2016.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Chan.

I was the keynote speaker on social media-enabled PLNs and a panel member on how to move a system forward.

I do not think I have ever walked away from a keynote and thought to myself that the session was perfect. I invariably look critically at my performance and wish I had used a better turn of phrase or had done something else.

However, I walked off the stage feeling very satisfied yesterday.

The audience gamingly got involved in the pre-keynote activities of taking part in a poll and completing a word cloud in AnswerGarden. During the keynote, the backchannel often scrolled faster than I could read.

During the panel session, the organisers took my advice to use a free tool, Dotstorming, to raise questions that could be voted up. The audience took to it like fish to water.

During the panel session, at lunch, and during my interaction with various people, I received reinforcement, validation, and positive comments. For example, I kept getting feedback from different people that they had never before experienced learning of that kind and quality. That was high praise indeed.

Social service meets social media-based learning

But all that time I thought I was just saying the ordinary:

  • The timeless competencies are learning, unlearning, and relearning.
  • All three are enabled by social media — particularly Twitter — in personal learning networks (PLNs).

This was a reminder that:

  • An old message can be a new one to someone else.
  • Keynotes can be interactive and involved if you design for learning, not for speaking.
  • Panel sessions can be less like a fishbowl and focused more on answering participants’ questions.

I still have some unfinished work even though the face-to-face component is over. While I have processed the questions in the backchannel, I have yet to analyse and answer the 50 or so questions that were raised in the poll. I will do this while I am away at a conference next week.

I am going to have an interesting upcoming three weeks of work.

This week I conduct a seminar on personal learning networks (PLN). The following week I fly off to a conference to facilitate a discussion on flipped learning. After I return from that trip, I remotely mentor a group that formed as a result my talk on flipped learning in the UK last year.

I designed the PLN seminar like I do all my previous ones: As high on audience interaction as possible and to create cognitive dissonance. I aim to un-lecture.

The conference overseas will be interesting as I have no idea who I will meet. I typically get to know participants by polling them beforehand. But I know that whoever attends my session will be there because they want to, not because they have to.

While the first two are face-to-face encounters, the third will be a Google Hangout. I have only met one participant via Twitter and do not know who the rest are. But the remote session will be a cosier one than the first two.

I reflect on how such a variety of experiences seemed to fall on my lap. They did not because I was critical with my choices. I said no to the opportunities that looked good on the surface. I said yes to those where I could bring value and get value.

Don't say

Earlier this week I mentioned to two people that I think that “lifelong learning” is often misused.

What some people mean by that phrase is actually continuous training (which is linked to compliance) and skills upgrading (which is linked to productivity). Both of these are more like schooling.

If we are honest about it, we do not learn very much from school. Try to remember what you learnt in school or what you really use now that you picked up from school. Not much.

You learnt much more outside of the confines of school or school-like environments. If we are to truly learn over a lifetime, it is to self-actualise and to educate ourselves. It is not to be schooled.

School did not teach me to state and share the CC photo with which I created this image quote. I learnt about CC after graduate school and taught myself to do this.

When I hear teachers talk about “connected learning” I ask for examples. If they have any, their stories sometimes tell me they do not understand and practice connected learning.

One story might read like this. As a teacher, I collect the best work of my students and share it via photos at a class website, Instagram account, or Pinterest board.

Another story goes like this. I ask for contacts somewhere else in the world to Skype with. After a fair bit of “Can you hear me? Can you see us?”, we have a “cultural exchange”. Sometimes this is a wonderful showcase; most times we do this once or twice a year.

Still another story, and an increasingly common one at that, is “Yes, I’m on Twitter!” and “I tweet around events!”.

None of these are good examples of connected learning in my books.

A teacher who shares student work is being more open and that is good. But openness is not the same as being connected. You have to be open enough first to want to connect, but that does not ensure connectedness.

If that same teacher does not encourage or even prevents her students from sharing their work on their own, then that teacher has not enabled connected learning. That teacher might have opened selective student work to others, but she has not opened channels for communication and collaboration.

Such channels should be open any time, every time, and all the time. Using Skype periodically gives teachers control over such “connections”, but that does not allow learners to legitimately and authentically connect with each other.

Teachers who mistakenly think that once in a blue moon Skyping is connected learning should ask themselves: Is the show of connection more important than the natural curiosity and social interaction kids have?

Putting on a show is, sadly, becoming more common in the edu-Twitterverse. I meet people who are Twitter zombies in that they come alive only when it suits them intermittently instead of giving to others continuously.

We should all question what connected learning means because there rarely is a shared understanding or practice. In 2014, I highlighted four aspects of connectedness (infrastructure, social, content, wider world). Some aspects might be obvious, some not. But they help question the assumptions we make about “being connected”.


The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

After I help participants define the flipped classroom and flipped learning, I summarise by saying this: The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

That is not to say that the two concepts and practices do not overlap. I also try to illustrate how they do.

Three dimensions of flipping.

Nevertheless, I still advise teachers to flip so that students create content and peer teach. These are among the best ways to learn and based on sound pedagogical principles.

Both creating content and teaching are forms of visible thinking and visible learning.

Creating content externalises mental schema so that a teacher can diagnose and remediate misconceptions.

Teaching requires learners to process and reprocess content. It takes advantage of the proximity that learners have with one another in terms of their experiences, language, and examples. It brings order to the messiness of learning and provides an audience for learners to practice on.

It has been a flipping good start to 2016. Tomorrow I conduct my fourth flipped learning event at a partner institute.

I revisited some of my previous resources, and never content to rest on my laurels, decided to update some of them with newer references and tighter reasoning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

I plan on using several quotes to provoke thought and create some dissonance. This quote is my favourite of the bunch and I am glad that someone generously shared a near perfect photo of neat and messy clothes.

I am fond of saying it the other way around: Learning is messy; teaching is neat. I swapped the positions of the phrases to suit the photo.

I will share this saying to make a point. One reason why teaching does not lead to learning is because the teacher does not understand or tolerate the messiness of learning.

Teachers are likely to have achieved some order from the chaos in order to gain expertise. They try to maintain this order because everything in schooling is about neatly arranged curricula, tests, and grades.

Most teachers rely on strategies that they have been taught, e.g., deliver, practice, homework, test. If teachers reflect critically on how they know content so well, they might realise that they learnt and mastered content by teaching it.

To teach something well is to first deeply relate to it. This is the initial level of complex processing. Most teachers cycle through these processes with their students when they teach. They might not realise that to teach that content to someone else requires another level of even more complex reprocessing. That is what leads to mastery because it is one form of authentic use of the content.

This is one reason why I maintain that teaching to learn is one of the three dimensions of flipped learning. A flipped classroom might take learners through the first cycle of learning; it does not necessarily challenge them with the second cycle. So I challenge teachers to reflect critically on this and to change their mindsets on what constitutes effective design and instruction.

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