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Learning without Barriers (Telegraph Hill Festival)

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 WikiQuals Local

The WikiQuals project is about helping people to believe that any choice that they make about learning for themselves is exactly the right one. And the right choice for society, all of us, as well.

Unfortunately our natural, inquisitive, process of learning, often dismissed as merely “informal learning” has been stolen from us by the formal education system and its institutions; schools, colleges and universities. Consequently, having had our confidence stolen from us, we end up believing the lies the education system, with its massive economic power, tells us about how we learn; and then we behave as instructed. The Americans even say education works better when it is based on “instructional design” – at least they let us know that their education system is about doing as we are instructed so to do. Institutions formalise how we behave, but humans (us) learn informally. We are a species fuelled by curiosity. Driven by our curiosity we follow our interests and learn a lot about whatever it is that excites us personally.

The Problem with Institutions

Only recently in human history, following 19th century legislation by the Victorian technocrats, have we in the UK made education formal and related to subject-specific expertise. Significantly this was after we had established the idea of subject-based taxonomies, as defined by experts, with the introduction of the Museum Act in 1860 which was followed by the education Act of 1870 (which Manchester acted on most effectively, becoming England’s second city educationally).

This formalisation of learning around subject-based expertise also flipped what had previously been good educational practice in the medieval university (the so-called “liberal arts” model) in which you were educated in a range of skills concerning communications, analysis and expression, only to focus on subject expertise at the Masters degree level; you were literally “mastering” a subject having already learnt how to express yourself and discuss your thoughts with others. What we now call “schooling” is about putting barriers between our natural desire to learn as a self-conscious, problem-solving species, and our expression of our learning, No wonder Ivan Illich called for a “deschooling” of society (as we have been discussing for some time in Everything Unplugged). More on our Deschooling thoughts in Unplugged.

We are diminished as human beings by being told just to focus on the subject expertise required in educational institutions; and by being told that consequent economic rewards will follow. What I call being “A-level students on steroids” for the rest of our lives; we’ve been though an artificial arc of success by passing exams and assume that real life will pass in front of us in the same way. Success in educational institutions creates entitlement in those who accumulate accreditation.

The Trouble with Pedagogy
Allegedly, good teachers are those who understand their “pedagogy” best, that is the techniques relating to the subject delivery of their part of the academic taxonomy, with which we fallaciously divide up the natural world and our layering of civilisation upon it. I think this is the wrong way to think about teachers. I think the best teachers act as “brokers” enabling learners to follow their interests in our increasingly limited educational institutions which are content-delivery systems, validated by examination-driven quality control.

I’m quite happy with teachers being subject experts, perhaps as an element of quality-assurance of their practice, but I think they need to express a wider range of capabilities across the PAH Continuum (one of our big ideas) to be effective for their learners. That is they also need, beyond their subject expertise, to stimulate collaborative learning processes (Andragogy) and the creativity of their learners (Heutagogy).

The trouble with pedagogy is that it prioritises the subject expertise of the teacher rather than the everyday interests of the learner. We need learner-centric processes not teacher-centric classrooms. We need to get back to the learning itself.

Accreditation without barriers

My view is that accreditation is the real barrier to learning in contemporary society. This is because of the way we have set up and evolved our learning accreditation systems. The 19th century brought about the primacy of subject-based thinking about the world, as the Victorians built an industrialised society, by mechanical means. The 20th century brought about the institutionalisation of education as the delivery mechanism of universal access to school as part of the democratisation of the mass society of the Welfare State.

What will 21st century learning ultimately offer us for a post-Welfare State world? The technologies are, potentially, participatory, as we can see with, say, Wikipedia. However, so far we have seen the use of new technologies being largely limited to “e-enabling” what we already have. For example the rise of MOOCs as an online learning option, but they are just content-delivery systems designed by Southern Californians concerned with “scale”. In education “scale” means “one teacher, many learners” What we need, and what participatory technologies offer us, is “one learner, many teachers” And we should let the learner choose their teachers, what Rose Luckin calls their “more able partners”.

So a key question for me has been “can we design learning processes which allow learner-centred learning?” Well, yes we can!

WikiQuals – self-accredited learning

The WikiQuals project grew out of both #occupy at UCL and the University Project at Hub Westminster in September 2011. I was asked to design it by students unwilling to pay £15k for a Masters degree at an educational institution they no longer respected (UCL). A couple of years before I’d created the Emergent Learning Model. This is a learning design tool which helps you to design new educational processes. We’d just used it on Ambient Learning City, Manchester, for digitally inclusive learning across the City, so WikiQuals was a new challenge. There is much more about WikiQuals and self-accredited learning on this blog; the best presentation about it is WikiQuals and Open Learning. I’m happy to help anyone who wants to design new learning for themselves, either as part of a group (home schoolers?) or individually as a WikiSqolar; talk to me 🙂

As part of the Telegraph Hill Festival on Tuesday 13th March at 6pm we will be looking at how we might create WikiQuals Local with a local community, at BE Bright above the Hill Station Cafe, SE14 5TW, along with David Holloway and Kate Faragher.

Come along to discuss this with us. Else post questions for me to answer below


WikiQuals & Personalised Learning

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Alternative Education Futures

Presentation 17 June 2016 for the  personalised learning group looking at how new educational futures might allow for more personalised education. I think we can have “personalised learning” but not “personalised education” as long as we have pedagogically-driven education, so part of this presentation is about incorporating Andragogy (which is what I think education is about) and Heutagogy (which is what I think an education system should be enabling).

Meta-narrative in fact this presentation (for educators) is more a meta-narrative of how I go to the point of creating WikiQuals, which is not a sui generis project but the end result of several phases of action and reflection on what learning actually is and how education systems might support that learning.

Learners own learning is the key conclusion of all of my work and WikiQuals was designed with that in mind… Here is the presentation; comments and questions very welcome.

Build the Society That Pleases You Most

SenseCamp Bruxelles 20 September 2014

Many things have developed in the WikiQuals world without my reporting them here. Some new Sqolars, a couple of public presentations, the putative opening of the WikiQuals Open Learning Lab at LKL and a workshop at the Wikipedia conference, Wikimania, held at the Barbican in London last month.

Make Sense ran a HoldUp at Wikimania to discuss how to take WikiQuals forward, which was very successful in develop some interesting ideas that I am acting, whilst also confirming the value of the WikiQuals Open Learning Lab idea. As a consequence I am giving a talk called Build the Society That Pleases You Most at SenseCamp tomorrow, about emergence & social change.


Building Democratic Learning

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The Limits of xMOOCs & the Emergence of Learning

There has been a lot of interest in MOOCs, actually xMOOCs, with the launch in the UK of Futurelearn and the support of Secretary of State David Willetts (who closed world-leading elearning NDPB Becta) on Newsnight July 1 2013. This is a blog post critiquing xMOOCs that I wrote in October 2012 and have been updating.
I’ve been following a discussion thread about MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) on the ALT list and wrote this about the Limits of MOOCs, something that I think we are trying to address here on the WikiQuals project.
I’ve been participating in MOOCs and working on various #open #learning strategies and projects, for some time; I actually don’t think MOOCs are now much about learning at all; they have become content-driven #edspam and work in similar ways to spam, with a very limited ‘completion’ rate. Admittedly the original MOOC vision of Stephen Downes, George Siemens & Dave Cormier was focussed on developing a model of learning that reflects their interest in distributed knowledge.  Hence the ‘self-referential’ quality that some people comment on about their CCK MOOCs on Connectivism. MOOCs were about Connectivism, and explored the use of new digital tools, as their excellent What is a MOOC? makes clear, which is fair enough – they are articulating and developing their vision. They also write on the value of open courses being in Research, Learning & Engagement, which ties in with that original vision, and Cormier argues that you wouldn’t want to Assess within a MOOC either. However newer MOOCs have different agendas.
The key part of a MOOC however is the “Massive Course” dimension and this year, 2012, has seen the big American Universities take the globalisation of education, and their traditional content-push model of learning, into the MOOC arena and have focussed on growing the MC business; Udacity, Coursera, MITx etc. Gavin, for example, on the ALT list commented that his experience is that Coursera is content-centric and that you must navigate as they command; of course! Downes et al should have called their work DOOK – Distributed Open Online Knowledge, if they didn’t want the big boys to steal the baby when they made their bigger splash. MOOC growth now is about US Universities winning the race in the globalised education market, meanwhile in the UK we are raising fees, and failing to improve the learning experience on offer, even at our widening participation Universities.
That isn’t to say that MOOC courses, Read the rest of this entry

Affinity Groups

Designing for Rhizomatic Learning

Overview; Last week I discussed what I described as ‘designing for discontinuities’ outlining what I had learnt about rhizomatic learning from engaging in MOOCs. Jenny Mackness has added some parallel reflections in her blog post Between a MOOC and a hard place too. This week I am going to look at how we will try and implement what we learnt from those reflections on the values of social discontinuity for learning and the strength of weak ties in networking. The key element in implementing rhizomatic learning in WikiQuals will be in supporting the process of self-organised ‘affinity groups’. This will develop the earlier idea of using Affinity Partners, rather than supervisors (or teachers), to support the learning process.

Affinity Groups; The idea of the Affinity Partner is to be empathetic to the learner. A key aspect of WikiQuals is trusting learners to follow their interests and to determine for them selves what they want to learn. The affinity partner rather than supervising acts more as a critical friend moderating the work of their WikiSqolar. However having an Affinity Partner still reflects an individualised mode of studying. Following the discussion with Tony Hall on social learning it seemed to me that we need to develop groups within the WikiQuals group process and if allowed Sqolars to be part of differing affinity groups, not based on subject interest per se, but on more human impulses this would be a useful development. It would also be a good way of integrating andragogy into the WikiQuals process, which is a key part of the Open Context Model of Learning.

The Q of Social Intimacy; In Imagination Jonah Lehrer quotes the work by Brian Uzzi on the social intimacy Read the rest of this entry

Designing for Discontinuities

The Strength of Weak Ties

Learning Conversations; A key factor in the practical emergence of the current community of WikiSqolars has been the Everything Unplugged group who meetup every Wednesday for learning conversations. This exhibits the key quality of sociality, from which I see self-organised learning emerging, and have recently been having discussions about social learning, which Tony Hall is passionate about. The recent conversations have covered a range of topics which have, implicitly, helped me with my thinking about the post-institutional principles that inform the WikiQuals project. It has made me realise that what the current WikiQuals group needs to engage with, over our next cycle of activities, are the discontinuities of learning.

We are Rhizomatic; I recently took part in the excellent #fslt MOOC (first steps in learning and teaching) run by Oxford Brookes University, partly organised by Jenny Mackness who has been involved in organising and thinking about MOOCs for sometime. As I made clear in early discussions, I get the OO (Open Online) aspect but I don’t see the point of the MC (Massive Courses). I don’t think that learning scales like a product sells because learning is about engaging in social processes. I’m beyond being interested in the pedagogy of subject based-courses; subject-based study is not about learning it is all about *delivery*. However reflecting within the group on various MOOCs that we have been involved in recently has helped us at Everything Unplugged think about what appears to be the rhizomatic quality of (our) learning. Over the last few weeks I think we’ve come to an understanding that, as a group, we are rhizomatic in terms of our learning behaviours. The current global rush to MOOC everything is much more about extending the grip of institutionalised education.

Discontinuous Connections;  Read the rest of this entry

Inspiring Creative Learning

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Inspiring Creative Learning; Overview

I was asked by Violeta Serbu to prepare a stimulus for the the CROS Camp Learning day in August 2012 and we settled on a title, Inspiring Creative Learning. I will provide information as a series of blog posts, hopefully with responses from Vio, but you are welcome to comment at the end of this blog post.

I intend to discuss this in three parts starting with Inspiring, which I think is the hardest aspect to deal with as it is so personal and varies between people so much;

Inspiration is very personal and can come from many directions; family, relationships, friends, people you know, and people you don’t know, people who inspire you in something very specific, people in the media or in films, characters in novels or in TV shows and films. Identifying how any one individual is inspired, and then planning to reproduce that process of inspiration, is very problematic and so very difficult to plan for. Do Elena Ciric or Vlad Atanasiu inspire people in CROS for example?
People; I noticed in writing that list above that it is all about being inspired by individual people. We talk about the importance of role models in the UK, but that worries me because we are also dominated by an ideology of personal achievement,  yet when you analyse  ‘success’ it is a group achievement, even when one person, like Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour de France, is the face of that success. Personally I was inspired by The Beatles in various ways and one description of why they were successful was that people wanted to be in their ‘gang’ of friends (same with any successful pop group really). In fact whilst you might be inspired by individuals it is groups that help you achieve something distinctive.
Group Inspiration; I’ve realised  that I was involved in setting up many group activities in my life, the value of which I didn’t appreciate at the time, but from which I learnt many important lessons that were more useful to me than any hero-worship of some role-model with some probably unrepeatable ability, such as, say, John Lennon. So inspiration that helps develop your abilities is probably different from inspiration that helps provide you with motivation. Read the rest of this entry

Affinity Partner

Learning Support in WikiQuals

Background; in an earlier post Show & Tell I discussed the concept of journeymen, people who would help triangulate, authenticate, and validate the learning process identified by a WikiSqolar as part of the WikiQuals project. The term, and the concept, were derived from the process by which the learning of apprentices in medieval guilds was validated; however the term is clearly sexist. A number of female academics, such as Catherine Cronin, who expressed interest in being a journeyman/person, because they were happy with the concept, forcefully expressed clear reservations about the terminology.

Thankfully for the project another female academic, Dr Ilene Dawn Alexander of the University of Minnesota, came up with a different term, which also entails slightly differing concepts and roles as we evolve the WikiQuals project. Ilene suggested that Sqolars need Affinity Partners as part of the WikiQuals process and this discussion will examine in a little more detail what we are trying to achieve with the introduction of Affinity Partners.

Wikiquals; to recap what we are examining in the WikiQuals project is how we might implement the idea of post-hoc accreditation in extra-institutional contexts (which is derived from the “formal” phase of the Emergent Learning Model). As suggested by the University Project a University is a ‘Community of Scholars’

Read the rest of this entry

WikiQuals Accreditation

“Solve the problem that annoys you most” 

Developing post-hoc accreditation processes; is the purpose of WikiQuals because high-stakes assessment (of education) is seen as the only valid social measure of learning; We disagree!

Introduction; We have been asked a question within the PhD group and consequently had some scholarly, and not so scholarly, discussions, concerning whether we should accredit the WikiQuals Ph.D or not. In part this is because we have had a very generous offer of some kind of twin track accreditation from an HEI in London (a doctorate by publication) and in part  because the purpose of WikiQuals isn’t yet fully clear to everyone. So I shall deal with the issue of post-hoc accreditation in a little more detail in this post.

Formal Learning; My main reason for developing WikiQuals, which grows out of the “formal” part of the Emergent Learning Model, derives from previous experiences I’ve had of discussing alternative modes of learning developed from various projects using CMC / CSCLICT / ICLT / e-learning / edtech etc., with policy makers let alone alternative learning theories such as constructivism and connectionism.  They always have one simple response, before they go on to dismiss anything just for it being new, namely “Ah yes collaboration is all very well, but how can you test what people have learnt individually?” Or put another way “but what about the high-stakes assessment” (in your bright new idea about learning). Basically all proposed changes in education which emerge from analysing how learning works are dismissed by using the trump card held by the system itself concerning the allegedly enduring value of individual assessment, or exams, if you want to *really* prove that the learning matters in the “real world”.

Network Society; Whilst I think that this issue is in fact a political one about the power and value of existing hierarchies, yet more of what Ben Hammersley calls the clash between hierarchical people and network people in the 21st century, I also think you should, to quote Philippa Young at the University Project workshop on WikiQuals, “solve the problem that annoys you most“. And being told that collaborative, or any other learner-centred learning, isn’t valid because it doesn’t have a high-stakes assessment process at the end of it to prepare you for an enduring life of stress, is what annoys me the most. So here is one possible solution.

Read the rest of this entry

WikiQuals Ph.D

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Building a new Community of Scholars

Background; Having been asked to develop a WikiQuals Masters and align it with the University Project I received more positive responses concerning a WikiQuals Ph.D, after an initial enquiry by Rosie Rafferty. Once a second query was added I realised it was possible. Currently we have 7 interested people, and this is a discussion of how a WikiQuals Ph.D might work.

The WikiQuals model is based on the Emergent Learning Model, which aims to design learning systems based on how people learn rather than where they are housed. Read the rest of this entry

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