Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Making learning relevant

What differentiates a relevant, worthwhile learning experience from an experience that was effectively a useless waste of time? This question can apply to both formal as well as informal learning experiences, meetings, workshops, etc.

a bored person

I think one measure is the degree to which learners revisit ideas that were presented and shared during a meeting or “learning activity.” For me, blogging has become part of the way I process the world and learn. I find that when I record thoughts and ideas in my blog, I am not only much more likely to process them at a deeper level and remember them, I’m more likely to discuss the ideas with others (therefore also improving transfer and retention) and also revisit them subsequently. I frequently refer back to old posts on my blog (and the included links) and my social bookmarks. Whenever I encounter a new idea or resource, I generally want to save it to my social bookmarks, and if the resource or idea deserves, invites or demands comment, I also like to post about it on my blog.

Blogging tends to make learning relevant on multiple levels, some basic and some much more advanced. I could write my thoughts in a paper-based journal, but an analog, print-based document is easily lost, smudged, and otherwise rendered irrelevant– because it becomes inaccessible at my point of need as a reference document in the future. Blog posts and social bookmarks could theoretically “disappear” if the servers hosting these files go offline or the files are irrevocably deleted, but in our current climate I find digitally saved content much more accessible and therefore relevant within my current and future personal learning landscape.

The power of the network which blogs tap into is something Stephen Downes reflected on in September when he was presenting in New Zealand. This eight minute Google video clip is a nice summary. There are multiple aspects to this, but the one I want to draw out regards the CONNECTIVE nature of content shared within a network. (See this diagram from Stephen for more on the differences between technologies focused on groups and those focused on networks.) I have no idea what your personal learning goals are right now as you read this post. As a reader of my blog, I would conjecture it is likely you are seeking new information and ideas, and are open / flexible in your learning goals as they relate to new technologies, learning and education. Writing about what we are learning and subsequently (or concurrently) blogging about those ideas is tremendously powerful, because the archived texts become not only reference points for ourselves as we continue on our own journeys of learning, but also reference points and road signs for others engaged in their own journeys of learning.

detour road sign

I generally find that an ideological epiphany, or a breakthrough moment in my own thinking, happens most often (although the frequency of these is admittedly not too common) after sustained periods of reading, listening, writing, thinking, and discussing ideas with others. Sleeping on ideas also helps, as do sustained periods of disengagement from the ideas directly– which can happen when I’m driving somewhere and listening to music, enjoying silence, or listening to something unrelated to the initial idea. (For me, this is ideological cross-pollination.) This is really the goal of teacher professional development, I think: To encourage communities of practice to engage in regular and sustained dialog about issues and ideas that improve learning. If this is the case, and blogging can serve as such a powerful agent / catalyst for professional growth, then why aren’t school districts encouraging more teachers to blog?

sunshine through a cave

The answer to that question would be long and complicated. TIME limitations and the plethora of demands on teacher time would most likely top the list. For now, I’ll just note that more school districts SHOULD be encouraging teachers to blog about their own journeys of learning. Note I did NOT say schools should REQUIRE teachers to blog. Schools should ENCOURAGE blogging. If we want to really be about providing the best learning environments and learning experiences for our students, I think having our pre-service and in-service teachers blog about their learning journeys is a logical and natural thing to encourage.

There are no guarantees, but my own experience has been that blogging can help make learning more relevant than any other post-learning activity I’ve ever tried. When combined with other learning activities (listening, reading, discussing, diagramming, and podcasting) I think blogging can become a vital professional development activity which benefits the individual author as well as potentially a much wider audience connected via the network of the world-wide web.

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One response to “Making learning relevant”

  1. Robert Avatar

    “If this is the case, and blogging can serve as such a powerful agent / catalyst for professional growth, then why aren’t school districts encouraging more teachers to blog?”

    Time limitations would certainly top the list of why teachers may not *choose* to blog. But the question you asked is about the school districts, not the teachers themselves. I would guess that the districts don’t encourage blogging because of one, possibly both, of these reasons:

    (1) The people who are in charge don’t know what blogs *are* — or worse, they *think* they know what they are, and what they think is that blogs are the same thing as that awful MySpace they’ve been hearing about.

    (2) The people who are in charge *do* know what blogs are, and they are afraid of the transparency that comes with them and the potential for teachers to have dissenting voices. It’s also possible that teachers may just use their blogs to complain about things, or actually demean the students they teach (lots of edublogs fall in to this), and that sort of thing really isn’t helpful. But I would imagine a lot of school districts simply don’t like the idea of multiple viewpoints going on among, especially if it may give the appearance that the teachers aren’t on board with the main conventional wisdom that the district and school board has adopted.