Passion-Based Learning

The January/February issue of Educause Review contains a wonderful article by John Seely Brown and Richard Adler entitled, “Minds on Fire: Open Education, The Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.” The article points out that in this flat world we find ourselves in, a well-educated workforce is needed with requisite competitive (read digital and social here) skills. In fact, this skill set is continually evolving and changing.

The authors focus in on social aspects of learning:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.

They then go on to discuss the dual aspects of learning – “learning about” versus “learning to be” – a full participant in the field. The new online tools give students the opportunity to experience a craft while learning about it, adding a richness to the experience.

Learning to be

This ties in directly with the recent work on PLEs – personal learning environments. The authors note that a great deal of informal learning is taking place both on and off campus through these online social networks. Their example from David Wiley’s Utah State University course where students were required to share their course work through blogs really caught my eye:

Because my goal as a teacher is to bring my students into full legitimate participation in the community of instructional technologists as quickly as possible, all student writing was done on public blogs. The writing students did in the first few weeks was interesting but average. In the fourth week, however, I posted a list of links to all the student blogs and mentioned the list on my own blog. I also encouraged the students to start reading one another’s writing. The difference in the writing that next week was startling. Each student wrote significantly more than they had previously. Each piece was more thoughtful. Students commented on each other’s writing and interlinked their pieces to show related or contradicting thoughts. Then one of the student assignments was commented on and linked to from a very prominent blogger. Many people read the student blogs and subscribed to some of them. When these outside comments showed up, indicating that the students really were plugging into the international community’s discourse, the quality of the writing improved again. The power of peer review had been brought to bear on the assignments.”

Leveraging these social tools into our instruction not only increases student facility with the skills they will need in the workplace, but increases the likelihood of the learning shifting from must-do learning to passion-based learning.  It becomes learning undertaken because the student WANTS to learn and be a participating and contributing member of a community.

One of my mentors once told me that the key to staying positive was to replace the word “Have” with the word “Get” in this context:

I have to write a paper (yuck!)

I get to write a paper (Oh, Boy!!!)

I would suggest that giving students their voice and respecting that voice within the Web 2.0 environment potentially moves assignments from “have to” to “get to”…and adds passion to learning.

Be interested in your thoughts!

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