Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A New Culture of Learning

"A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change", Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown.

Just finished reading the new book from Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. It pretty much captures it for me, the whole idea of learning as play and following your bliss (or passion) while pursuing learning is exactly how I see it. If you have been following my blog over the last while and the anchoring of my self-directed "nophd" you will know I firmly believe in the value in learning through following your passion. Outside of the institution it would be a herculean task to complete a PhD without a strong internal motivation. Not to say it is easy from within the institution, just their are structures to help with getting to completion when in the institution. If you are a life-long learner and considering scholarly pursuits this book is a must read for all adult learners; and parents who are wondering best how to prepare their children for a future of constant change.

I have been a follower of John Seely Brown since his co-authorship of the article "minds on fire". This article galvanized my change of career when I brought together 15 years of information technology work with 8 years being college and university faculty. The reason I bought the book was I caught wind of the difference between a collective and a community and how a person learns within the collective. And how a person within a collective is different than a person within a community. Essentially, the person serves the community and the goals of the community where a collective has many participants and the people are served by the collective. This is an important difference to the motivations behind engagement. From the life-long learner perspective, finding a collective where your interests are strongly aligned is a blessing and a great support for your learning.

The book also touches upon inquiry and the fun that can be had when asking questions and gaining new knowledge. And how inquiry really focuses on the gaining of knowledge rather than the outcome. You know, its the journey not the destination kind of thinking. This inquiry part resonates for me as I often refer back to the Progressive Inquiry Model when I am thinking and writing about online and learning 2.0. I still see Progressive Inquiry as the first writings about pushing beyond constructivism and provides a model for the activities that go on within connectivist learning. It is the connections that are created within the "progressive" inquiry where the knowledge is gained, developed and grown.

Thomas and Seely-Brown make use of the word indwelling, which originated from Michael Polanyi. I found the use of the word indwelling as new for me. Though I have thought about it often, particularly as I have been thinking about my "nophd" and how it could take a great deal of time to gain the expertise to have a PhD depth of knowing. And this mastery of a subject occurs through a prolonged study of a subject. For me I recognize this and aspire to master folk music and dance over the next period of time, whether it be 10 or 30 years. As adult learners I believe this is the playfulness and ease which is found as one attains indwelling that will assist in success. All good!

Where I found the book could have elaborated more is in how this thinking could be applied in institutional environments. Over the last few years I have been very critical of institutionalized learning and recently I have been thinking more about all this great work with the new approaches to learning and rarely do I read about how they could alter and enhance institutionalized learning. I thought the book was going to get into it for it touched upon the number of hours students spend on campus and how much "free" time they have outside the classroom. I see this time as being open to be occupied by this kind of learning, the free flow of exploring ideas and following those subjects which excite the learner, even if they are on campus.

I loved the story this book told. It did a great job of setting the stage and followed up with a succinct and powerful description of how people are and will be learning in the 21st century. A great read for all the life-long learners who want to add approaches and understanding to their learning.