Thursday, October 6, 2011

What binds people to collective learning?

This week in Change MOOC, we see in Littlejohn's position paper that one of the things that one of the things that binds people together in collective learning is the creation of a social object. The example given is a group of scientists coming together to produce some sort of report. Littlejohn asks us, the MOOC participants, to share our view of what binds people in collective learning.

While the creation of a social object is indeed something to think about - take for example my (and possibly your) many, many, many group experiences where you needed to come together to produce something - in my case it was homework and school presentations during my Masters programs and various projects at work.

I think that this work-based view of what binds us is limiting and I think it's incorrect. I don't think that as a species our imperative, our raison d'être, is to produce stuff. I think that this is potentially a sign of our consumption-based society; and you can't consume something if there isn't something to consume (well, you could consume time to make that "something" but then you might be getting into a circular argument). In any case - I don't see a shared object as something that binds us. The shared object may be something in the workplace but it's not something in the overall field of learning.

In the US we tend to view education as a way of getting a job, so we've "jobified" inquiry and curiosity and massacred it with standardized testing. So one could see education as an social object based outcome which necessitated collective learning, but this is the wrong way to frame education.

So what does bind us to collective learning?  I think that it is our social nature that predisposes us to collective learning. We are naturally curious as a species (even if it does get beaten out of us by poor educational practices which stifle this inquiry). We are also (generally) social. If we find other people who are interested in the same things we are we light up, we become more talkative and we share more information. This is shared enterprise (satisfying our curiosities) is the basis for our collective learning in such communities of practice.  Physical (or virtual/digital) objects may come out of this shared scratching of the curiosity itch, but it's not a necessary reason why we come together to learn.
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