Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lurkers, Lurking, Learners, Learning, what is learning?

I tried making that rhyme, to come up with a catchy title, but it didn't really work out... Oh well, maybe next time ;-)

In any case, in the Research_MOOC Mailing list Alan Selig had an interesting question which I thought I would poke at for a while until I came to an answer (or at least something to add to the discussion)

Alan Selig
One final "wonderment" from my limited understanding of Connectivist Learning theory:  If the reflecting and remixing never leaves the head of the lurker, except perhaps in their own behavior, is it still learning? If the wider community never receives a benefit does that disqualify the experience as being learning?

Well...I think that there are different levels of looking at this. First of all, is it learning if it never leaves the brain/mind of the lurker? Strictly speaking, if the "learning" never manifests itself outside of the mind, I don't think it's learning. This manifestation doesn't have to involve other people, but there needs to be some externalization of the learning.  For instance. Let's say that I am learning to program databases in SQL.  I pick up a book and I read all about it. Let's also say, that I have convinced myself that I have learned SQL.  Is this learning?  Well, if placed in front of a computer with SQL, can I create and manage databases that run on SQL? If yes, then I have learned SQL (and no one else knows) and if no, then I haven't learned SQL.

My father is a good example of this - he reads a lot, in a variety of subjects, mind you he only finished middle school as far as I know and completed a technical degree back in his day (I guess the closest equivalent would be an Associate's degree, but only focusing on his trade and not the general education courses). He goes through phrases, reading classical fiction, history, biology, chemistry, and theology texts, just to mention a few topics and he synthesizes this information.  He brings up stuff he's learned when he is out with friends and colleagues - so in his case there are others around, but then again it would be a bit weird to speak to yourself about the things you've learned.

Getting back to connectivism, MOOCs, and dip-in and jump-out, MOOCs simply don't work if people are lurkers. Let's say that everyone in this MOOC were lurkers, what would you have? You'd have weekly seeding posts from the facilitators and that's it.  This in essence is the modern equivalent of mail-away education. Every week you'd get a care package of readings and activities that you do alone.  You aren't connecting with others, you aren't even connecting (that much) with the facilitators because lurking means one-way communication.  I don't know what the stats are for Change, but I would guess that there is a small core group of participants (who blog in several languages! yay!) that expand on the seed materials and spark additional learning conversations where everyone benefits.

So is there learning if people are lurking? Yes there is! But without some people to spark conversation and learning in MOOCs, you'd have much less to think about, and potentially much less to learn. The learning, when people participate, is thus much more than the sum of all participant's contributions :-)
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