“Kick-starting collectives:” Blogs and the New Culture of Learning

At a conference recently, I was approached and asked for advice about resources for using skype in the classroom to connect with schools in other countries.   I started to answer the question with a specific suggestion (the Cool Cat Teacher’s Flat Classroom) when I stopped myself and took another tack in my advice-giving.

Instead, I suggested, I encouraged him to join the online community of educators, to join the network, and to be empowered to learn continuously rather than in discrete lumps.

Teach a man to fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and feed him as long as the fish supply holds out.  But create a collective, and every man will learn how to feed himself for a lifetime.

I am quoting from a brilliant new book, A New Culture of Learning, by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas.

Learning in an age of constant change simply never stops. In the new culture of learning, the bad news is that we rarely reach any final answers, but the good news is that we to play again, and we may find even more satisfaction in continuing the search.

Learning is everywhere–  omnipresent and omnichronous–  and if we who lead learning inside our school-houses refuse to recognize and harness this, we do so at our peril.

What I was especially struck by in this highly readable book (I read it in about 75 minute straight through, unable to put it down) were the two chapters on “the collective,”  struck because of the resonance I found therein with what has been my own enthusiastic experience of participating in a “collective” in exactly the manner described within the book.

In communities, people learn in order to belong.  In a collective, people belong in order to learn… Thanks to digital media, the range of available collectives is almost limitless.  They constitute an ocean of learning.

The power of a blog rests in part with the author or authors who start it; in part with the readers who leave comments; in part with those who link to, cite, reference, or respond to it; and in part with the readers, who may do nothing more than have their presence recorded by a web server.

Blogs are a medium for learning, but they do not teach.  Rather, they generate the space for a collective to emerge… the organic communities that emerge through collectives produce meaningful learning because the inquiry that arises comes from the collective itself…

At their best, blogs give an individual the chance to interact with and become part of a collective that both shapes and is shaped by his or her thoughts.

Blogs, by their very nature, are tentative works in progress.  They have the character of playfulness, which is core to the new culture of learning.

Blogs can be experimental in nature, used to test and refine ideas.  But at their base, they serve as a means to kick-start a collective around conversations about ideas.

Blogging as a part of Connected Principals has been for me exactly all of these things; it is as if the authors had observed my experience and interviewed me at length to write these paragraphs.

I belong in order to learn, and the meaning of what I learn is greater because I interact with and become part of a collective that “both shapes and is shaped by” my thoughts.

Blogging for me is thinking out loud; it is experimenting with ideas and considering implications; it is about posing intellectual hypotheses, sometimes tentatively and sometimes with exaggerated hyperbole (see Salman Khan, Transformer), so that I can better test and refine my ideas and understandings.

Without a doubt, the emotional and learning power of blogging in this collective is in the dynamism and diversity of its eco-system: in the authors who started it and write for it, in the readers who leave comments, in the tweeters who link to it, and even in the “lurkers” who just observe, but who are recorded as site “views.”  To all of you, thank you.  (And especially to you, George!)

So after expressing my appreciation to the book’s authors for so brilliantly observing and articulating the incredible power and emotional fulfillment of learning within the blogging “collective,” I am left with just one, haunting question:

How do we do we improve our efforts to share and bring the power of the “blogging collective” and the “new culture of learning” with and to our students, our colleagues, and the entirety of our school learning communities?

This is my quest.

Thanks to Thomas and Brown and thanks to Connected Principals, my vision is clearer, my inspiration greater, my understanding deeper, my confidence richer, and my enthusiasm stronger: onwards.

 

8 Comments

  1. David Truss said:

    I wrote a post a while back describing my blog as my ‘Personal Learning Space’. The Connected Principals blog has become a ‘Learning Community’. Even more than that, it has become a ‘Learning Compass’ and while I may not always be heading in the same direction as other principals here, there seems to be a consistent ‘True North’ that the posts here seem to point to around leadership approaches, professional development, and philosophies of practice & of technology integration with respect to learning.

    I could not agree with you more: “thanks to Connected Principals, my vision is clearer, my inspiration greater, my understanding deeper, my confidence richer, and my enthusiasm stronger”.

    So,
    How do we do we improve our efforts to share and bring the power of the “blogging collective” and the “new culture of learning” with and to our students, our colleagues, and the entirety of our school learning communities?

    I think we share our stories, we share our passion, and we lead by example.

    We can’t make people blog. It isn’t the only way to reflect and learn. It isn’t for everybody. But we can take what we’ve learned into our learning communities. We can find ‘open’ ways to express and share what our school learning communities are doing… and we can continue to reflect on our blogs and learn from each other.

    Thanks for your insight and introduction to this book, and thanks for continuing the cycle of learning from and with each other.

    April 19, 2011
    Reply
  2. TimeOutDad said:

    Thanks so much for this post! I went ahead and bought the book on Kindle. Great read thus far!

    April 19, 2011
    Reply
  3. Lyn Hilt said:

    “Learning is everywhere– omnipresent and omnichronous– and if we who lead learning inside our school-houses refuse to recognize and harness this, we do so at our peril.”

    Love this. Think it needs to be slide-i-fied. 🙂 I’m going to work on that today!

    I purchased this book at Will Richardson’s recommendation and it is next on my queue. Thank you for your thoughts on collective learning. M.E. Steele-Pierce and I just finished a series of blog posts about The Power of Pull http://plpnetwork.com/2011/04/18/5-pull-ideas-are-changing-my-mind/ and I think you’d enjoy the thoughts shared by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lange Davison (2010) in this book as well. It intrigued me to read about the shift from push to pull, the ideas about how to access and attract in order to achieve, the “edge” and how so many of us are taking our organizations to the edge in order to strengthen the core, and the serendipitous encounters that lead to powerful learning through places like Connected Principals.

    Thanks for this reflection and for all you teach me!

    April 19, 2011
    Reply
  4. […] line in Jonathan Martin’s latest post on Connected Principals really resounded with me. Administrators need to be the lead learners in our organizations. In the […]

    April 19, 2011
    Reply
  5. Lori said:

    As an individual, I think the most important thing I do is recognizing the blog as a learning tool–and continuing to talk about how I use it to learn with the people I meet. From my perspective, the people who show up to learn with us–the emerging collective–will handle the rest. 🙂

    Lori

    April 19, 2011
    Reply
  6. […] I read a blog by Jonathan Martin discussing the power of the way that we (and if you’re reading this then you’re […]

    May 2, 2011
    Reply
  7. Kelly said:

    Great blog here! I also enjoyed the post!

    March 17, 2013
    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *