Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Streams of Learning: Courses as Conversations

I have borrowed the title of danah boyd's recent talk at the Web 2.0 Expo, "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media" to express an idea that seems increasingly obvious to me which is that we can begin to build learning structures that are "streams of learning" rather than discrete chunks of learning. This past week I was busy trying to reorganize courses in our curriculum and this included a discussion of whether to organize the courses into two 8-week courses or one 16-week course.

There were persuasive arguments on both sides, but if you suddenly step back and think about this you realize that this structure is a function of how to organize a sequence of F2F courses over a four-year instructional time period... that has nothing to do with the content or learning itself. No particular body of knowledge fits neatly into 8 or 16-week segments. It is an artifact of our overall institutional design for learning.

We need to begin designing new institutional structures that allow us to create streams of learning, courses that are continuous conversations into which we can add new members over time. Although I am not a fan of most ideas about "personal learning environments" I do think that Stephen Downes has captured some important ideas in a recent talk titled, New Tools for Personal Learning." I particularly like the final part of the talk (slide 57-62) in which I think he captures the connectedness of learning. In this talk he also describes and demonstrates some tools that allow us to begin to understand how an institutional design for learning might be built that takes advantage of social and web-based media.

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