ConnectEd: A User Centred Model of Learning

This is part two of my ConnectED series. The last post was an opening foray and explanation of the term in general. Over the next couple of posts I’ll attempt to dig a little deeper into some of the key components. Welcome to the first of those where I’ll introduced a new model to frame learning, the Three Spheres. There are a huge number of established pedagogical approaches, theoretical frameworks and established good practice out there that I don’t wish to compete with. I don’t see ConnectEd as competition in that space, instead it is a way of reframing that work, pulling it together, joining and forging links between theory, practice and technology. In terms of doing that I first need to define my view of learning: I don’t see learning as a process, I see it as an outcome. As I’ve written previously:

… learning is a subjective, personal and sometimes spiritual event. An intangible, ephemeral and immeasurable object. It is something that is perceivable only by its consequence and affect. We can measure it through testing and demonstrating knowledge, skills, application and process – but it is measurement by proxy, not of the learning itself.

This view of learning gives it a magical quality, one that actually can sustain my work and life, but it’s difficult to try to then discuss and debate how we can do it better. Dealing with ephemera is pretty difficult, so I’ve tried to define three spheres that learning tends to operates within – Autonomous, Interactive and Environmental.

Three Spheres of Learning

The idea of the spheres was to visualise them as spaces for learning to occur. They are 3D not flat and the merge and bleed into one another. They aren’t separate delineated bodies held together with a weak force like gravity. To me the three sphere operate regardless of time, place, technology or practice – they are simply the environment or conditions where learning happens.

ConnectEd-Learning-Spheres

Autonomous Learning (planned)

This is probably what most of us would understand as the ‘traditional’ concept of learning, in so much that it is driven by content. What that content looks like, how it functions, the support and scaffolding required to navigate covers a range of different pedagogies and technologies – but in essence it is up to the leaner to navigate. This type of learning is learner centric, it is consumption and interpretation by the individual. The learner makes the required decisions and actions for learning to occur. This might be choosing to read, listen, attend and click, but those verbs and their consequences are subjective decisions. While autonomous learning has the onus on self direction, there is a level of planning involved in terms of framing this within an education. Outcomes are mapped out in advance whether it be by the student, teacher or designer.

Interactive Learning (responsive)

This type of learning is driven by the interactions with other people. This sphere goes right back to the dawn of humanity and our oral traditions, through Socratic practices and on to discussion boards and forums. This is learning that is dependant on the involvement of others, whether they be teachers or peers. It is only possible via human to human interaction because it relies on the nuance of a thinking and an emotive being at the other end. Interaction at this level requires randomness, disagreement, contradiction, humour and conjecture. It is the tutorial, the discussion, the critique, the group project, the peer-to-peer, the actual process of person-to-person interaction that stimulates learning. Interactive learning is about being responsive. Learning outcomes are often not planned or scheduled but occur serendipitously and indirectly.

Environmental Learning (developed)

This final sphere of learning is difficult to articulate but its drive comes from relationships. This kind of learning is about forging links between people and places, theory and practice, ideas and emotions. It is the learning that takes place by doing rather than theorising, feeling rather than thinking. Environmental learning is about creating context and understanding, constructing truth, vision and skill. Environmental leaning is about developing outcomes in a constructive way. They are like levels and grades that are built up and accumulate over time through action.

User Centred

The main aim of developing the three spheres is to develop a user centric model of learning. The individual, not the teacher or the institution is at the centre of all learning which dissociates the conflict between formal and informal learning. Here they overlap, connect and bleed into one another. At this point it is also important to try to differentiate learning from education – to me they are not the same thing. Learning is not something that is forced, controlled or mandated, learning can only happen through the individual. However, Education is what we can control because it is about creating the environment, content and activities in which learning can occur and to help cultivate the right kind of outcomes. It is an acceptance of the changing relationships between institutions, educators, teachers and students – see previous posts for more detail. These spheres of learning are an attempt to contextualise and develop a learner centric model that incorporates and expands upon the pedagogy/andragogy/heutagogy continuum. It also creates a space for cognitive theories – like those of Piaget, Dewey and Vygotsky – to interact with other concepts around authenticity, content development and social interaction.

Connecting the Dots

One of the problems I’ve observed over the last year or so is that when learning is being discussed, it is usually a single sphere being discussed in isolation. This compartmentalisation of techniques, practice, pedagogy and technology makes it easy to rubbish ideas, innovations and sets up the discussion to turn into a competitive X versus Y scenario. Learning is subjective so ConnectED is about shifting the emphasis from the ephemeral and onto the links and relationships between spheres, an area that can be supported and enhanced by the institution and the teacher. Learning is subjective so therefore good education practice is about getting out of the way and instead working to foster the connections through improvements to community, pedagogy, practice, participation, and seamless administration. We need to develop an understanding that each of these learning spheres is crucial to the overall experience, and even more importantly, how they interact, intersect and connect with each other in a much broader sense is what makes good education. Different content, different areas of study and different people are going to respond and require different approaches. ConnectEd is about joining the dots and creating a space where each sphere is connected. Education is often conceptualised as a mechanised structure of processes and outcomes that are too simplified and generalised to be applicable. ConnectEd is re-imagining education as an ecology – embracing its organic, chaotic, connected and complex nature. Instead of seeking to create something that is controllable, processed and industrialised, ConnectEd is about participation, cultivation, sustainability, longevity, relationships and personalisation. So next post lets start to explore some of these complex connections. Remember comments are open and that this is a work in progress. Feel free to share your ideas, criticisms and feedback – all is appreciated.

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