Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The learning cycle and the power of asynchronous learning activities

When grappling with the concept of learning I often talk about the importance of reflection.  However, another key concept is asynchronicity (I'm not entirely sure that's a word).  I've reflected on this previously withinAsynchronous = Time and Space Learning.  In that post I talked about how learning is more likely to occur when given time and space.  I wanted to tease this out a bit more in relation to learning itself.

Learning is hard, really hard.  It's a skill just to recognise when it's happening and cultivate it effectively.  Often, the pain associated with it is viewed negatively.  But the pain needs to gritted out because this is an important stage of the process.  Marilyn Taylor characterised learning as a continuous process of disorientation, exploration, reorientation and equilibrium (see p53 of this).  It's a cycle and the desired state is multiple loops through the cycle.  For every stage the flexibility, time and space offered by asynchronous learning activities is preferable to a purely synchronous involvement from formal education.  Of course, for synchronous learning events you always have the time afterwards to reflect.  But if you have a formal learning experience where everything is synchronous, the asynchronous times the learner has alone are not facilitated, not supported and without structured communication or collaboration when they need it the most.  You may be thinking "so what" but this is the point of formal education - to structure, facilitate and, in some senses, manufacture the learning.  When you structure in asynchronous learning activities through the various guises of learning technology tools and carefully facilitate such activities the stages of Taylor's cycle are given the best chance of being rowed through by the learner.  It's easy for learners to capsize in the first time they encourage the disorientation stage and they'll keep doing this every time they encounter it.  Pretty soon they shy away from the mental states associated with the learning cycle.

I think this has contributed to the a vast mass of humans who don't really know how to learn properly.  They grew up on a diet of synchronous learning and the difficult process of moving through the learning cycle wasn't supported in any way.  The tragedy is they carry it through their adult life and have trouble becoming lifelong learners thus inhibiting their potential.  I am still honing my learning skills but I keep trying and am able to support the process through various social media tool (like this one).  BTW, learning overall is great.  The "ah ha" moments are worth the pain.  It's a bit like going for a run but that metaphor can wait for another posting.

A couple of asterisks to this post.  There is, of course, a lot of literature out there on learning theories and models.  For this post, I chose one that describe a process I recognise.  Also, the statement: "there are vast mass of humans who don't really know how to learn" is based on anecdotal evidence.  I think I have a somewhat informed decision but would welcome insights from others on this.

This article was originally posted at http://ping.fm/Oj2wU

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