Humour me with these thoughts:
Courses are artifacts of a learning model that is becoming obsolete. Courses work in an environment when knowledge/information is fairly static and developing slowly. The more rapidly information develops, the more quickly courses cease to serve the needs of learners. The information is outdated before the ink is dry.
I’ve previously discussed CoPs (communities of practice) (an example of a learning community) as an alternative to courses (CoPs are one part – other components include searchable archives, tools for dialogue/debate, access to gurus, forum for self-expression/reflection, etc.). These learning communities allow us to become knowledgeable in a specific area of interest…much like courses teach one specific subject matter.
Most of us belong to more than one learning community. These multiple communities form a personal learning network. If a learning community equates somewhat with a course, then our learning network is equivalent to a degree program. Each community is a node on the network.
Basically, a node is an interface/connection point to a larger network. In terms of computers, a network is the connection of two or more computers in order to share resources. As such, a learning network can be defined as the connection of learning communities with the intent of sharing experiences/resources (cross-pollination…serendipity)…and our ultimate self-defined goal of competency/knowledge (much like a degree is the final intent of a program in higher education)…i.e. we define what we want/need to know…and we sculpt our network to achieve these goals.
A few thoughts on learning networks:
- Learning networks seamlessly blend elearning, knowledge management, and just-in-time learning needs (EPS – electronic performance support). The various components of a community (as listed above – access to gurus, etc.) serve to update knowledge (KM) and provide access to information when needed. Structured exposure (tutorial) provides more formal learning. It’s a cycle that updates and feeds itself.
- We need a portfolio that allows the ability to track and manage our own learning network. This portfolio is the equivalent of what we know call a transcript. It needs to be learner owned/controlled. Workshops, seminars, projects, etc. – these learning experiences are not captured in existing processes of determining employee/student competency. When an employee leaves a company, he/she should be able to take the personal learning portfolio along as proof of past learning.
- We need a shift in thinking about what it means to be “educated” or competent. Currently, most employment adds list education level as a main determinant of competency. A piece of paper proves a learner’s worth. Yet, having attained a degree does not equate with knowledge/skill. Our personal learning network proves worth based on reputation and past work.
I sincerely believe that communities and networks are the future of learning. Course and programs will continue to face pressure to adapt…and institutions that fail to grasp this reality will be unable to continue to meet the needs of learners. It might sound too extreme right now, but all the indicators (technology, social, learner needs, viability, trends, etc.) point to this model. As much as society and technology have changed, it seems odd that how we learn is still modeled on an environment that no longer exists. I think we are at the beginning stages of rapidly accelerating adoption of (and creation of tools and methodologies for) communities and learning networks.