Sunday, 25 November 2007

Charting: control vs freedom

I (Allison) have been thinking about how our notion of 'charting' fits with the current 'VLE debate' at the Open Universities in the UK and the Netherlands (see Stephen Downes post). This raises questions about control versus freedom.

In his contribution to this debate Martin Weller comments 'we have educational versions of tools, closed systems, selected readings, etc. And then we have web 2.0 which lets anyone do anything and then puts metrics and filters in place to help you find the good stuff.'

Martin concludes 'This tension between control (and thus being able to assure education) and freedom (where bad things may happen) will be one of the key questions higher education faces in the next few years'.

How do we balance structure with learner autonomy?

This question is at the centre of an article Anoush was reading - a critique of minimally guided instruction I think the weakness in this critique it that it presents the scenario of minimally guided instruction as a dichotomy; learners either have a) highly structured guidance or b) are left to find their own path through a primeordial soup of resources. In fact 'a' and 'b' are extremes of a continuum.

Novice learners in formal education (eg pupils learning maths at primary school) may benefit from being nearer point a) while PhD students benefit from being close to point b). If the PhD students were close to point a) they wouldn't learn the skills we expect of PhD students.

These different needs by various types of learners links with some 'old' theories -Phil Candy's work on self directed learning (learner control is viewed as a continuum) and Moores Theory of Transactional distance which focuses on the relationships across degree of structure, doalogue and autonomy (ie high structure, low degree of dialogue, etc). Jon Dron revisits these ideas in his book on 'Control and Constraint in eLearning'.

How does this fit with personalised learning?

In the debates on the future of VLEs the focus tends to be on 'personalised learning'. Yet 'learners' and 'learning contexts' are viewed in a 'vanilla' fashion. Few people are linking ideas on 'personalised learning' with different views of learners (as novice/ expert with preferred approaches) and learning contexts (formal/ informal) in a meaningful way - beyond saying these factors are important.

Can charting help support personalised learning?

If we revisit the idea that 'charting could be conceptualised as a process involving planning three different types of actions (consume, contribute, connect) on resources' (collective knowledge, other people, etc). Then it seems the personalisation aspect of learning is through the charting process. This fits with Isobel's observation that 'the distinction... is between the expert and the novice in an environoment – at both strategic and implementation levels. Isn’t what distinguishes the expert learner that they do this largely unconsciously? (but not without purpose!) Surfacing this unconscious planning for the benefit of a novice learner is part of the task of a mentor or teacher, and the reason for having mentors or teachers.'(see Caledonian Academy Blog)'

'Surfacing the unconscious planning' provides a tool that would support learners in moving along the continuum of learner control. While moving along this continuum it is the learner who decides how to strike the balance of structure, dialogue and autonomy.As Isobel comments 'perhaps the process of becoming competent is to perceive the links between the loosely related tasks'. I think this is an important aspect of 'charting'. But we also have to know what the 'loosely related tasks' are and that can be difficult - not only for the novice learner who does not know what he or she needs to know - but also for the expert working in new territory.

What is puzzling is How can charting support identification of the tasks and links?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Some thoughts about charting the wisdom of crowds

I (Isobel) have been reflecting on Colin and Anoush's thoughts posted on 20 November (see How can we Chart the Wisdom of Crowds)

Conscious or purposeful?

I’m not very comfortable with the idea that the givers are unconscious of donating to the collective knowledge in type a) wisdom. I think the givers are more sophisticated than this suggests.

But it is the implication here that the “giver” is uninfluenced by the “wisdom” – which I disagree with. The “wisdom” doesn’t change behaviour, only if you accept that people’s behaviour is already very influenced by knowledge of what the collective preferences are.

I think the distinction is between purposeful and non purposeful, rather than conscious and unconscious.

Insertion of “largely,” or some similar word, before “non purposeful” would also alert people to the existence of instances that show people deliberately manipulating type a) wisdom

Consume, Connect, Contribute vs Ask, Learn, Share

I’m not sure about the suggested mapping. Consume, connect cut across ask, learn – ie. both apply to both – at least I think they do. In particular the suggested process for “ask” seems to pack in a complete 3C cycle


I accept the idea of charting, but I query the mapping of strategic level to conscious charting, and implementation level to (often) unconscious charting. The distinction I see is between the expert and the novice in an environoment – at both strategic and implementation levels. Isn’t what distinguishes the expert learner that they do this largely unconsciously? (but not without purpose!) Surfacing this unconscious planning for the benefit of a novice learner is part of the task of a mentor or teacher, and the reason for having mentors or teachers.

What may be different at strategic level is that this level more frequently involves other people and collaborative work, so charting has to be surfaced and articulated to enable the collaboration.

At both levels the learner is likely to end up with a montage of loosely related tasks and goals. This is important. Knowledge as a holistic network with multiple links is one of the things that distinguishes the expert from the novice (who has a much simpler concept map – see, eg. Bradley, J.H., Paul, R. and Seeman, E. (2006) Analyzing the structure of expert knowledge. Information and Management, 43, 77 – 91.). So perhaps the process of becoming competent is to perceive the links between the loosely related tasks.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

How can we chart the wisdom of the crowds?

We (Allison, Colin and Anoush) have been thinking about what we mean by ‘the wisdom of the crowds’. The phrase can be interpreted in two ways:

Type (a) - the wisdom of the crowds as a snapshot of popular preferences, behaviours or actions. For example, recommender systems point to related items purchased by consumers, though these are not necessarily the highest quality articles. The charts offer a view of popular preferences in music, which are unlikely to be the most advanced musical compositions or technically competent performances.

Type (b) - the wisdom of the crowds as collective knowledge from all people. This collective knowledge will range from relatively uninformed thoughts to valuable, world-changing ideas. The ‘uninformed thoughts’ should not be discarded as useless, since they may spark ideas that result in the generation of ‘world-changing ideas’.

A distinguishing feature of these two types of ‘wisdom of the crowds’ is the way each type is captured.

Type (a) wisdom is behaviour that has been ‘captured’ in a way that the ‘givers’ are unaware of. It is therefore an aggregation of unconscious actions or preferences. This type of wisdom does not require behaviour change on the part of individuals.

Type (b) wisdom requires individuals to consciously donate to a collective store of knowledge. The success of type (b) requires behaviour change – individuals have to consciously share their knowledge.

This conscious sharing is a key aspect of the ‘Ask, Learn, Share’ approach to culture change in knowledge sharing adopted by Shell International to help the organisation retain existing knowledge and develop new knowledge more rapidly. This approach was presented by Betty Collis in her keynote at the launch of our Caledonian Academy at Glasgow Caledonian University in October 2007 and is described by Donna Hendrix in KM Review (Vol 10, Issue 3, Aug 2007).

Ask, Learn, Share neatly maps onto the three actions we outlined in an earlier blogpost:

The ‘ask’ component involves encouraging people to search for information to help them identify problems they need to solve and help them frame the sorts of questions they should ask. This component maps to our notion of ‘consuming’ knowledge resources.

Individuals seek to answer these questions, using the information they have sources along with their own knowledge, during the ‘learn’ component. This component often requires connecting with others – experts and peers. It aligns with our notion of ‘connecting’.

At the final stage, staff are encouraged to ‘share’ any new knowledge, which fits with our ‘contribute’ component

If we view the ‘collective’ as a resource (ie collective knowledge) then ask, learn, share or consume, contribute, connect are actions that can be performed on this resource.

What’s different about the model we propose is ‘charting’. Charting is a process that binds together the resource and actions. Wisdom of the crowds type (a) occurs without any conscious action on the part of the contributor. However wisdom of the crowds type (b) requires some sort of (implicit or explicit) charting.

What do we mean by ‘charting’? And how does it fit with ‘consume’, ‘connect’, ‘contribute’ or ‘ask’, ‘learn’, ‘share’. We discussed this with Betty Collis when she visited us in October 2007. We had started describing this notion in an earlier blogpost ; here are a few further thoughts towards a framework.

Charting takes place at different levels. At each level it requires self-assessment of the learner’s current competencies mapped against where he or she would like to be.

At a strategic level the learner has to make a conscious plan– ‘charting’ is like professional development planning (PDP) where learners set targets. In a work related situation a supervisor and.or a mentor or a guidance team could discuss with an employee (the learner) how they might plan addressing a challenging learning task that involves an authentic work-related activity (ie carrying out a real task at work). The learner/employee has to note where they are now and what do they have to do. This could involve a processes whereby the learner and the supervisor firstly diagnose the problem that will form the basis of the task and agree on the outcome. Some questions that could help guide this process are:

- what is the problem?
- how can it be solved?
- what resources are needed?
- who must be involved?
- what the learner knows/can do to solve the problem?
- what the learners must know/be able to do to solve the problem? If there is a gap between the latter two
- what is the cause (knoweldge, skill, motivation, environment)?

At an implementation level the learner could consciously plan but could use ‘unconscious’ wisdom from others- To help them find out how they can move from where they are to where they want to be a learner/employee may have to ask another learner/employee who has carried out this task. In many companies, this decision would be based upon a competency framework (HR). However a peer coach could point them in the direction they need to go. Alternatively we could use systems to capture the routes previous learners/employees have taken – or their patterns of behaviour. Some, if not all, of his behaviour could have been captured automatically by a system (ie it is type (a) wisdom). The learner/employee could use this information to make a plan tailored to his or her individual needs. The likelihood is that he or she ends up with a montage of loosely related tasks and goals that require constant revisiting.

There may be more than two levels - perhaps also a sort of 'micro level' - but the learner will constantly revisit each to readjust their goals in terms of consuming, contributing, and connecting – with lower levels requiring more frequent revisiting.

In summary charting could be conceptualised as a process involving planning three different types of actions (consume, contribute) on a resource (collective knowledge – which resides in libraries, stores, databases, blogs, wikis, people’s heads, etc). Individuals use technology tools to carry out the actions. The tool depends on the nature of the action and the type of resource. To illustrate this point - the choice of tool depends on whether an individual connects with another individual a group or a network (ie the type of ‘people resource’) as well as the type of digital resource (ie whether a document, sound file, photo, etc)

If we use this sort of framework what might charting look like?

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Collective Learning

Over the past few weeks a few of us in the Caledonian Academy (Allison Littlejohn, Anoush Margaryan and Colin Milligan ) have been thinking about future learning models and environments quite a bit. This post summarises some of our ideas as we begin to formulate a vision of Collective Learning. We'll first describe the concept as it relates to corporate learning, but longer term, we are also puting a lot of thought about how it may shape our conception of learning here at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Knowledge, and knowledge management has become increasingly critical to the successful functioning of an organisation. The organisational knowledge needed to solve key challenges no longer resides in the mind of one individual or even one team. Instead, knowledge is complex, and constantly evolving: and the individuals who use that knowledge must constantly strive to keep their knowledge up to date and to develop their own overarching understanding of a topic.

Traditionally, technologies have primarily supported knowledge consumption, but emergent Web 2.0 tools and virtual worlds also allow rapid and easy creation and organisation of knowledge, both for individuals and groups. How does this affect the lifecycle of knowledge within an organisation? In particular, how can these knowledge processes and technologies help us address some of the key challenges faced by large organisations such as:

  • Development of staff competencies and skills necessary to deal with the increased complexity of the knowledge within a given domain;
  • Knowledge retention and redistribution within the organisation;
  • Increased ‘time to competence’ for new staff;
  • Increased diversity of the workforce and the need to accommodate individual needs and preferences.

Organsations can solve these challenges by adopting a radical, new approach to learning that empowers and equips individuals to draw upon and feed into the ‘collective conscious’ distributed across the organisation and beyond.

Collective learning is based upon a metaphor of the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ (Surowiecki, 2004), the idea that large groups of connected people are better able than an elite few to produce knowledge to solve problems and foster innovation. Within this metaphor the consumption and creation of collective knowledge is the responsibility of all individuals, rather than the organisation. Although this metaphor has been contested (e.g. Keen, 2007), it offers great potential for knowledge generation and for learning, especially when the crowd brings greater diversity of viewpoint to bear on a given problem.

The term "collective" in realtion to learning was first mentioned by Jon Dron in 2003 in a
paper presented at the e-Learn conference. In this paper, Dron was drawing on ideas of the ‘collective’ conscious developed by a group of students using a piece of software to generate a shared picture of group understanding. Then in a 2006 ICALT conference paper, Dron considers social software within a framework of transactional control and distance theories. This paper didn't mention the notion of ‘collective’ learning directly, but considered how social software enables an extra dimension to (online) learning, in addition to traditional interactions between learner, teacher and content.

Collective learning is a phase in the evolution of understanding of the mechanisms underlying learning. The first three stages were outlined by
Terry Anderson in his recent EDMEDIA 2007 conference keynote . These were explored by Dron and Anderson in further detail here , here and here.

Traditionally INDIVIDUAL LEARNING focussed on the learner as a consumer of courses and codified knowledge resources.

The advent of Learning Management Systems supported GROUP LEARNING where the learner exists as a member of a defined group (the archetypal group is a class) with a clear focus (passing the same exam) and sharing a limited set of tools which allow them to communicate and share their knowledge (for example through bulletin boards).

New tools such as weblogs and wikis have heralded the arrival of NETWORKED LEARNING. Here, the technologies enable the learner to take control of their learning, providing tools which allow them to structure and demonstrate their understanding, and to generate (either individually, through weblogs) or collaboratively, through wikis) direct evidence of their ability.

Extending beyond networked learning, COLLECTIVE LEARNING recognises the value of the wider community in contributing to the learning process – and recognises that knowledge based systems develop a richness and deeper value as they are used and continue to develop.

The individual is recognised as a key contributor to the wealth of collective knoweldge – not just in terms of discrete resources, but also through reflection, gaining experience, emerging reputation, forming trust based relationships, and benefitting from emergent patterns and information in the system such as ratings and usage data, to provide additional cues as to quality and utility of resources. The process of collective learning is continuous: others will learn from your reflective practice; others will benefit from seeing how you solved problems, the resources you used and the routes you took to learn.

Collective learning closely integrates formal and informal learning. It is recognised that different individuals may learn the same skills in different ways. Moreover, a learner is likely to learn through a variety of sources in parallel. Therefore the rich tapestry of learning opportunities within the organisation (both formal courses and informal opportunities provided by the collective knowledge of the company) is all available to enhance the learning process.

Collective learning encompasses the following key components, which represent a set of intertwined activities rather than discrete steps:

  • Consuming knowledge - individuals need to be able to effectively identify and source knowledge residing within the collective - the whole body of data, information, competences and skills that organisation uses to solve problems. This means that the organisational knowledge base must be transparent and accessible in order to allow individuals to find relevant knowledge. Consumption of knowledge can be facilitated by emergent technologies, for example RSS feeds, that support resource identification, selection and sourcing.

  • Connecting knowledge - the success of collective learning depends on whether different knowledge resources and components (both those residing in systems and individuals) can be combined efficiently. Essential to connecting knowledge are tools that support retrievable, reflective and embedded communication around knowledge creation and consumption.

  • Contributing knoweldge - creating and sharing knowledge are a vital condition for collective learning. The goal is generating new skills, solutions, processes and feeding these back into the collective. This transition of knowledge from individual or group to oirganisation can be facilitated by emergent technologies, for example, the collective can produce knowledge resources like Wikipedia or share resources within The cyclical process of consumption and contribution, producing and using knowledge (some have called this process "produsage") is essential for retention of knowledge and its effective utilisation for learning within organisation.

  • Charting knowledge - empowering learners to chart their own learning paths for consumption, connection and contribution of knowledge, benefitting from others who have gone before them. Collective learning engenders a lifelong approach to learning, focused on authenticity, employability, inquiry, reflection, and self-improvement.

Charting in particular is a key aspect in collective learning. It is a process whereby an individual determines and executes their individual learning paths. In doing this, individuals assess their current competence and set precise learning and developmental goals. This process can be supported by a guidance team, comprised of the learner's workplace supervsior, the coach, an experienced colleague, and a training specialist. In charting a learning path ideally suited to their needs, learners take advantage of the knowledge within the organisation, through a process which empowers them. In doing this they should be able to use their own tools, networks and resources alongside those of the collective. The approach requires learners to both create and share knowledge, to allow others to build on and improve the collective knowledge for the benefit of the organisation. The relationship of these four components is shown in the figure below:

Here are two examples to illustrate how charting might work in practice.

Collective learning in Higher Education: Some issues

  • Many HEIs, unlike corporations and large companies, lack collective knoweldge repositories and processes for capturing and sharing pracatice within such repositories
  • Many HEIs lack appropriate ICT infrastrauture to enable collective learnin
  • Issues with critical mass of knowledge
  • Fit with existing teaching appraoches and types of learner behaviour that these approaches encourage

We are still working on these ideas, and our thinking develops, we will be posting more over the next weeks. Meanwhile, we would appreciate your thoughts, suggestions and questions.

Some questions for discussion

  1. What are likely to be the issues facing Collective Learning?
  2. What are the implications for learning within higher education?
  3. At what levels would ‘charting’ have to take place and what would it look like?
  4. What would a platform to support charting/Collective Learning look like?
  5. Is Collective Learning possible when knowledge is nowhere near being joined up?
  6. Is Collective Learning possible before an appropriate ICT and knoweldge management infrastructure is in place?
  7. What skills are required for Collective Learning and how can students and teachers acquire these skills?

This work draws extensively on the following sources:

  • Terry Anderson: Social Learning 2.0, EdMedia 2007
  • Dron, J. (2003). The Blog and the Borg: a Collective Approach to E-Learning. In G. Richards (Ed.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2003 (pp. 440-443). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
  • Dron, J. (2006). Social Software and the Emergence of Control. Proceedings of the Sixth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT) 2006 (pp. 904-908). IEEE Computer Society. Washington, DC, USA.
  • Dron J., and Anderson, T., (2007) Collectives, Networks and groups in Social software for e-Learning. eLearn 2007
  • Keen, A. (2007). The cult of the amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture. Doubleday/Currency: New York.
  • McAfee, A. (2006) Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration:
  • Surowiecki, J. (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds. Random House Inc.

as well as the work of Tony Karrer , Dion Hinchcliffe, Jeremy Hiebert, Teemu Arina and George Siemens and the CETIS PLE project and EU TenCompetence project: .