Personal learning, epistemology, and Philip Henslowe

If you saw Shakespeare in Love, you may remember an early scene in which Philip Henslowe, the producer, is warned by moneylenders that when people don’t pay their debts, their boots catch fire.  (The real-life Henslowe kept a diary–actually an account book listing payments and other data–that’s a prime source for information about the Elizabethan theater.)  Eventually Henslowe convinces the money guys to back Will Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.

You see? Comedy. Love, and a bit with a dog. That's what they want.
Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe

In this first week’s experience of PLENK 2010 (the online course about personal learning environments), I kept hearing Henslowe and the moneylender discuss how a play comes to be.

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Fennyman: So what do we do?

Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Fennyman: How?

Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

By no means am I implying that PLENK is on the road to imminent disaster.  Or better, it’s a road company, in at least two senses:

It’s a work in progress.  What goes in, what happens, and especially what comes out can’t be known.  Like the road company for a play, it takes place in multiple locations.  (See the Google map started by Heli Nurmi, with only some of the 1,000+ registrants.)

It’s a group of people.  They’ve met in this virtual space for their own reasons, much like an earlier group:

At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

By nightfall, into those lodgings had come
Nine-and-twenty people in a company
Of sundry folk, by chance fallen
Into fellowship, and they were all pilgrims
Wanting to ride to Canterbury.

As with Chaucer’s pilgrims, each person in PLENK showed up at the virtual Tabard Inn because of his own reasons: curiosity, a desire for focus, challenges to address.  And each one will have a story to tell.

More than one story, I think.  Harry Bailey, the host, urged that compaignye to each tell two stories on the way to Canterbury, and two on the return.  He wanted the travelers to enjoy the two-day to Canterbury (an early suggestion that the journey could be the reward).

It's my way, not the highway.PLENK’s company isn’t like Chaucer’s; one of our commonalities is that we’ve got different destinations (if in fact we’ve figured out where we want to go).

So the “road” that the company travels isn’t a specific route.  It’s more like the Oregon Trail or the Silk Road: a general direction with multiple paths.

For my own part, I’ve read a sheaf of blog posts and discussion posts from participants this week, along with some of the resources contained in PLENK’s daily feed.  These are the stories that the pilgrims tell–not fictional ones, told on the way to Canterbury, but sense-making ones, told on the way to understanding.

I’ve found people trying to make sense of PLNs and PLEs in contexts like high school teaching, graduate education, personal growth, and (thank goodness) learning on the job.

Not all the sense they’re making makes sense to me, but it’s not supposed to, any more than every presentation at a conference or every course in the catalog is supposed to.  Really, I’m still feeling my way along, but I’m not too uncomfortable with that.

PLENK facilitator Rita Kop wrote about information abundance and economy of attention the other day.  She mentioned John Hagel‘s thoughts on attention as an increasingly scarce resource.  My quick take on what that means: the more inputs available to you, the less you can afford to, well, pay attention to all of them–because you’ve only got so much attention to spread around before you hit cognitive homeopathy.

Kop was trying to work out concerns of some PLENK participants and wondering about whether there’s a good match between “learner needs and educator support.”  I couldn’t say, but included this in my comment at her post:

For some people, plopping into PLENK is like an American suddenly teleporting to London. Or maybe Amsterdam, where enough people speak English that he’s mostly disconcerted by all that Dutch on signs.

For some, though, it’s like being teleported to Riga or Mumbai, with a lot more “foreignness” — an abundance of unfamiliar information. When it comes to economy of attention, they feel like their account is overdrawn.

Speaking of which, if attention’s an account, then time is the wallet you keep the card in, and I have to watch how often I get that wallet out.

3 thoughts on “Personal learning, epistemology, and Philip Henslowe

  1. Chris, that was just me being contrary. Epistemology appears in half a dozen discussion posts from the first day or two of PLENK. And for those who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing they like.

    Also, I wondered what oddball hits I’d add (to the current collection) with that word in the title.

    Epistemology is the study or knowledge (says the Stanford dictionary of philosophy). “Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. ”

    So, yes, PLEs and PLNs fall under that awning. I’m just not finding much value for myself in trying to tease out the differences between E and N (the stuff versus the people?).

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