Self, directed

George Siemens pointed the way to Stephen Downes’s videocast, “Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development.” It runs about 22 minutes; I found myself scribbling a few notes (since I didn’t want to hop back and forth between screens and write here real-time).

Downes sets out three principles for personal learning: interaction, usability, and relevance.

One idea, radical in its simplicity and maybe obvious till you start trying to apply it, is: “Place yourself, not the content, at the center.”

Downes argues that information is a flow, not a collection of objects. I confess I do tend to think at times about a body of knowledge — the notion that there are things (facts, concepts, principles) that knowledgeable people in a field would agree about. The more I examine that notion, though, the less useful it seems in specific areas.

Perhaps the insight for me is that the more specific my need to learn, the greater my responsibility to take charge, to set my own direction. The standard “systems” for learning aren’t likely to help.

Self direction

Image from Wetsun, made available under a Creative Commons license.

And in my own experience, the specifics of creating computer-based training — how to use a particular piece of software — have almost always been much less relevant to what I do (and what I want to do) than the context I’m working in. Many things I learned while creating training for Amtrak’s reservation system in the early 1980s, I can apply to learning situations today — but I’m not applying specifics about coding, or about the mainframe datasets.

One specific example of taking charge of your own learning: Stephen talked about blogging during a presentation (like the one he was giving). It struck me that this is a variation on note-taking, something I do often — not to build a treasury of captured facts, but to help myself process the information stream.

I may not get it right (whatever “right” means) as I try capturing things on the fly, but the very act of working with information helps strengthen my ability to work with information. It’s a form of self-discipline or self-direction.

Even making notes during a recorded presentation like Stephen’s is a kind of guerilla interaction, though it’s an internal one — me and my understanding of what he’s saying. (I could always send him comments or questions.)

When he talked about interaction depending on sharing, I thought of how much I value people who share their questions and their uncertainty, as well as their successes, in an open way. No worry about loss of faith; instead, an informal community in which I can say, “I’m thinking about this kind of problem, and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”