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To ‘learn-to-be’ … or not to be? October 13, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, TELIC.
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A tweet by Bram Bruggeman set me thinking:

I’ve never been in any doubt about the powerful effect Twitter has had on my learning … but does it  naturally follow that Twitter therefore constitutes a ‘learning environment?’

personal learning environment

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Janson Hews: http://flickr.com/photos/24823508@N04/6992313131/

I guess to answer that we first need to have an understanding of what we mean by learning environment. Is the first thing that springs to mind a classroom? A school? Perhaps a study desk in one’s bedroom? Each is very different in terms of space, place and organisational complexity, so what are the common factors to help us with our Twitter question?

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning white paper1 puts it as simply as “…systems that accommodate the unique learning needs of every learner and support the positive human relationships needed for effective learning.” So for me that works since Twitter indeed does accommodate my learning needs, fosters positive relationships and certainly learning is effective. But that’s me. Twitter is a learning environment which works for me, but ‘every’ learner? Perhaps not, but maybe that’s taking the definition too literally, rather than saying that there are countless people for whom Twitter does work as a learning environment, catering to their individual needs, just as a school is clearly a learning environment; one that works for some, though not all people.

Warger and Dobbin2, writing for EDUCAUSE, offer a more expansive definition: “The term learning environment encompasses learning resources and technology, means of teaching, modes of learning, and connections to societal and global contexts. The term also includes human behavioural and cultural dimensions, including the vital role of emotion in learning…”
Once again this describes what Twitter is for me. There are a host of signposted learning resources of various hues and flavours, people teach me all the time through loose discourse and the (marginally) more structured #edchats. I learn in different ways depending on the context and from a variety of people from different backgrounds and across the globe. It would doubtless be fair to say that not all of that takes place strictly within the confines of Twitter, but in the other spaces with which Twitter is linked – a blog here, a journal article there. But isn’t that true of any good learning environment? It isn’t a hermetically-sealed closed space, but when necessary is capable of calling on external knowledge, skills and expertise.

So for me, Twitter is definitely a learning environment, but one where I ‘learn-to-be’ as John Seeley-Brown3 would have it, rather than ‘learn-about.’ It’s a place where people learn through legitimate peripheral participation, about the functioning of the community itself yes, but also about the topics and themes of interest to the community members:

Learning and joining this community simply go hand-in-hand; learning happens seamlessly as part of the enculturation process.

Perhaps a learning environment is only as good as we make it? It simply has to be flexible and offer sufficient freedom to enable us to mould it to our needs.

1Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 21st Century Learning Environments

2Warger, T., Dobbin, G., 2009. Learning Environments: Where Space, Technology, and Culture Converge. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

3Brown, J.S., 2006. New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change: The magazine of higher learning 38, 18–24.

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