Information abundance and learning

Erik Duval’s topic for Change MOOC this week was Learning in a Time of Abundance , which he equates to changes in connectedness (we can be more connected to people and information than ever before), openness and transparency (access and resources) and ‘always on’ (e.g. students access their online connections 24/7). See also – Here are some notes I made during his session.

Abundance will not go away (at least not in the foreseeable future) and has implications for what we learn and how we learn. Erik Duval models this understanding in the way in which he teaches:

  • He encourages his students to be connected during his classes, i.e. have their laptops and mobile phones on
  • His classes can run for 5 hours, which gives students the time to find their own lines of enquiry and navigate a path through the abundance of information
  • His students have to overcome analysis and paralysis by actively dispensing with discomfort
  • His classroom has no walls – anyone can ‘break in’.
  • Everything done in class is open to the outside world
  • Students are encouraged to track their own progress and set their own goals
  • Learning is about working with wicked problems as happens in the workplace.
  • Learning is messy – that’s how life is – and messiness is OK, but incoherence is not
  • Tasks are authentic and relevant
  • He recommends that we don’t ask for permission, but ask for forgiveness if things go wrong

His main advice was to ‘Let go’ – of fake control.

Then he set two challenges – to post:

1. Any examples you find inspiring about how teachers or students leverage abundance for learning

2. Any examples you can identify or think of where openness would be more of a problem than an opportunity?

  1. I think a learners’ ability to leverage abundance for learning depends on whether they have the knowledge, skills and strategies for pulling information in, rather than going out to go out and look for it – and this of course involves the ability to filter (beware the filter bubble – ) analyse and select. The pulling in also requires technical skills that are maybe taken for granted by those ‘in the know’ and knowledge of the softwares that will do this for us. It will also depend on a learners’ networks and connections.

The question does seem to assume that leveraging abundance is desirable and will lead to better learning. On what grounds can we take this stance? Could we argue that it will just lead to a huge muddle and confusion for the poor learner? I don’t believe this – just playing Devil’s Advocate.

As far as an inspiring example of where this happens – I don’t think we need to look much further than Stephen Downes, MOOCs and OLDaily.

2.Where would openness be more of a problem than an opportunity? I can see that the ‘filter bubble’ would be an example of this – but from a personal perspective I would say – any situation where the outcome would be harmful to society, the environment or the individual. Of course, determining what we mean by ‘harmful’ will be open to different interpretations and there’s the rub. How do we decide?

In discussing this with a close friend this morning, we thought of examples where this has cropped up in the past. One is a colleague who was a Principal of a Higher Education Institution, whose firm belief was that all information in his institution should be open – he didn’t believe that anything should be ‘hidden’. A second was a colleague who is working as a management adviser to a hospice, where the question of what information should be open and what should not has been a focus of recent discussions.

In having this discussion we realized that it depends on what you mean by ‘information’ – and whether there is a difference between information, data and knowledge.  And then of course there are ‘facts’ – or maybe not (ref. Dave Cormier who does not believe in facts). So I looked it up and came across this interesting site – but having listened to the Filter Bubble Ted Talk – I realize that Google might simply be feeding me what I want to hear 🙂

So I’m still thinking about all this – and looking forward to Erik’s next session, which I might not be able to attend at the time, but will listen to the recording.

5 thoughts on “Information abundance and learning

  1. jaapsoft2 November 16, 2011 / 6:59 am

    Jenny, as I did not manage to listen to the life presentation your comments are very welcome.
    I small thought on “… The question does seem to assume that leveraging abundance is desirable and will lead to better learning. …”
    When I want to learn how to play a certain part of a piece of music I will search it and listen (Itumes, Youtube) to various artists playing the piece. Then a do choose in which way I like to play it. I need the ability to choose, maybe I need some aesthetic skills or background musical knowledge to be able to choose.
    When I want to know how to sharpen scissors, I do a search and have to choose the most appropriate way. I do need some technical skills to evaluate the best way, or I need to try out in a more or less systematic way.
    Leveraging abundance needs and brings the use of certain basic skills and background knowledge.

  2. edmusings November 16, 2011 / 3:58 pm

    Good overview and response to Erik’s session. I was there, too.

    I would love to be one of his students! And if I did not have the skills to manage that type of open learning, I would surely turn to my peers as well as listen carefully to Erik’s instructions, suggestions and examples.

    One problem I had with college students in a lap-top program was how distracted they became with technology. Most were surfing the net or playing games. I made an effort to have project-based or small assignments where they had to find, use and present information via their laptops during class. This seemed to help.

    In a literature review for a recent study I conducted, students did state they found technology distracting. I guess that would be part of the ‘messy’ and to expect it. As well, it might propel instructors to provide engaging exercises. Kids are going to surf, listen to music and videos, etc when they have tech in their hands. Oh well! :0)

  3. jennymackness November 16, 2011 / 4:22 pm

    Jaap – thanks for your comment and for your examples of the types of information you might search for. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t search for information of one set or another – but no-one has ever taught me how to do this and I’m not sure whether I’m good at it or not, i.e. not the finding of information – but knowing whether I have found the right information.

    I thought this article on Wired Magazine by Clive Thompson about why kids can’t search – could equally apply to many adults (with thanks to Andrew Neuendorf for the link –

    What is the best way to learn the skills we need. Trial and error seems a bit primitive 🙂

  4. jennymackness November 16, 2011 / 4:41 pm

    Kelly – thanks for your ‘visit’ and comment. Yes I was impressed with Erik’s session as well – in particular with the clarity of his philosophical approach to teaching.

    I have only had limited experience of students using laptops and mobiles phones in class. I can see that for post graduates it would on the whole not be an issue (with the exception of the example I give below). Post graduates make a conscious decision to study – so if they want to waste time that’s their choice. Can we same the same for undergraduates and school children? This is where the teacher’s responsibilities need thinking about. Erik seemed to me to be very clear about how he perceived his responsibilities – but I wasn’t clear whether he is teaching undergraduates or post-graduates. As you say, and as Erik said, ‘The facilitator has to be more interesting than what is on the internet’. Actually I think it’s more the task and learning content, than the facilitator.

    Finally, your comment has reminded me of the one time when we had to ask students to hand in their mobile phone – and this was for a multichoice needs analysis test for trainee teachers. We found when students first started to have mobile phones that they were using their phones to find the answers to the questions, despite the fact that the test was designed to enable them to assess their level of science knowledge before starting the course, so that they could focus their studies more effectively – and these were post-graduates 🙂

    Perhaps we should have found a different way of doing this. Maybe we would now. It was a long time ago.

    I also liked Erik’s approach to assessment. Lots to think about.

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