Archive for the ‘Social Constructivism’ Category

I came across an interesting set of concepts that quite predate the Learning 2.0 proclamation. Building upon Lave and Wenger’s communities of practice, Brown and Duguid developed the concept of Network of Practice. Ranging from communities of practice to electronic or virtual communities, and differentiated from formal work teams, it focuses on how individuals come together to learn and collaborate in the context of their daily practice or tasks.

Defining networks as a set of individuals that are connected together in a social relationship (strong or weak ties) and practice representing the common area of focus or substrate that links the individuals together, the network of practice is differentiated from other types of networks such as photo sharing insofar as this kind of a network is based on a practice area where individuals engage in a conversation to ask and share in order to perform at their work.

Networks of Practice (NoPs) include communities of practice (where ties are strong and face to face interaction is predominant) at one end of the spectrum, to electronic networks of practice (typically virtual/electronic communities brought together by weak ties) at the other end.

NoPs differ from formal work teams primarily in the way they are structured and by their control mechanisms. They also differ in terms of their size (they can get very large) and by restrictions on membership. I think, most importantly, they are differentiated by the expectations about participation from members.

I also found Eva Schiffer’s blog taking about an interesting activity that she coordinated. The activity was to take a community and map out the networks that the members formed in pursuance of their practice. Also, I found an interesting read also at Building new social machines.

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Discussion Thread: This post << Part 4 << Part 3 << Part 2 << Part 1

(Also a contribution to the May Working/Learning blog carnival hosted by Rupa Rajagopalan)

In the last few posts, I have tried to identify what I think are the pillars of the learning process/experience and tried to establish that they remain valid in both traditional and 2.0 contexts. These pillars are goals, time, measurement, content/knowledge and improvement. I also tried to make concrete the business case, context and critical success factors for these methodologies.

In this post, I will be looking at additional components of formal methodologies that could be adopted by organizations worldwide to foster this new style. But before we do that I wanted to assess whether we can really have a formal set of methods, priciples and procedures around Learning 2.0, the way we can in traditional learning. I want to clarify that I am not referring to putting formal methodologies in how people should be taught or should learn using the Learning 2.0 style. That is implicit in the style. Rather I am referring to methodologies that can help organizations initiate and propagate this new style because of its apparent benefits.

Let us look at some of the additional components of the methodology and revisit some I have talked about earlier.

Network organization

Learning is organized around groups, each around a specific learning context or domain. These groups could be aggregated over role profile requirements. For example, Level 2 support engineers need to be skilled in voice support, technical skills around the product and soft skills around customer management. That is what they need to learn and improve on. These are functional groups brought together by commonality in the work they do in the organization.

Some learning contexts could be organization wide. For example, there is a lot of learning around ethics or corporate responsibility that applies to all. These contexts apply to the entire organization or large non-functional chunks thereof.

But context is a key organizing factor for these groups and any Learning 2.0 strategy must include this key factor. The network for the organizations is a collection of small and large groups or communities around specific learning contexts.

Groups Organization and Roles

Each group needs organization. The group would comprise of experts, experienced professionals and new hires alike across a specific context/group. The group may give rise to sub groups all aligned to the group.

To initiate, structure and motivate collaborative learning within groups, there must be a few individuals who would take the initiative to orchestrate some group activities. This is not to say that these orchestrators would impose certain learning objectives or structured 1.0 methodology on the group. Rather, these individuals would be ones that understand both group dynamics and the learning context and be able to correlate them with business requirements. For example, the orchestrator may adopt Tuckman’s 4 stage model for a group – forming, storming, norming and performing. Then ensure that all members reach the performing stage (defined in a special way for the learning 2.0 style) and satisfy the business requirements.

There shall be other roles and responsibilities that the group may have to undertake. For example, initiating new members would be a process. In this process, senior or performing members of the group would take responsibility for understanding learning needs and help to create paths through the mass of collaborative content and member groups across the context.

For example, if I am a rookie technical engineer, I need to understand the product (i.e. I get connected to Bill Marsh, the expert, who is part of the specific product network/group), need to understand and learn from the experiences of the services group (i.e. I get enrolled into the service troubleshooting group led by Jatin Sharma), need to learn about ethics and business conduct (i.e. I get enrolled into a corporate group on ethics led by Sue Liang) etc. Bill, Jatin and Sue follow a specific methodology to get me into the performing stage for the group very fast.

Similarly, if a group decides to create an assessment to ensure it’s members have really learnt the features of the new product, it can decide to create a process to ensure this happens. If a rating needs to be provided for a particular piece of content or even interaction, then the community can engage in peer reviews.

The group grows and thrives based on 2.0 styles that have been discussed. However there needs to be a method to how it evolves or devolves. The method needs to be as decentralized as possible. If it is centralized as in 1.0, we shall only go on to create a similar learning style and shall fail to leverage the 2.0 benefits. Maybe this requires strategies only to the extent of getting all the members trained/skilled to reach them to the performing stage? These distinctions are key. And I know these strategies shall require orchestrators with specialized soft skills.


Organizations have a huge amount of content to start with. There are two challenges that we have to address here:

  1. How to repurpose some or all of the content (structured courses, other sources of content) in meaningful ways to act as the repository of information for the group?
  2. How to grow this repository of content to not only add new content but also improve on the existing content through collaboration?

These are key challenges because organizations cannot ignore the investment made in creating this content, nor can they just leave groups alone to create large amounts of unusable or unstructured content (ultimately this will have heavy impacts on the technical infrastructure as well). However I believe that once groups start performing, the traditional content generation requirements will reduce immensely or will reduce time for development of structured material to a great extent. In this context, vendors/content developers need to be the ones that maintain these ever growing and improving repositories.

Measurement and tracking

This acquires a different connotation in 2.0. You are now trying to track how successfully groups are being able to translate their interactions to meaningful performance. So far, ratings and other quantitative information for participation, can be tracked and these shall be one set of measures that can generate some analytics. The other measures, ones that track individual growth, I am less sure about. At one end I feel these should be what the traditional measures are. This has the benefit of atleast being able to rate both 1.0 and 2.0 progressions on a common scale. However, I also feel that perhaps the 2.0 assessments should be unique to the group definition of expertise or prowess. 


Collaboration must be geared towards results. I have seen too many frustrated people on the forums who either have not had their problems resolved or queries answered satisfactorily causing them to either abandon their learning or not be able to solve their problem effectively. To many times, the conversations turn acrimonious. This is a show stopper. A network must produce results if it is to continuously motivate and help its members. Individuals are fallible. The network should not be.

So there should be a methodology and purpose that should treat each problem as a learning event, an occassion to help the individual learn and acknowledgement to the people who help facilitate that learning in a timely fashion.

In summary, these are a few key components that need formal methodologies to create successful and effective social networks for learning. There will be other components and ways to engender effectiveness, this is not an exhaustive list and we need to work collaboratively to flesh these out. Look forward to comments!

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I thought that this was an interesting attempt, even if I would not subscribe to it wholeheartedly. The author takes the formal dimensions of traditional learning – objectives, time, measurement, improvement and content or knowledge – and maps them to Learning 2.0, defined loosely as a combination of social networks, collaboration, and the rest. I think that the main problem is that there isn’t going to be a simply mapping like that. It’s like when people ask, “how do i use blogs to teach English?” Blogs aren’t a teaching tool, and you shouldn’t just expect to use Web 2.0 tools to do Learning 1.0 tasks.

Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies? ~ Stephen’s Web ~ by Stephen Downes

Thanks, Stephen for your review. It has spurred on a few more thoughts.

So what happens if we step away from the technology itself for a bit (blogs, wikis etc) and look at the five basic components of learning – goals, time, measurement, improvement and content/knowledge.

My main assumption was these are generic to learning – whether traditional learning or learning 2.0 – and I want to test that assumption.

To start off, Goals. Are there learning activities that do not have a goal? Certainly in the mind of the teacher, the goal is well-defined. If I want to teach someone how to install a particular software application, I would sequence a set of activities for the learner that I think would enable her to meet that learning goal. If the learner was to try and think what those activities would be at the outset, these activities may not be apparent. Rather these activities would be “discovered” as the learner collaborates and gains more knowledge.

For example, when I started out trying to understand learning 2.0, my starting point was Stephen’s article. As I moved through the article, clicked through on links, researched terms on Google, saw related presentations on Slideshare, videos on YouTube and joined blogs relevant to the domain, I began to piece together an understanding of the space that is continuously validated and critiqued by the community that views my posts. Along the way, I learnt many things incidentally which are now “filed away” in my repository and may come in use in another context for another learning goal. Were blogs a source of learning for me? Certainly. Would I use blogs or voicethread to teach? In certain types of activities, why not?

What is interesting is that I am limited by what I can access and experience. Even with all the tools, such as being able to ask the community for an answer, social bookmarking and those around folksonomies, there are limits to what I can access (what I find) and experience (what all do I really get my community to respond and mentor me on). Kind of reminds me of when I created a content management system for egurucool, tags were a window or a view of a cross-section of the huge content repository that we had.

In the entire process, the learner may achieve “discovered” goals, but not till the end of this achievement be potentially able to really demonstrate how the learning goals should have been met.

This also takes me to Time. Any learning activity, depending upon context, will either be or not be constrained by time. These constraints may be internal or external to the learner, such as the need to learn something so as to solve an immediate problem or the need to demonstrate proficiency in a given learning context. The ability of the learner to meet a learning goal in a constrained period of time is a function of the path that she has to take to meet those goals and how easy or difficult it is to achieve that. Lots of learners would perhaps say, “just tell me how it is done”.

Measurement.  There is a measure attached to everything we learn, whether by ourselves (self-assessment), by our community (peer reviews) or by our performance (external assessments, certifications and scores) stakeholders. The measure could be satisfaction levels (I got that argument right!) or could be a high SAT score (I topped the rankings!) or any other measure. How we measure it in the workplace or at school has been the subject of many discussions? How we measure it effectively has been the subject of countless others. However, there is a measure.

Improvement. Is this a generic factor too? I believe that it is fundamental. I can’t think of a learning situation that does not have scope for improvements in learning. In fact, we continuously improve all the time. Here is where I feel 2.0 has a distinct edge though.

Content/Knowledge. Can any learning context not be associated with a structured base of knowledge. Yes, it can. Can any learning context not have an informal base of knowledge? Yes, it can. Can both be true? No.

I feel fairly comfortable that my assumptions hold and as I wrote, are applicable in different ways to both 1.0 and 2.0 modes. So lets get the technology into the picture.

Why cannot we use a 2.0 technology in a 1.0 world to accomplish “1.0 tasks”? Is there something about 2.0 technology that restricts it’s use there? Or is it simply that it is inappropriate to use for a 1.0 task? For example, would I use SAP to store kitchen recipes (perhaps it would be inappropriate :), and SAP may not be able to do it anyways).

Certainly some types of technology are better suited for a specific context than others. But the goal should be to harness the right technology for the right learning context as far as possible. Technology is an enabler and not the end point.

If a teacher were to use a blog to teach English and asked an expert for that, the expert may find the right way to construct such a blog. However, it may not be the best way to teach English and the teacher should be encouraged to understand why and when to use a particular technology (or not at all).

I completely agree that the “keeping up with the Joneses” is detrimental. Just because a technology or tool is gaining hype and currency does not mean that it is the best use in your scenario and Stephen does well to remind us of that!

More to follow in my next post. I am particularly intrigued by a presentation that George made and believe it ties in to this discussion very well too. Thanks for your interest!

Sequel: Part 3: Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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Now this is really very exciting. Let me start with explaining how I got here.

The first thing is there are groups such as the One Laptop per child (OLPC) and those within Intel, HP and many companies that are trying to create laptops for the classroom in the K12 segment. These are small form factor devices with limited features and capabilities in terms of processor speeds, memory and storage capacity, designed to be lower cost, extremely rugged and portable. Check out the OLPC XO and the Intel Classmate PC.

The second thing is brilliant. An important part of the experience is the software that the learners see and the first base component is the operating system. The operating system itself has two components – the system components and the graphical user interface. The important consideration is to make the operating system rugged, powerful and at the same time a lot more usable for the K12 audience than Windows or Linux or even the Mac is as of now.

Enter Sugar. Read about the Human Interface guidelines they started with. Look at the tour.

Sugar is built on top of Fedora Linux and provides a new opportunity for all of us learning professionals to relook at how we can use technology and interface design to think out of the box, align whatever we have been talking about in social constructivist learning, Web 2.0 and activity based learning. Whats more, Sugar offers developers a development platform to be able to extend and write new functionality for learning. Check out the activities page.

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Jane Hart, in response to my comment on Manish’s blog post, was wondering what I meant by structured construction and tracking models for teaching-learning in a Learning 2.0 world. I guess this is as good a time as any to start throwing some ideas around for discussion. Thanks Jane, for forcing me to think harder!


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Part of the Work at Learning/Learning at Work blog carnival hosted by Manish Mohan.

A few months back, I started two collaborative multi-author blogs for my company (one for my software development team and one for my e-learning development team) and helped a couple of other individuals at work to start their own. I also started a group at Ning and am an active member of LearnHub. My own blog at WordPress is my own anthological meandering. I have used or am aware of most of the collaboration tools available that use Web 2.0 technology or learning 2.0 frameworks.

So all that was great. However, I found that, passion/skill/capability or not, it is probably only people with a high level of self-motivation, the humility to learn, the need to be part of the community and share,  and having an incessant need to improve themselves, that would really be able to leverage learning through this new medium. The other blogs never really took off despite organizational incentives (an elaborate point system that encouraged posts, comments and community participation linked to actual incentives) that I set up.

I find myself asking the question – how many of those would we find in our organization, or in any other for that matter? Are there barriers to entry that we can identify and lower for this kind of a mindset/behaviour? Is this behaviour something that would have existed in physical or other forms even if Web 2.0 wasn’t around? Maybe people who earlier (than 2.0) exhibited the same mindset in an offline/non 2.0 space are the ones who are most geared for the new medium? Maybe the vast majority are resistant to learning per se? Maybe the amount of content is so vast and endless that they give up quickly trying to find the right stuff? Maybe there are personal and cultural inhibitions to being able to articulate their thoughts? Maybe the very concept of being in a community requires them to identify themselves and this interferes with the preferred anonymity of a classroom or prior online space? Are we over-hyping the Web 2.0 phenomenon? Is a PLE going to really help in the mind boggling explosion of content? Is the ability to clearly demonstrate a metrics based assessment and certification system in the traditional approach going to exist in the new approach so that organizations can really track progress and award certifications?

Don’t get me wrong. I love and believe in what is going on. I appreciate the fantastic work people are doing and the exemplary discussions we are having between traditional and new social constructivist schools. My team is a fantastic collection of extremely skilled people. However the questions and experiences so far that I have are a trifle unsettling and demand answers. 

What was great in Learning at Work was that I learnt a whole load of new things using the new tools and gained access to a lot of extremely intelligent and articulate people. Even more interesting was that I could find a way to get relevant information to my teams even if they were not actively blogging or participating in the community through simple emails to various groups. I am now starting focus groups around specific posts or articles I found for each interest group within my organization and creating a collaborative culture in small localized steps. It’s hard work to merge what they need to learn with what interests them, but I am hoping this approach may act to lower their barriers to entry.

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Only the paranoid survive. Andrew Grove’s 2003 book by the same name reflects on the strategic inflection point when something in the environment changes in a fundamental way that is not so apparent in our daily chaos of survival.


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Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet developmental psychologist (1896-1934), also known as the founder of cultural historical psychology, believed that our learning depends heavily on the social and cultural context within which we exist and the role of interpersonal communication. Theories such as cognitive apprenticeship, activity theory, situated learning and distributed cognition have been reportedly influenced by Vygotsky’s thinking.


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