So I pitched her three ideas along similar lines, but with more personal interest for me -- a case-study on at least one elgg implementation (preferebly with a non-institutional focus), an investigation of community blogs used by citizens' groups for learning and organizing political action, and...drumroll please...the "winning" pitch:
"Using social software as a method of identifying and collaborating on learning goals. 43Things is the most obvious application of this idea, letting users define goals, many of which are goals requiring learning ('I want to learn PHP and CSS', 'learn to cook great vegetarian meals', 'learn to record music on my laptop', etc) and then connecting individuals to others who share that goal so they can collaborate on achieving the goal together -- sharing resources, expert recommendations, online tutorials, links and comments to support each other. I think it's a powerful model of self-directed, self-organizing collaborative learning. There's an ongoing discussion about how 43Things might be used to support online learning that gives a good overview of the challenges and opportunities."Perhaps that doesn't sound so exciting to anyone else, but I'm seeing good potential here. I started by looking at some of the top 100 goals tagged with "learning", like "Learn to play guitar". Of the 2,000+ people who say they want to learn to play guitar, about 250 have written posts describing what (and often why) they want to learn, reflecting on the process and sharing helpful links. Of the 250 who have reported that they've already learned to play, 98% say it was worth doing and about 100 of them have written posts offering some combination of advice, support or suggested resources to the ones who want to learn.
So 43Things can be viewed as a place where hundreds (thousands?) of asynchronous learning discussions are taking place without any clasrooms, tuition, administration, courses or instructors. Learners are guided only by their personal interests and motivation, forming informal learning communities that emerge out of shared goals. It also seems to function like a learning referral service, accessible to anyone on the web -- search for "Learn Ruby on Rails" on google, and the 43Things goal page comes up as the second result. Anyone can read the advice, follow links to resources, and "join" by adding the goal to their own list and contributing. It's not a tutorial or advanced developer's group, but seems to be a decent place to start the process of learning.
As far as methodology goes, I'm going to focus on content analysis. The artifacts of learning (and teaching, in the broadest sense) are just sitting there in public waiting to be mined, and I'm already seeing patterns in the ways people are using the site to learn. It shouldn't be difficult to place the investigation within a framework of constructivist learning (or even emerging connectivism). My first task is to review related literature, which I'm finding more challenging than I had hoped. Any advice for articles, papers and resources would be much appreciated -- please send me any suggestions related to informal learning communities, asynchronous learning discussion, and self-organizing groups online.
Unfortunately, this shift in focus means I'll be neglecting lifestylism for a while -- I suppose it was not meant to be as a thesis topic. That said, it will still form the philosophical underpinning of the web app I'm developing with a friend. More on that later.