Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Learning as Becoming

From A Nomad’s Guide to Learning and Social Software by Ulises Ali Mejias:
"At a more fundamental level, models of learning based on social software can facilitate the shift from what Brown and Duguid (2000) call learning about to learning to be, or to give a more Deleuzian connotation, to learning as becoming. Learning about implies a passive consumption of knowledge in the form of facts. Learning to be implies the application of knowledge in the development of skills that allows us to fulfill a particular (professional or non-professional) role in society. But to highlight the fact that being is not static, I’m using learning as becoming to signify an ongoing process."
There's something very compelling about this vision of learning as becoming. I wrote an article a while back about how blogging helps in the process of figuring out who you are becoming:
"This gap analysis shows the limitations of fixating on who I am – it’s only a first step in using reflection to understand the progression of identity. The next step is look for indications of who I am becoming and determine who I really want to be. This vector into the future creates an opportunity to design a style of living that is aligned with my values. In order to do that, I’ll need good models, support, and a fair bit of learning. If you’re still with me, you’ve probably already realized that the process of blogging helps achieve these goals, even if they are mostly subconscious."
At some root level, this introduces the role of motivation in learning. There are probably people who are motivated by learning for its own sake, for the love of language or knowledge or information, but most of us need to know how we might apply what we are being asked to learn...or better yet, we might even get to choose what we learn based on what we want or need to know (and be able to do) to achieve our goals and get things done. You could argue that the industrial-age education system, with its focus on pre-defined curriculum and age-specific pacing, removes opportunities to develop the skill of determining what is most important to learn, finding the people and information required to learn it, and being able to apply what you've learned to something that matters to you.

My friend Brian has been exploring these concepts for years, and I've always loved his tagline: "How do we learn the things we value most?". In this context, I'm thinking about how social software might help learn to figure out which things we value most. As an aside, I've noticed that it seems like of the people in 43 Things who have completed learning goals, a very low percentage tend to caution people against pursuing them. I wonder if that's partly a reflection of a shared perception that pursuing all learning is valuable.

All this talk of becoming reminds me of Paul Graham's undelivered commencement speech. His general advice relating to high school and self-actualization it to treat school as a day job and spend as much time as you can pursuing interesting questions and projects (outside of school, mostly):
"And what's your real job supposed to be? Unless you're Mozart, your first task is to figure that out. What are the great things to work on? Where are the imaginative people? And most importantly, what are you interested in? The word 'aptitude' is misleading, because it implies something innate. The most powerful sort of aptitude is a consuming interest in some question, and such interests are often acquired tastes."
Perhaps this is hinting at the real learning value of 43 Things -- helping people determine which goals are most worth pursuing. Which goals are most likely to help me become who I want to be? Who else shares my goals and what interesting things are they pursuing? Who has already pursued this goal and what was their experience? Once those questions are answered, the web and our networks make it much easier to actually achieve those learning goals, connecting us to the required resources, people and information when we need them.

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