Initial Reaction to Little by Littlejohn – Collective Learning #change11

I really like how Allison Littlejohn began her Week 4 #change11 MOOC week on Collective Learning. I especially like how we are having 2 live calls this week to discuss all of this, and she gave us a task to help get us started in her Task 1 introductory blog post. In some ways her extremely clean organization is a welcome change from the diverse (isolated?) ways of learning and communicating in a MOOC, though in other ways it is task-oriented in a way that may potentially be at odds with the personalized objectives and freedom to set (or not) learning goals. Then again, as all the tasks and things to focus upon in this open course, I believe the tasks help to focus those of us who need help focusing on something, especially if we want to engage with Allison as this week’s speaker.

In reading Allison’s Position Paper, I was struck by her her “grand challenge,” namely for people to have to learn differently. I did not see the evidence in the initial paragraph, in that technology requires a demand for new knowledge. I am not sure if technology in itself demands new knowledge, or even that any societal development or global issues, such as energy consumption or healthcare needs, requires ongoing knowledge creation on a large scale. This does not necessarily involve an increase in technology or expansive knowledge on behalf of a growing population per se. Whether solar cells or wind technologies expand, I as a consumer do not need to know the particulars–I just need to buy the product and leave the rest to the scientists. Do I really have to learn differently, or is it more that I find learning by navigating the collective helps me expand in ways beyond my own cognitive, affective, psychomotor, reflective, collaborative learning processes?

However, I do think that with the increases in social media and the opportunities for new forms of research that may be possible as a result (cf. my doctoral research, considerations of networked learning, or even considerations for digital scholarship), reframing how we see learning that involves a collective (involving the intersection of the learner and the larger group) does have merit. Participating in this MOOC itself allows for a flexibility in how and what we learn in ways that potentially connects us, and while it is not possible to follow all elements of this learning (cf. How to Participate in this MOOC), I do think that better understanding how people navigate and make sense of this process is a rich area for study.
Who hasn’t heard of Generic Viagra? I think such people don’t exist. But as it turns out, this drug has another effect (apart from giving a “superpower” to our men). I’ve just found it out. My friend’s aunt got really sick.

I do wonder, as we are invited to do in Task 1, to what extent this collective learning (to sole real-world problems) can be organized. How can creativity and idea development leveraged from the collective be organized in a way to solve problems? Wouldn’t the problem-solving techniques establish objectives that would begin to funnel learning into how we currently solve problems, namely through brainstorming, writing, discussing, and the like?

Perhaps my meandering question here is really about the Task itself — is there such as thing as collective learning, or is it really individual learning via the collective?

18 thoughts on “Initial Reaction to Little by Littlejohn – Collective Learning #change11

  1. Thanks for the feedback Jeffrey

    The ‘demand for new knowledge’ is so we can deelop new technologies to find ew solutions. The Gulf Oil Spill is a good (though extreme) example. Knowledge workers in the energy sector had to find an innovative soultion fast. This probably involved experts from various companies/ locations coming together (via technology) to share and build knowledge to find a solution – as fast as possible.

    The problem (ie how to plug anoil spill) was the focal point – the goal of finding a solution was the social object- that bound them together.

    Your point about whether collective learning can be organised is an intresting one. Much of the organisation will be done by the ‘self’ – guided by the ‘traces’, actions or advice of others. It would be vry different from how we organise formal learning.

    Does collective learning really exist? That’s what I’m asking too…

    1. Allison-

      Thank you so very much for your reply. I have not encountered your work before, and I find it quite energizing and thought-provoking in a timely fashion, both related to the MOOC session as well as its potential use for my own ongoing research.

      A few thoughts in reply.

      Given your situation about the oil spill, did the knowledge workers intend to reach beyond themselves for suggestions, or was that accidental? I am asking as I wondering about the next issue, which is to what extent can this be done in a formal or “official” way of learning, or must this remain informal or otherwise “accidental” if used on a larger scale?

      Take out discussion here. We may chat and continue to develop ideas, though it is informal (we are doing this for intellectual curiosity, personal interest, ongoing exploration of future research, or the like), and not because we have a set direction or anticipated outcome or other objective that can be used to guide, in advance, what is explored. Taken another way, we can engage in this, but I could not assign this MOOC to a course or for an established purpose, even collectively, as it seems the learning needs and directions may differ and formal learning usually requires some sort of objective / direction before the learning begins (as if learning only happens when following an established path).

      Then again, as I am writing this, I am thinking about problem-based learning or action learning, where a problem is identified and solutions worked through by the participants and researcher / facilitator / leader (etc.) together. Pre-suppositions are often initially discarded, as the issues are often such that they have already defied simple solutions.

      Could that be something of where you see this?


  2. I’m not part of the course you are involved in, but I am interested in this split that happens between informal and formal learning, and it is something which I would challenge as it too often privileges accredited learning over other forms of learning that may be equally valuable, in similar or different ways. Although my research has moved away from a learning focus, a couple of years ago, I was very much mulling over these issues and you may find a blog post from then interesting as it reflects my tussling with some of these issues (in fact looking back, I seem to have blogged quite a lot about informal learning at that time.

    I’ll be interested to hear what conclusions you come to.

    1. @lizit – Thanks for sharing the link and for adding to the conversation here! You may want to check out the #change11 MOOC online, as it is free and includes diverse topics, such as collective learning that Allison is speaking about this week.

      I have been interested in the individual’s experience and meaning-making about learning for some time now, and while connectivism never captured my interest, the ways I am starting to read Allison’s work is beginning to, especially in the way that we are even beginning to informally share and develop ideas here.

      So many interesting things to explore, huh?

  3. Hi Jeffrey

    You raise some important points.

    Can collective learning fit within formal learning contexts? If we think of formal learning on a scale from ‘highly structured’ (eg some training scenarios) to highly unstructured (eg PhD study), its easier to see how collective learning might fit with the unstructured examples. As you say there are examples of relatively instructred undergraduate learning (eg problem based learning), therefore we can assume collective learning would also fit here. We have some examples of ‘collective learning’ in formal situations at

    I would argue that these examples are not ‘pure’ collective learning, but are an example of learner groups interacting with the collective. Nevertheless, they are examples of learners drawing from and gaining expertise from the collective knowledge (through people, resources, interactions).

    For me one of the main barriers to collective learning is the learners ability to self-regulate. Most (if not all) the people on #change11 are highly self regulated. We can set our own goals and work towards achieving these.

    There are many scenarios in formal education where self regulation of learners is not apparent. I would argue it is sometimes (unintentionally) discouraged in the race to ‘support’ students to ‘pass’ assignments. There are many factors driving this situation, of course, policies designed to advance learning are sometimes putting in place so much support that students are not developing as independent learners. This is where unstructured, challenging environments can be helpful. But they are not always effective/ efficient. It might not be a ‘fast’ way to learn.

    What are your views?

    1. @Allison Littlejohn – Thanks again for your comment and helping me to move my own thinking along.

      I do indeed wonder how many students are able to self-regulate, or borrowing from the language of adult education, to self-manage or otherwise self-direct one’s own learning. Of course, this supposes that learners know enough or have had enough experiences that they can even begin to formulate what self-directing one’s learning means. It is difficult to self-direct unless there are already enough knowledge and experiences to organize and help frame the areas where more learning should or can be explored. Of course, these are all informal, as formal learning would almost always need more structure (for approval, funding, selling to stakeholders, etc.). Perhaps only in informal areas, or in creative fields or leadership development, may this be somewhat embraced.

      You know, Allison, another issue came up when I just reviewed your examples of collective learning — what is the value for the individual in these situations, mainly business ones, if the individual is not recognized and given credit for the ideas?

      I need to flesh this one out a little . . .

  4. I have enjoyed reading this blog very much. In Denmark al teacher-educations (except on) use the constructivstic approach in their distant education, where knowledge-sharing is bound within a group of students. I have been occupied with spreading the connectivistic approach to our teachers and I see a lot of potential in also using the collective idea. That mean in a formal education with a lot of informal approaches

    When students at E-learning-courses work in groups they are bound to the competences of each other and what the teacher believe they are capable of. But working at Web2.0 the group has access to the competencies of everyone. That means that the individual or group is capable of a lot more than alone within the group. They both have access to peer-to-peer help and to the help of experts.

    I think that it is very possible to implement the collective idea in our education. As you write it demands guidance from the teacher in self-regulation competencies and acting skills at Web2.0. But still think it is very possible to do with a great outcome in knowledge.

    A goal is to change our learning skills as a learner and teacher and use the huge potential the connection at the Web 2.0 offers us and the possibilities the collective learning gives us. As educators we are bound to see the possibilities and make these new approaches simple for the students with the aim that the students feel inspired and excited instead of confused.

    1. @Lone-

      Thank you for sharing and for your considerations.

      How can this be implemented in a course, given that learning objectives usually need to be measured with some outcomes? I agree your vision is quite exciting, but what happens with those who are not excited, though there still has to be some way to generate some course grade?

      This is something I struggle with, and would very appreciate some insights into how to handle this.


      1. Thank you for your comment.

        I’ve had a little trouble writing a precise answer for you, because in Denmark we are not judged solely on what facts we can remember. Here is an example of the purpose of our Teacher Training Act:

        Ҥ 1 The student must for the profession teacher, through training
        1) obtain theoretical and practical basis for independently gather, analyze, classify, identify and disseminate knowledge on the basis of the subjects and methods in accordance with the education profession aims and purposes as teacher training Act § 1,
        2) using its theoretical and practical qualifications to learn to cooperate and to plan, evaluate, develop and conduct educational”

        We evaluate primarily our students at an examination, which is based on a written paper, that the student has handed in advance. It is at the examination that the quoted competencies are assessed. Our distance students must also to a personal examination F2F, where they are evaluated the same way as ordinary students.

        Our teaching is planned to reach the above goals and differs from course to course with varying forms of teaching. Teaching distance we use other and more suitable “tools”, than the tools we use at the ordinary teaching.

        When your ask me, how I will do it. The answer is very complex. I would prefer, that different competencies would be used when working with different subjects during the course.
        That means that I primarily would have to work with the way the teachers implement Web2.0 competencies and that it is their goal work with the students self-regulation competencies and acting skills at Web2, during their subjects.

        My point is that the self-regulation competencies and acting skills at Web2 is “just” the way the students are working. It is their tools, which is a lot better than before (I think). The teacher, at The Teacher Education, still have to focus on the subject. They “just” have to change the way they are working with it.

        Is this the kind of answer you are looking for?
        – or shall I be more precise?

        1. @Lone
          Thank you for providing some detail on this. I actually prefer education where we allow the learners to process and focus on what they want, but it is a challenge in that many students and organizations still prefer or need to have a sense of the outcomes that the course is developed to meet to know if the class is successful. Perhaps the issue is more about structuring objectives in a way that allows for the most learner flexibility in interpreting and personalizing them?

  5. Lots and lost of discussion on this topic. thanks for the post. I wanted to contribute a little to your assertion: I am not sure … that any societal development or global issues,such as energy consumption or healthcare needs,requires ongoing knowledge creation on a large scale.. In our (Allison, Anoush Margaryan and I) work with the energy company, one phrase we kept coming across was ‘no easy oil’. Whereas in the past getting oil out of the ground involved applying pre-existing principles: employ some people + bring in an oil rig + lay some pipes etc. (I’m oversimplifying greatly), more recently, each new oil well would inevitably present challenges which require innovative solutions (e.g. working with a supplier to develop a new chemical additive which maximised yield from a well – which may make actually drilling for oil in that place economically viable). This situation demands that the organisation looks beyond the knowledge written down or at least pre-exisitng within the organisation to new sources of knowledge beyond these traditional boundaries. The work of Hakkarainen et al (see the book Communities of Networked Expertise: has influenced our thinking of what they term ‘innovative knowledge communities’.

    1. @Colin-
      I agree completely that there are times when more people are needed to generate the interaction and breadth of thinking that are needed for problems, especially those that are too complex for the current group of participants in whatever endeavor is at hand. My concern is more for who will benefit from all this interaction, and what rewards are available for those who engage in this discussion.
      No, I am not an advocate of everybody getting exactly what they contribute–my concerns is more for the fact that often those who lead organizations get more rewards for such work, as they are the public face of the org. In this way, they will benefit more than the nameless contributors helping along the way. This corruption at the top, especially in corporate structures, can readily exploit the efforts of the general participants.

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