On-Going Learning: Seeing Patterns, Changing What We Know

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Stephen Downes has shared slides from a talk he gave in Newfoundland this week.

His topic was personal professional development.

Some of the points Stephen makes in the presentation resonate strongly with my thinking about personal learning journeys. These include:

  • Learning as the reshaping of your personal world view (slide 5)
  • Learning is changing what you already know (slide 8)
  • Perceiving patterns (slide 12)

For some time now I have worked to find ways to share practice that exemplify, Stephen’s ideas about aggregating, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward in personal learning environments. His work has helped and encouraged me to change what I know and to explore patterns.

One of my favourite quotes at the moment is from a 2006 paper by Peter Dowrick, Weol Soon Kim-Rupnow and Thomas Power. This uses feedforward in a different way to Stephen.

Humans distinguish themselves by being able to learn through observing successes they have not yet had. This type of self-modeling is known as feedforward, an image of future mastery.

Peter, Weol Soon and Thomas’s paper reports work on helping children to read. I think their quote extends beautifully to continuing professional learning too. In terms of my own learning, I saw connections between Stephen’s use of feedforward and my long-term interest (since the early 1980s) in feedforward as self-modeling in Peter Dowrick’s work. (This is the paper that started my journey in 1980.)

Stephen’s talk is titled ‘Riding the Wave’. One of the references in his talk is to Douglas Rushkoff. Back in 1994, Douglas was writing about surfing the wave of Sisyphus. He introduces the first chapter of his book, Cyberia, with a quote from John Barlow:

On the most rudimentary level there is simply terror of feeling like an immigrant in a place where your children are natives -where you’re always going to be behind the 8-ball because they can develop the technology faster than you can learn it.
It’s what I call the learning curve of Sisyphus. And the only people who are going to be comfortable with that are people who don’t mind confusion and ambiguity. I look at confusing circumstances as an opportunity – but not everybody feels that way. … At best it’s a matter of surfing the whitewater.

Anyone who has tried body surfing, body boarding or surfing will appreciate those first feelings of confusion, uncertainty and instability. Persistence leads to some stability and practice can lead to something approaching mastery.

I take the essence of continuing learning to be a willingness to lose balance to find a new balance. As a meddler in the process of other people’s learning I am hopeful that I can support and prompt the transition from one balance to another whilst being mindful of the sensory disturbance that accompanies the surfing.

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Photo Credits

Surf (Rafael Torales, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ivy and Joly at Wipeout Bay (Keith Lyons). A photograph taken at Long Beach, NSW after our first bodyboard session. Ivy and I were wiped out coming in on a big wave … but we went back and caught the next one.

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