A new virtual world has come to my attention that combines Web browsing with social networking. Weblins (www.weblin.com) are little Avatars that hang around at the bottom of your browser window. If you go to sites, you meet other characters and can chat, add them to your buddy list, etc.
Apart from being extremely good fun and very communicative for meeting new people, it enhances the individualistic and usually lonely task of browsing sites with sharing and chatting. The plug-in seems to work only on top level domains at the moment, so it would bring all people visiting a VLE website together rather than subdividing them into their respective courses.
One fabulous feature is that you can ask your friends to drop by a specific Website and you hear them stepping in when they arrive. This is one hell more sociable then sending a Weblink to someone by e-mail! Could this mean the end to del.icio.us?
In academic discussions it is often assumed that learners know what they want to learn and know what they want to achieve. In an earlier post I hinted at the value of “opening new (unexpected) doors”, i.e. learning by discovery, but got criticised by Stephen Downes for expressing “fear that learners will make the wrong choices, learn the wrong things, or not learn at all”.
I want to reiterate my opinion in favour of exploratory learning or learning by discovery. In my opinion, this does not take away from the notion of the “rational” individual taking their own decisions and managing their own competence development and knowledge. On the contrary it is one of the most natural ways to learn!
Have you ever taken a walk with a one year old? The difference between an adult and a child is that the adult plans a walk from point A to point B. A child’s walking path looks more like my freehand drawings of a roller coaster ride – they move from one interesting point that catches their eyes to the next. This is similar to the stereotypical encyclopedia behaviour where you eventually forget what you were looking for. It is this “stumble-across” learning that extends our horizons and raises interesting questions that make us learn.
Coming back to the idea of the rational forward planning individual that so often underlies the academic debate, learning outcomes are a restricted and restrictive externally defined notion of “the system” that already assumes one of two things: (1) the learner is guided/instructed by someone who knows how to achieve the set benchmark, or (2) the learner possesses sufficient project managment and organisational skills to do it themselves. However much we would like that the latter asumption was true – the reality is far from it. What is more, informal independent learning has no necessity to reach a specific outcome or qualification, yet it is the most common way how people progress their own constructivist understanding of the learning domains.
If we want learners to be independent learners, we have to equip them with the skill set to manage their learning. Teach them to learn!