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Could I have my sandbox back, please?

October 6, 2011

Picking up on a great thread on self-regulation, #collective learning and “developing as independent learners” in Jeffrey Keefer’s post for #change11, I am having a ‘wait a minute’, inner-voice, gut-reaction moment here…aren’t all learners self-directed or self-regulated to some degree already?

I’m picturing how pre-schoolers learn in a sandbox. They choose whether to engage with others, to play side by side (but not really interact) or to explore independently.  They will determine which toys to use if they want to build a structure and, in doing so, they learn the differences between the function and effectiveness of tools as diverse as a bucket, shovel, sieve, shoe or bare hands.  They might experiment with dry sand versus wet sand and see what that produces.  They might observe another child’s actions and consider them successful, worth replicating, or not.  They might ask an adult or another child for help, or not.

There is no set objective in the sandbox, no pre-determined standard for achievement (other than the adult on site having a moment’s rest while the kids play, perhaps.)  It’s totally self-directed:  build a sandcastle or don’t.  Sit in the sand and look at the sky.  Dig a hole.  Eat a snack.  Eat some sand.  Bury your own hand.  Observe the bugs crawling around the edge.  It’s all possible, even likely, and it’s all part of learning how so many things work (sand, sandboxes, tools, relationships, construction, demolition, authority and so on).

These ‘learners’ might find the experience fun and engaging, for a period of time well beyond the expected attention span for their age.  They could just as easily find it boring and irrelevant and off they go to the water table instead.  They might explore what happens when you throw sand – are there consequences? reactions? motivation to continue or abandon the task?  All of this is learning ‘on the job’ in the sandbox.

One of the things I like best about moocs is that I feel some inner part of me as a learner has been reawakened and nurtured after 19 years of formal schooling and a dozen more years in the work place.  Self-regulation within informal, social or networked learning is what comes naturally to me, perhaps to all learners.  I have freedom to choose!  I’m also starting to see how formal learning institutions silence that instinct of self-regulation because of how obvious it is, whether stated or not, that someone else is supposedly in control.

I wonder if our mooc experience will give us opportunities to influence the formal systems to let the self-regulation and explorer spirit flourish among all learners again?  Could there be a sandbox inside every classroom? Better yet, could every classroom become a sandbox?


From → Smarter worker

  1. jupidu permalink

    I like your sandbox picture – and your comment: “I feel some inner part of me as a learner has been reawakened and nurtured after 19 years of formal schooling and a dozen more years in the work place.” – that sounds really great 🙂 At my institute we are developing online courses based on the concept of self-regulation and participants review their learning experiences as you do.

    But for me it is much easier to develop and open concepts for training than for formal university lessons. The formal systems are very narrow – and I love to work with the students but hate to grade them…

    • Thanks, jupidu, I agree that formal systems are very narrow in their approaches and it’s difficult to question too much or too loudly in that environment.. You might enjoy this article and the final quote of the prof at the bottom.

  2. Hi,
    Is the sandbox a good analogy for those of us starting learning using MOOC’s? I feel it partially explains the way I am feeling about #change11 MOOC. This analogy makes sense for me, with only a little MOOC experience.
    I am not sure the analogy holds up for those with plenty of MOOC experience. I envisage that the sandbox has transformed to the standard playground with swings and slides and pipe work to swing on. In this playground deep knowledge is needed in order to participate usefully and fully. To both learn as an individual and contribute at a level which is useful to others in the MOOC.
    I think you have to develop the experience and knowledge in the ‘sandbox’ to be able to ‘progress’ into the ‘playground’ which is the MOOC #change11.

    • Thanks for extending this analogy, Barry. Perhaps a ‘playground’ emerges as one gets more comfortable with the tools and insights in a mooc (blogging, tweeting, posting, replying, remixing, sharing, debating and so on). One might develop a preference for swings over slides or vice versa.

      Then again, playground suggests structure, something more permanent, and perhaps that is created, craved, stumbled upon or avoided by various participants in a mooc. So maybe it’s a continuum from sandbox to playground to…something else?…Or it could be a choice *between* sandbox or playground depending one’s degree of preference for structure?

      And then again, maybe it’s all about uncovering the different elements of a mooc as one would a park: the sandbox, the structures, the sun and shade, the open spaces, the benches to sit and reflect, the splash pad and pool, the off-leash areas. Great food for thought!

  3. From sandbox to playground to gym
    From freeform to scaffolded play to structured enhancement
    My mind has leapt into the thoughts about the importance of play and self-direction in learning to learn. I have learned a little more today by this brief visit, thanks. Cannot help but think of the child in the sandpit or playground who says ‘hey mum, watch this’ or ‘hey dad look, look, look’ and the way we want to share our achievements. The knowledge that someone has read your comment, thought about your contribution and replied meaningfully in a blog gives me the same feeling. Collective learning is there for other readers.

    • Thanks so much, Carole, I am starting to get that ‘hey, people are watching and responding’ feeling in the blogosphere too. What I love about social, networked learning (in moocs and otherwise) is that it’s FUN to learn this way. It’s not forced, contrived, mandated, obligated or any of those other distasteful elements of formal/traditional learning approaches. And when I say it’s fun, I also acknowledge that it challenges me, that I challenge myself, and that’s what brings me back in day after day.

  4. I really like the new Mightybell experiences I am having – they bring that element of play, reward and engagement. I built a Mightybell experience as a debrief activity for the MOOCers who participated in the recent EpCoP MOOC. It fascinates me to watch how it draws people in – “look, look, look,” – still works for me.

  5. I wish all schools could be sandboxes….The best way to stifle learning is to take students who were having fun and were learning in an exploratory way out of kindergarten and put them in primary school…….playing can only be done during a short break.
    I see a lot of similarities indeed between your views and mine…….It is really fun to read your posts and discover I’m not one alone in a changing world…..

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Criticism of MOOCs « ZML Didaktik / Innovative Learning Scenarios
  2. Mooc Week 4. Synthesis and reflection. « Learning in the workplace

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