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If you don’t like messy learning, don’t play in the snow

November 29, 2011

Something about the word messy jumped off the page for me this morning and then I read this snipppet from Jon Dron on the use of hard and soft technologies to aggregate content in a mooc like #change11: “Because it is not easy, this will be demotivating and inefficient.”

Wow, that scares me because I think he’s right!  If learning (in a mooc or elsewhere) is not easy, it seems that a number of learners will lose motivation.  What does that say about the willingness of an individual or group to risk, to fail, to learn from failure, to get up and try again?  Does *everything* in our world have to be faster, more efficient and require less effort now?  To what degree do we actually learn from anything that is totally streamlined and easy?

I’m starting to realize that learning is a very messy process that doesn’t fit neatly into performance indicators and investment spreadsheets.  It may be too hard or too soft and it’s dirty and uncomfortable and that’s the point!  The discomfort is supposed to drive us to find a solution. I’m hungry so I seek food.  I’m cold so I seek clothing and shelter.  I don’t know how to change the widgets on my new cell phone so I Google an answer on YouTube.  I’m inundated with mooc stuff so I figure out how to sort and filter and save the gems.

Messy learning is so obviously embodied in our seven-month old puppy, who had her first experience with snow last week.  She smelled it, felt it, saw it, chased it and probably heard it move in ways that we can not do ourselves and couldn’t necessarily anticipate for her.  She ate the little snow man that I made for her (!) and came back inside soaking wet, panting and with an apparent smile on her face.  She doesn’t need other dogs or humans to ‘tell’ her about snow or to predict when snow will happen.  She doesn’t need to be coached on the purpose and objectives of snow.   She also won’t learn much from the experience if we bundle her in a coat and booties and keep her four feet on the concrete at all times.  I believe that she needs to be exposed to the snow, get into it herself and decide if it’s fun or dangerous, too cold, too wet, worth exploring or worth abandoning.  We keep her on a leash while she does this so she doesn’t run into traffic but that’s about it in terms of constraints.

I see myself as a provider of opportunities for my puppy to grow into a healthy, balanced, cooperative member of our pack.  The more options that I present to her (people, places, toys, tastes), the more she seems to develop her little brain and exert her energy towards the behaviours that have the best payoffs for her.  Coming when called gets her a treat.  So does sitting in front of the fridge, sometimes.  Barking at the neighbours gets her a spray of water in the face.

Moocs present us with many opportunites, a few rules and lots of rewards to help us become healthy, balanced learners on our own and/or in a pack.  Our facilitators were pretty clear up front when this course started: it is going to feel awkward at first.  We may struggle with technology.  The volume of information will exceed our capacity to process it all.  If you participate, please don’t bark at your neighbours.  Read some links, tweet, blog or mashup a video and you may get a treat in the form of followers, retweets, comments or access to others’ artefacts.

In other words, it snows a lot out here in mooc-land, more like a random blizzard than a light dusting.  If you don’t like getting messy, feel free to stay inside.


From → Smarter worker

  1. I like that comparison! It suits me too metaphorically and in real life: I am playing around in and with Mooc …..and haven’t had snow for 30 years, I have to play to see what I can do with it again…..
    I love the messiness, and honestly, do you always have to be motivated? Can you never be a bit lower, down, not interested, fed up, tired, constipated….? Life’s not all roses and moonshine (that’s a literal translation from a Dutch saying:-)) and since learning is part of our lives……it means that learning to deal with less motivated moments is also part of that same life……

    • Thanks, Irene! I was tempted to do a snow angel with the puppy last week but settled for footprints and photos instead. 🙂 Great point about not being motivated or ‘on’ all the time as I would call it. Learning to deal with less motivating moments is crucial. I worry for some of the youngest folks I meet who don’t have much capacity for dealing with disappointments big and small…

      • You are so right about youngsters not being able to deal with disappointments….I think we iron the sheets too often so they never see a wrinkle and don’t have to think what to do to get rid of it…….(’cause somebody else will do it for them).

        • we also buy the best threadcount that won’t chaffe and make sure the windows are sealed tight so they don’t catch a draft!

  2. Deb Mynar permalink

    brainysmurf, Your messages often hit home for me! ~IMMERSION~ To me, that is the real experience of learning. Jump in with both feet. Get wet. Maximum experience. Funny, I was just thinking to myself that I hope both #change11 and #CMC11 run again next year. I feel that each time I meet them, we will experience each other anew 🙂

    • Thanks, Deb! I have been so profoundly ‘soaked’ by my immersion in moocs over the past two years that I really find other forms of learning to be…too dry! In all senses of that word! 🙂

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