Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September Big Question Response - "To Learn Lists"

This month's Learning Circuits 'Big Question' gets to the heart of an interesting query - how do we manage "Informal Learning" and how is that reconciled with our daily tasks?

Jim Collins, in an essay in Learning Journeys, wrote, "A true learning person also has a “to-learn” list, and the items on that list carry at least as much weight in how one organizes his or her time as the to-do list."

The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question for September "To Learn Lists"
  1. If you have a to-learn list and are willing to share, and willing to share how you work with that list, that would likely be helpful information.
  2. As Knowledge Workers, work and learning are the same, so how does a to-learn list really differ from a to-do list? How are they different than undirected learning through work, blogging, conferences, etc.?
  3. Are to-learn lists really important to have? Are they as important as what Jim Collins tells us?
  4. Should they be captured? If so how?
  5. How does a to-learn list impact something like a Learning Management System in a Workplace or Educational setting?
  6. What skills, practices, behaviors do modern knowledge workers need around to-learn lists?

Part 1 - Any Lists to Share?
I think it is important to examine what exactly we might be sharing because the topic that Jim has opened up is broader than it seems. What he is describing by a "To Learn List" in fact represents several distinct things, including:
  • Discovery (or query) Lists
  • Discovery Tracking (for ad hoc exploration)
  • Personal Learning Goals
  • Personal Dynamic Curricula (to support those goals and objectives)
  • Representation within a personal learning environment (now managed with non-standard tools as the architecture is not fully agreed upon or deployed yet)
So the "To Learn Lists" themselves can take the form of:
  • Outlines
  • Mind Maps
  • Concept Maps
  • Documents (HTML, Word, text, .ppt, .xsl, MS OneNote etc.)
  • Web 2.0 (Blog notes, wiki posts, etc)
All of this generally fits within the category of Informal Learning, which is why there is a diversity of approaches.

Part 2 - How do they Differ ? In all honesty, sometimes they don't. However, 'To Do' lists generally focus attention on immediate work-related tasks, whereas the To-Learn Lists involve activities that span days, weeks or months unless of course you happen to be involved immediate ad hoc discovery efforts (and in those cases especially the To-Learn and the To-Do tasks tend to merge). The primary difference that I think is being asked about here though is one of organization.

What tends to happen when we do merge our to do tasks and learning is that we often lose track of what we've gained. The 'To-Learn List' if we view it as both the learning goals and the learning activities targeted to meet those goals can allow us to reference our newly gained knowledge later rather than letting it all slip away. (and some of us have better longer term memory than others)

Part 3 - Are these types of organizational tools important ? Yes, they most certainly are. However their effectiveness is limited by the lack of tools available to support and automate this process. The most important tool lacking is the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A PLE is a combination discovery engine, visualization tool, knowledge management tool and ideation or strategy engine. It would allow someone to build up their own personal curricula and knowledge base for future reference and would help organize and prioritize learning tasks and link them to career goals & competencies.

Part 4 - Capturing Them As of now, I capture most of mine through a combination of tools including a mind map (for the topic area visualization) and MS OneNote, to capture web research within a unified set of taxonomies. The main problem with this however is that nearly half of what I end up querying is Ad Hoc based upon the initial responses I receive from the set of topics first place on the mind map or query list. In truth, there is often no way to predict where your research will lead you, but it is important to be able to capture that 'trail' and be able to see the relationships that develop. The highest level goals can be a very simple matter though of just writing down a few bullet points.

Part 5 - LMSs They will likely never impact them at all. This is because the LMS industry has done its best for the last decade to to completely neglect all aspects of personal learning endeavors. The LMS view of the world is top down and autocratic. "To Learn Lists" are all about personal freedom through learner control of their own educational experience.

Part 6 - What skills do you need to Exploit 'to learn' lists ? Most of them you have already; the ability to think for yourself, determine your own goals, follow your own interests and organize your efforts over a period of time. It's our job in this industry to make that process easier for the learner to facilitate their growth.

* Note "Undirected Learning" I do not believe that personal direction using blogs or what have you is the same as 'undirected', undirected implies that the effort might be frivolous, and this is certainly not the case with what many people are doing.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

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