I was talking to Sam earlier about writing and he asked me what i’d learnt from writing a blog about learning so far.
Good question to think about over the morning coffee.
I write a lot, it’s a hazard of my job, but always with a purpose; proposals, reports, white papers, emails. Lot’s of time at the keyboard, but always with a purpose and usually related to work.
For me, the blog is a chance to step back from that rush and to dedicate some time to thinking and learning and to learn some new things myself. I put aside an hour a day, but usually only actually write for half of that. The rest is time for reading, researching for articles or making notes on ideas that are not yet fully baked. I have a folder of drafts that range from titles (‘Why having a beard is good – the importance of difference in learning’ – as yet, just a title waiting to be written) through to half written articles (‘Gender bias in learning’, which is waiting for some interviews to take place).
One of the things i’ve learnt is to search for the right voice. I wanted this blog to be a place to talk about ideas, technologies and experiences around learning. These can range from practical facts to vague ideas and, i hope, will lead to the evolution of new ideas over time. It’s intended to encompass a wide range of areas, from social networking to methodologies on assessment, through to wider thoughts about development and motivation. I didn’t want it to be the same every day, or to focus on one area. There are plenty of places to find out about technology, but i wanted this to be about technology as it relates to learning.
I wanted it to be a source of original thinking and ideas, to differentiate it from the mass of ‘commentary’ sites or mashups. And i wanted to engage in discussion with people, to stimulate debate and kick some ideas around. I wanted to have a positive tone of voice and avoid being critical. I’ve only written one thing so far that i’ve deleted; a piece where i was being overly critical of something i’d read. There’s a difference between challenging something and just being critical, and i’d moved into the latter. I have no problem with challenging weak thinking or poor quality work, but it needs to be based on critical analysis and against a background of positive contributions. I want this to be a source of original thinking, not a soap box to knock other people.
Finding this voice has been easier than i thought, but identifying specifically what i’ve learnt is harder to say. I’ve certainly been surprised at how quickly people have engaged with it. I had half a dozen emails in January from people giving me detailed feedback and thoughts, far more than i ever expected, and increasingly these have been from strangers, not just people i’ve told about it. I’ve found that people want to engage creatively as well as just reading, and am currently working on a number of joint articles which, i hope, will see the light of day on here soon.
I hope that my writing will improve as well, although i suspect this will be an ongoing process. I’m aware that we all flex our style to meet the format we are working within, so when i’m writing a proposal, i can churn that out in a specific format, but when i’m writing an email to a friend, it’s a different format. The format of these articles is evolving. Typically 5-700 words, i haven’t decided if the length is right yet and, to be honest, i’m less sure about this type of introspective article. This may be more the traditional ‘blog’ format, but even the opening sentence ‘I was talking to Sam earlier’ moved me into a kind of narrative, dialogue style that i haven’t used much. As with any piece of writing, it’s important to find a voice that then work within that style, at least, it is if you want to develop a ‘style’!
I suppose the biggest thing i’ve learnt (although in retrospect, it should have been the easiest thing) is about time management. Part of my reasons for writing were to actively invest an hour a day in this activity, specifically by stopping doing other things that were just ‘filling my time’, but not actually productive or constructive. I’ve learnt that it was remarkably easy to do that. In itself, that’s given me the confidence to start tackling other things, in terms of how i work and the work i do.
One of the themes i come back to again and again when designing learning is ‘what footsteps do people take out of the learning with them’? It’s easy to understand something conceptually, but what will you do differently tomorrow from what you did today? If you want to change something, you have to start by changing yourself, and in that at least, i feel i’ve learnt something.
Where it goes next, i am less sure, although the collaborative aspect of writing is exciting and i’ve had one conversation about running a learning conference as well, which would be great (although whole new challenge in it’s own right).
It’s the oldest cliche that learning is a journey, but you know, it really is, and sometimes it’s enough just to feel that you are travelling it, watching the views change and making that journey in good company.