How Virtual Learning Fails by Driving Conformity [Pt 4]

I’m sharing a series of articles that explore aspects of Virtual Learning and the ways that we build learning experiences over time. Having started with a view of what Virtual Learning is (and is not), we moved on to explore ways that it can be effective: today is the flip side of that coin, and we will explore ways that it can fail. Not a definitive list, but specifically by driving conformity. In common with the rest of these pieces, i will try to include Tips and related articles.

TIDY when creativity needs mess: an easy way to fail is to ask people to explore and be curious, but then to reward tidiness or reprimand mess. This is done when we assess or measure completeness, when understanding may be a work in progress and incomplete, or when we mistake conformity for success. Another expression of this is when learning leads to a divergence of answers and ideas, many of which we may not understand or agree with ourselves.

TIP: remember that not everyone learns like you, and thankfully not everyone learns the same things as you. Consider how to tolerate and welcome the mess, and plan in advance for how you will respond to divergence.

FAILS to cater for how we really learn: it’s possible to deliver an experience without actually catering for how people really learn or build capability. For example we can feed people content without catering for sense making, or giving structure and time to find the meaning, or we can fail to spread the learning out over enough time to allow for processing and application. Or a hundred other ways to fail: we can mistake ‘telling’ for learning, or ‘assessment’ for learning, when in fact what both of them may give us is simply a repetition that we ask for.

TIP: always ask yourself the question of whether you are looking for conformity, or true capability, and look to where your learning provides space for Demonstration, Exploration, and Reflection, as well as ensuring that your Assessment criteria are mapped to capability.

RELATED: for learning nerds, the work on Learning Methodology, in particular the sections on ‘Exploration’ and ‘Reflection’ may be of interest.

MOVES location but retains control. As i shared in an earlier piece in this series, the move to Virtual Learning provides a chance to create experiences, not simply events. But if we retain too much control, we can kill or exclude curiosity, and damped down creativity. Remember that space relates to control: some spaces (such as formal technologies that the Organisation owns) are inherently less trusted or free than social ones.

TIP: Remember that relinquishing control may need to be an explicit act, not an assumption.

PERPETUATES existing knowledge (when we seek something new): through our own understanding and enthusiasm, we may end up creating spaces for curiosity, but perpetuating existing knowledge within them. This can happen through the resources we curate, the ways we lead or moderate discussion, and the ways we assess learning. Existing knowledge is our foundation, but remember that a learning experience is something that allows every learner to lay down their own steps, and write their own story.

TIP: Look at your learning design and consider where the space sits for ‘sense making’, and to hear the stories that are written.

ABSTRACT of our everyday reality: it’s possible for us to create engaging learning experiences, but lack the space, support, or opportunity to reground that learning back into our everyday reality. As i have said earlier, one of the strength of Virtual Learning is that it can sit WITHIN our everyday reality, but location is not the whole picture: we must also design the activity and opportunity to carry learning into action, and from action back into a loop of review, sense making, and reflection.

TIP: use the notion of ‘Learning’, ‘Rehearsal’, and ‘Performance’ spaces to ensure that you have space that is differentiated for all three.

Related: see this piece that explores the three spaces, and how they are separated.

MONO CULTURAL and silences voices of difference: once again, this can be experienced within good cultures, but which rely on a model of learning that drives us to conform. It can be a feature of collaborative and co-creative spaces that they can drive us to conform to a dominant narrative of the group, so we ‘think’ differently, but ‘speak’ in consensus. It’s a feature of all co-created narratives that we have to exclude something of the individual, but if we drive too far in this direction we silence voices of difference, or of valuable dissent.

TIP: use active exercises to encourage people to explore and articulate, alternative views and voices, to explore a range of positions, and specifically to work as a group to articulate and understand the foundations of those differences.

Related: this piece explores how voices are silent, or silenced.

CONFORMS to established narratives: similar to the perpetuating of existing knowledge, we can fail if our learning conforms to the existing stories that we tell, and narratives of the Organisation. These can limit the space in which we get to play, not through explicit rules, but through the forces of social judgement and consequence.

TIP: use activities that encourage people to look outside the Organisation, into alternative companies or spaces, to see how their narratives are different, and then explore how your own Organisation reacts to alternative stories.

These aspects of failure are not all dramatic or absolute, but may rather reflect an opportunity that is wasted or squandered. If we wish for people to be curious and to explore, to truly learn, then we must understand the antibodies and behaviours that may prevent them from truly doing so.

Throughout this week i will share a short, practical series, exploring the context of Virtual Learning, intending to highlight some of the underlying design approaches, and providing some practical tips and techniques.

In the next piece we will explore meta-cognition and sense making.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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1 Response to How Virtual Learning Fails by Driving Conformity [Pt 4]

  1. Pingback: ‘Meta-Cognition’ and ‘Sense Making’: Virtual Learning Design [Pt 5] | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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