I read a recent presentation from George Siemens on Self-Organization in Online Courses (embedded below) that addressed some aspects of learning complexity (through the context of a MOOC) that intrigued me. In particular, I enjoyed several of the sources/quotes as they gave me pause to reflect on my own learning as it progresses through Change 2011 (complex), and my everyday life (more complex). However, I am quite confident there is gold in them mountains so we need to sift through the chaos to create signal, perhaps even a pattern language.
I liken this process to language itself and the alphabet. The alphabet developed to take a series of meanings and weld it to one symbol (a process more pronounced in Chinese and ancient Egyptian perhaps) that everyone might recognize and accept. The numbers are like this as well. Monetary currency is a symbol of immense complexity, at least it represents a structure of such complexity that it proves inaccessible but for only the most astute among us. Hence, money. It is paper and metal and we understand it and it gets us things. It reduces the complexity, yes, but more importantly it provides a starting point for a common process. Without it, we would be lost in theory.
The same holds for learning to some degree. We look for structure, but if none exists on sight, we combine things until some structure emerges. That structure can be represented in a single symbol, but its foundation might shift as new understanding emerges. Occasionally, there is need to ditch the symbols or invent a new one altogether as emerging learning dictates. That is a healthy and complicated process. The MOOC captures this process a bit and adheres to an open structure to allow pattern language to emerge, a shared vocabulary, a knowledge construct (however ephemeral). I digress.
Complex systems: “a set of diverse actors who dynamically interact with one another awash in a sea of feedbacks”-Miller and Page, 2007.
Feedback as friction as forces interact. A spark, a collision, waste, and occasionally a nova. A big (learning) bang. This makes me think a learner’s responsibility (among many others) is to be open to this collision of actors, agents, feedback, waste, noise, and then, ideally, pattern, understanding. The only way out is through. It is a good way to not only look at the complexity of an open learning system (MOOC), but rather at life itself. Substitute actors for countries, actors for cultures, actors for learners/teachers/professionals and you have a healthy, relatively sturdy framework for life and interaction on this earth. A good learning environment to model a course after.
Complexity: “disturbing traits of mess, of the inextricable, or disorder, of ambiguity, or uncertainty”-Morin, 2008.
The vocabulary just jumps off the page here and much of it is valid.
Disturbing- an ontological disturbance, an unknown, an uncanny sense of veering through uncharted, potentially treacherous waters. It is a good place to be as a learner, but it requires a strength and confidence that only an empowered learner could put forth. But in that disturbance, that mess, there is the friction, that meat-grinder of understanding. A rough strife of openness, interaction, collaboration, failure, and ultimately understanding. We should never dismiss the power of uncertainty in sharpening our senses and our intellect. Is it possible to know something that you knew before? If it isn’t uncertain, is it worth knowing? This is learning as curiosity and sometimes it can be quite scary.
Coherence-“an ancient urge to seek a comprehensive picture of the world- for the sake of understanding ourselves, for knowledge’s sake, and not the least for acting as best as we can” -Cordero, 2007.
That is a great quote and quite possibly the impulse for much informal and formal learning. Informally to comprehend that what is happening to us, to see through the veneer of randomness and find pattern from the complexity, to know how to subsequently act and navigate through it, to be soothed simply by knowing how something works even if we lack the power to change it. Often we seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge (anyone subjected to my endless banal history lessons will understand this), but I do believe that most learning is action oriented. To learn not only to get a job, to live in a world, to subsist, but rather for acting as best as we can. For improvement, for progress, for self-actualization. While it might seem askew that self-actualization (the development of self) can only be realized through sharing, group interaction (the development of the group), that is the power of collaboration. It is a disaggregated, emotive, functional machine of interaction. One that has to be tinkered with constantly.
Many thanks for the presentation, George.