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Posted by on Jan 6, 2010

Hamlet as (e)learner

Note: Please forgive my dubious parallel here with Hamlet and elearning. I firmly believe that Shakespeare, first and foremost, is a philosopher and Hamlet is his philosophical vehicle. Why not apply it to elearning and education? Answer: Because I can.

A good deal of the literature revolving around Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) involve their power to further decentralize institutional authority in terms of learning and in turn augment the role/cult of the individual.

This is a valid approach as technology, at least the technology appropriated by learners recently, has indeed strengthened the notion of the individual as the focus of learning. It has empowered them to be active learners, aggressively filtering information into knowledge. The institution has suffered a bit from this process and a certain leveling has occurred as institutions scramble to reassemble themselves in this new paradigm. Since the best way out is through, we are living through a time of seismic educational shifts in the power structure of higher education.

However, this institutional vs. individual, centralization vs. decentralization argument does not tackle the core question of the responsibility for optimal learning. At its base, is not all learning individual? Doesn’t the institution exist to facilitate individual learning on a large group, collaborative scale? Doesn’t learning predominantly occur outside institutions as it stands (formal vs. informal learning, discourse vs. skilling)? If individuals are indeed the focus of learning, what cultural and philosophical models exist to guide them (a la Socrates and Plato)?

Hamlet, as the individual in English literature, provides a few clues. Hamlet existed onto himself; his grief, torment were all his own and they consumed him. Yet, there was indeed method to his madness and his logical structure provides a sturdy foundation for personal learning.

Hamlet investigating the infinite space of smooth chaos. The patterns on the floor provide structure, but the rapid movement of people, sounds, and confetti offers creative possibility.

Claudius: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
Hamlet: Not so my lord; I am too much i’ the sun.

Modern students exposed to endless information streams learn through trial and error the nature of filtering, of overall discernment. The modern information structure, the stuff of learning, is this bright sun that Hamlet seeks to evade. It is what students grapple with daily. It is not darkness and confusion; it is painful clarity but on a grand scale. Discernment is a pair of sunglasses, a parasol, a cap. Discernment is filtering and PLEs are manifestations of student discernment. As such, it is particularly well suited to assessment as it is an expression both of learning and a tool used for learning. It is the logical structure on which all learning is based, Step A in a learning syllogism.

Polonius:Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

The notion of reflection and privacy is critical to the discussion of elearning. Reflective writing should indeed be private, shared only with instructors (or perhaps fellow peer groups), exposed only to a select few deeply embedded in the learning process. It is a philosophically valid approach; one is testing assumptions and conclusions on a live, yet controlled, audience. Students learn to walk before they run. So, we as learners take each man’s censure but reserve our judgment (for the learning process itself). We listen to all, apply our filters judiciously and voice to few. It is a controlled trust-inducing learning structure perfectly suited to reflective blogs with security mechanisms. Each layer of permission adds another angle for discovery and feedback; it is a mirror with many refractions.

So, it is important that PLEs have this mechanism for listening to all (as many incoming streams, RSS feeds, Twitter streams, or information sources as needed) yet restricting access to a few (via login).

Everyone is included in your learning constructs, your classification of the information into learning chunks. One learns as quickly by removing (discerning) as by adding (constructive).

Hamlet investigating his private, secure space. Hamlet recognizing his latent ethnography as both participant and observer.

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2 Comments

  1. Great post Michael. Perhaps it is Hamlet’s Ghost that needs to remind students of their own power and responsibility for directing their lives. Responsibility for optimal learning lies with students and if PLE/PLN shift that locus of control to the student and encourage them to take responsibility for their own understanding, then you may take any liberties with Shakespeare!

    • Thanks for that! I agree with everything you say here, most certainly. I do agree especially that optimal learning is directed by an empowered learner with a clear sense of purpose and ownership. I do think PLEs go a long way in providing that as it does shift the locus of control (as you say) to the student and away from any rigid constraints applied at the institutional level.

      I think there are real opportunities here for institutions as well (specifically higher education, secondary schools) to reinvigorate their purpose and impact, but I think it will take some real soul-searching to determine how they identify themselves and what it means to be a member of an institution. Relationships online are so fluid, often transient, but there is still a lot of opportunity there for institutions to play to their strengths (scope, clusters, community, authority (of subject matter)).

      Thanks for this reply!

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