We live in an era where the traditional large associations that contribute to world knowledge still hold powerful positions in our society, but we are also living in an era where like minds can gather, think openly together, and contribute new ideas and theories to old bodies of knowledge. These is what I like to call the Distributed Entrepreneur Associations.
Let me show you what I mean.
My work demands that I am constantly learning. I do not have the time travel to libraries, or visit forums, or even sometimes get on the phone to handle conference calls that could keep me informed. I turn to social networks to look at the granular and the broad categories of thought that get added to each day. This is how I keep up.
In the search for social networks that keep me informed about the macro and the micro world, I am looking for two things:
1. Social networks that keep me linked to friends, and who introduce me to once lost friends who have always been out there, but who are under the radar.
2. Social networks that consist of people I’ve never met, who might appreciate my thinking and who might inform me of things that I need to know.
I take those two networks, dip into them, and come out with the news and the ideas that are transacted in those circles. I then blog about them, like I am doing today. That process of blogging is all about finding new audiences and adding to my formal and informal social networks, feeding things back to them, and contributing to their large and granular knowledge processes.
In this way, I work like an entrepreneur. In other words, I am being creative and I am constantly taking from an old trough of knowledge, and adding something new to it. I am doing this because new processes lead to new products, and new products lead to success and performance enhancement for everyone else.
A Parallel to Blended Learning
There’s lots of new discussion these days about blended learning — taking a real time classroom environment, endowing it with online tools and tech resources, and giving students this same kind of exposure of the new with the old, with a global reach.
Part of blended learning is about using these two social network classifications in a way that efficiently and communally expands a student’s knowledge base, while helping others participating in this network expand theirs.
In this way, school is less like completing a checklist of requirements (though it certainly educates kids on a track of much-needed skills), and more like sparking a global conversation that helps students find tools they need to solve local community problems and find real-life explanations of circumstances usually found in textbooks or on chalkboards.
Notice there is a subtle difference here to the late traditional school model? School was always about going into a building, repetitively, for years, until you were classified as a problem solver or a doer, who could finally get to work on a project. Now it can be the place where that work happens, and you are doer all the time.
City Prep is a new organization that is building systems to allow students to do this.
But What Does Blended Learning Mean?
Researchers and teachers are starting to come to a comprehensive idea about what it means to do blended learning, or e-learning, which blends real time personal instruction with online and electronic information tools.
I think that it looks something like the below. Take some of the available tools online for an example. This is not the very all and be all of blended learning, but it shows you how research and study online can be different in a blended learning environment.
Apps and Platforms That Extend Learning Beyond the One Person Research Mode
The schools I attended pretty much approached studying and research in one way. You got an assignment — maybe a broad list of general topics — and you hoofed it to the library or to the internet and you found information. You read that information, processed it yourself, and then you wrote a paper about it, created a presentation, or put together a model that you could present to the professor or to the class.
Every time I did this, I felt that the exercise was about 80% completing the process and about 20% learning. And to be honest, sending in a paper was not as dramatically gratifying as a lot of my peers in high school, college and graduate school made it seem. It just didn’t seem rich enough.
You can check out an application like Diigo, which is a social network for research and study. It uses bookmarks, kind of like a Delicious. You can create social bookmarks and organize a number of things that you are trying to learn by using “tags.” Your social network begins to aggregate the people who follow those same tags.
You can visit the education pages for a website like Knol, which allows for “units of knowledge,” kind of like blogs, to open up a dialogue between large or small groups of people.
You can use an iPad and walk around the classroom, or even outside of the school, taking notes as you interact with the community.
Once you have these kinds of resources, your learning model changes immediately. Teacher gives student a classroom assignment, and then unleashes them on the web, to interact with their social network circles, to pursue their tags, and to find the very latest information that can help them aggregate data, find a solution and build a premise for learning.
It’s no longer about opening up a book, digesting the contents, spitting it back out to prove memorization has worked. IT’s about processing, articulating to others, and retrieving information.
Remember, it takes a completely different skill to retrieve information from a person than it does from a book. In a blended learning environment, students are active. They are pulling data through interaction and active seeking after people with knowledge, who have taken the time to construct these paradigms through social network interaction.
The format, you can quickly see, has changed. Knowledge exists everywhere, and is as ubiquitous as the technology that delivers it.
In an environment like this, we do not have to concern ourselves with simply making information available to a student in a book. We have to use the several people in our networks to clarify and legitimize the information, then we have to work together to figure out how best to present it.
It means that we are together our very own associations of learning. We are like-minded and democratic expressions of community, one person at a time.