Friday, October 8, 2010

Learning Across the Table

When I was in middle school, I didn’t understand math. My dad would come home late at night from the office to face hours of tutoring at least a few days a week. He used to say,“If you don’t get Pre-Algebra, you won’t get Algebra. If you don’t get Algebra, you won’t get Calculus. Algebra is in just about everything, so if you don't get it…you’re pretty much done for.”
I remember spending many hours talking over the dinner table where we both exchanged real world visual stories of Algebra in everyday life that really put it all in context for me. To this day I wish I had created a video archive of those stories, conversations and interactions to have at my fingertips for instant recall when I tried to explain it to my son or when at times I needed to use Algebra in everyday life. My reality was shaped by those deep social interactions with my Dad.

During the past decade, the education market has experienced unprecedented adoption of eLearning technologies. We are just beginning to experience an extraordinary adventure in discovering new social models in education, i.e., the way we create and organize thoughts and actions relative to our daily course work and learning experiences inside and outside the traditional institutional boundaries.

In his book Cognitive Surplus, author and professor of New Media at NYU, Clay Shirky, stated,“Prior to the internet , the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table.” In reflecting on my adolescent ad hoc algebra tutoring experience, not only did I recall meaningful conversations that gave me a wider perspective, but also a table full of magazines, books and newspaper articles—all useful material that enabled me to put the onerous subject of Algebra into a contemporary and highly personalized context. Imagine, if you will, new social learning tools and technologies that enable an unlimited number of table conversations, each with their own subject specific conversations borne by the collective intellectual contributions from an unlimited number of contributors and reinforced by supplemental primary source information to enrich understanding.

In an internet dominant eLearning environment, most of our unstructured learning experiences in the future will come from engaging in networks where subject specific, like-minded people can collaborate, share knowledge and co-create intellectual capital. These guided learning experiences, while unstructured, cannot be classified as informal learning experiences. To the contrary, they are formal learning forums and exchanges that create context, relevancy, dimension and depth of understanding that form a collective IQ.

With the proliferation of social learning tools, our individual understanding is no longer as important as all that we can access in our learning networks.

Together, we are better.