Nov 8, 2007

OpenLearn 2007 - Learner generated contexts (day 2)

The concept of learner generated contexts (LGCs), without knowing exactly what it was, directly interested me. Many discussions are about user-generated content, distributed development of OER, etc. but, although acknowledging the importance of the learning process, little focus has been on learner generated contexts. The first session after John Seely Brown's inspiring keynote speech focused on LGCs, which was defined as

"a context created by people interacting together with a common, self-defined or negotiated learning goal. The key aspect of Learner Generated Contexts is that they are generated through the enterprise of those who would previously have been consumers in a context created for them."
The emphasis on contexts is clear: learning is a social process occurring across a continuum of contexts, and learning must be “fit for context”. The generation of context is characterised as an action on tools where a user actively selects, appropriates and implements learning solutions to meet their own needs (Bakardjieva, 2005). In their paper they introduce the concept as follows;
The rapid increase in the variety and availability of resources and tools that enable people to easily create and publish their own materials as well as to access those created by others extends the capacity for learning context creation beyond teachers, academics, designers and policy makers. It also challenges our existing pedagogies. Another challenge is that of finding ways in which technology can support learners to effectively create their own learning contexts and how this contributes to sustainability of open education.
The following are key issues emerging from this concept:
  • learners as creators not consumers
    • learning: from regulation and practice towards participation
    • co-configuration, co-creation, co-design of learning
    • changing roles of educational participants or “agile intermediaries”
  • pedagogy (teaching of children), andragogy (teaching of adults), heutagogy (self-determined learning)
  • needs or questions which enable new relevant learning contexts
  • learning design allowing learners to create their own context or space
    • learner needs to participate in the control of how their environment feels and works; however,
    • the ‘preferred’ and ‘best’ learning context may not be the same: understanding purpose in learning design
    • environment as physical, social and cognitive
    • the role of narrative in learning
Changes in learning and teaching should not start with embracing new technologies. Rather it is about contextualising learning first before you support it with technology. Still, these ideas have their roots in the affordances and potentials of a range of disruptive technologies and practice; web 2.0 and participative media, mobile learning, learning design and learning space design. John Seely Brown's participative architecture (or ecosystem) was brought forward here again, but there are a lot of obstacles/issues, such as roles, expertise, knowledge, pedagogy, accreditation, power, technology, participation and democracy.

LCG glasses for curriculum, organization, and administration
An "Ecology of Resources" model of context was depicted with the following characteristics, viewed with LGC glasses;
  • Knowledge and Curriculum
    • learners have agency and are pro-active in identifying a social learning need and/or a knowledge gap;
    • learners work is published and accessible outside of institution/school and 'visitors' or experts are brought into the dialogue via physical meetings or virtual spaces;
    • learners are generating content and meta content that is recognised by others, thus validating the organisation of their contextually generated knowledge; and
    • learners can understand the relevance of their knowledge gap to the rest of their lives, beyond their current environment.
  • Resources and Administration
    • available to learners to appropriate them to meet their needs; and
    • learners can understand the functionalities and affordances of the resources that make up their environment and how these match to their recognition production gap.
  • Environment and its Organisation
    • loose frameworks and freedom of choice; and
    • learner ability to understand the elements that make up their environment in terms of multiple perspectives, such as physical, social and communication so that they can marshall them into symbiotic relationships. This activity might operate from scratch or may simply mean the tailoring of existing relationships and interactions.
  • Learning process
    • personally meaningful for the learners;
    • facilitated in some way by their environment; and
    • ever widening boundaries of dialogue with and between multiple participants across multiple locations.
World of Warcraft
John Seely Brown argued that World of Warcraft fosters the creation of Learner Generated Contexts, and other, more specific educational games might be even better appropriate for fostering the creation of LGCs. He made the notions of considering the dialectic between institution and learning, and the vocabulary which impedes considering certain environments as learning environments. I remember something I read online, about the work processes within the IT company Geek Squad in the USA. An IT manager in that company tried to implement a certain technology to make the employees collaborate better, but concluded that they already found their own platform and context for collaboration: World of Warcraft.

And what about the relation with OER?
Maybe we will will see a shift from OER to OEC (Open Educational Contexts). I see great potential in learner generated contexts and open learning designs that can be remixed by the learner. I understand the concept as something that lets the learner free to make his own learning environment, solo or in collaboration with others. This requires quite a significant change in institutional design of current educational institutions, but one that may be needed. Of course, students may create their own content, but I think that in a world where so many different opportunities for learning exist, an institution cannot define the exact learning environment or context for each learner. A learner may find his/her own, but to what extent are guidance or formal rules needed? What about tacit knowledge? I think an important issue to address in creating a LGC relates to content: how can relevancy be determined and the right resources be linked, and in that way make a learning context, consisting of many different people, types of content and media, possibly environments, etc...

I hope that this research will provide some answers on these questions, because it might be very relevant for decisions on policies about learning and learning environments within institutions.

Some links

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