Learning Networks

What if we conceived learning as a network?

Your conceptual puzzles developed a wider repertoire of spatial cues to support a range of collaborative environments. Rather than perceive walls as our only tool to define space – a binary condition of either “in” or “out” – we can begin to imagine a range of spatial experiences that support and interact with each other. As we expand this thinking beyond a single room to an entire school, a particularly messy problem must be addressed which Dewey expressed in Democracy and Education:

One of the weightiest problems with which the philosophy of education has to cope is the method of keeping a proper balance between the informal and the formal, the incidental and the intentional, modes of education.

What determines this “proper balance” between informal and formal? How has the open access to information via the internet shifted this balance? While we understand the internet as a network and our physical environment may have the internet within it, but can we conceive the learning environment as a physical network itself? To start with, how many people can a physical network support?

Dunbar Number

Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist studying the pattern of social connection, has suggested the number of about 150 as the human cognitive capacity for meaningful relationships. While first developed as a working theory over 10 years ago, his theory has been picked up by technology companies, such as Facebook, looking at social networks. Please take a quick read on the Dunbar number here. As we begin to look at learning as a network, we will use 150 people as the basis of a micro-learning network.

Learning Networks

Conventional approaches to programming a school start with a clear presumption of what school is. We will take our cue from our reading of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society. In the chapter “Learning Webs” (you can read on your own as well as review the summary here) he begins with a profound starting point:

The planning of new educational institutions ought not to begin with the administrative goals of a principal or president, or with the teaching goals of a professional educator, or with the learning goals of any hypothetical class of people. It must not start with the question, ‘What should someone learn?’ but with the question, ‘What kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?‘”

You are to answer this question while using your understanding of the Dunbar number through a single diagram. (My example of understanding Dunbar number is here).  Your conceptual puzzles (games) created an open system to study various relationships and configurations, this diagram will now develop a single image, perhaps an ideal relationship / conceptual diagram for a 150 student learning network.  While conventional programming will break down this group of 150 into classrooms of approximately 30 students, how might your reading of the Dunbar number challenge this convention?  What we are after is also a very real answer to this profound question: “what kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?” So this diagram is not so much about form, as the the forms of interaction, and specifically what learners are interacting with. I suggest your take one of the four design focus areas for the Open Source Learning Academy (culinary design, communication design, product design, organizational design) and begin to investigate how a 150 student cohort might relate to this interest areas.

This is not a brief sketch, but a highly considered, conceptual development of open source learning. This graphic/collage should be printed on 12×18, as well as a blog post (use category Learning Network). In the blog post you can describe more at length, but the diagram itself should be the primary vehicle to describe this learning network.

Pin-Up Friday, DUE at 1:10pm on Monday

Post final diagram with category “Learning Networks”

Click on Portfolio, and create a new “Project,” give your network diagram a title.  Make sure the category for this project is Learning Networks.  Then inside this project (which appears exactly the same as the post editor), place a single jpg image and upload (must be less than 3mb).    Make sure to set the “Featured Image” with an image for your network diagram (for example, a cropped area).  If your project is not showing up below the Learning Networks assignment, it is either because you did not set the project category or did not set a featured image.


Is this a fancy bubble diagram?

Yes and very much no.   A bubble diagram first presumes you know what the spaces are, then the very technique assumes that spaces are enclosed, and finally it assumes they are “linked” by adjacency. If these spaces truly interact, there is not need to “link” them. Furthermore, adjacency alone does not make for social interaction, and Dewey speaks directly to this in the opening pages of Democracy and Education (specifically pgs 4-5):

Persons do not become a society by living in physical proximity…If, however, they were all cognizant of the common end and all interested in it so that they regulated their specific activity in view of it, then they would form a community…Each would have to know what the other was about and would have to have some way of keeping the other informed as to his own purpose and progress.

Rather than separation and then linking through adjacency, how can you develop an environment that is about continuity. This includes not just boundary, but the interaction of individuals and activities within the environment. More from Dewey:

The words “environment,” “medium” denote something more than surroundings which encompass an individual. They denote the specific continuity of the surroundings with his own active tendencies.