What is self-directed learning in Web 2.0 spaces?

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What is self-directed learning in Web 2.0 spaces?

In near future five fundamental transformations are predicted to happen in enterprises: the globalization of the economy; the management of work; the disaggregation of organizations; the maturation of the workforce; and the reconfiguration of employment (Snyder, 2006). It is predicted that new post-industrial economy is design-orientated, wherein information-rich small creative companies are the major drivers of innovation, working in a new flexible mode of producing cultural goods and services (Fasche, 2006). The universities must meet the needs of this new post-industrial era, prompting learners‘ creativity by offering them meaningful and authentic tasks that bind the university requirements together with personal objectives in industrial environments.

The predominant assumption in current institutional learning environments is that mainly developers are responsible for system development, while teachers and learners are in the role of users. It is not considered, however, that with the increased use of social tools in learning and work processes, the innovative processes between users and developers are negotiated at much deeper extent during social shaping of these tools (Burns & Light, 2007). Thus, learners and teachers should also obtain the competences of thinking new ways of learning environments - foreseeing the effective functionalities of social spaces in order to conduct teaching and learning processes, and managing and developing them as systems that support their personal and group learning and work objectives.

Nordgren (2006) has listed important themes that must be solved in educational institutions in order to provide the future learning environment:

  • Students owning their learning
  • Standards and curricula that guide rather than dictate
  • Constructivist teaching strategies that empower students
  • Trust and adult supervision
  • Democracy and empowerment
  • Global Workforce Competence: Making schooling relevant to the workplace.

Thus, universities should provide experiences with shared power (democracy) and responsibility, developing learners‘ self-directing competences of learning and working (Fischer, 1999) in dynamically changing and globally intertwined industrial environments, as well as in their workplaces and private lives outside the classroom, where institutionally offered ICT systems are not provided.

Web 2.0 social spaces for self-directed learning

New democratic social media tools give new freedom, increased creativity and responsibility for the learners. Modern learners inhabit various spaces: Weblogs (Blogger, Wordpress), microblogging environments (Jaiku, Twitter), social repositories of new media objects (Flickr, Youtube), social bookmarking spaces (del.icio.us), community portals (Facebook, MySpace) etc. Innovative enterprises (eg. Siemens, BBC) have already started to use social media for various purposes, for example, for liberating the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools; making use of collective intelligence of many, transforming competitiveness in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility. It has been suggested that the main change in industries will be the reorganisation of knowledge creation at horisontal (between industries and universities) and vertical (within industry) level (Beach 2003). However, learning process at the university level has ignored at great deal these new spaces, building the learning processes up in the institutionalised systems, that do not resemble authentic new social settings, what learners meet in their everyday and future work life. Main changes at new Web 2.0 social spaces, compared with institutional learning management systems, are:

  • Self-manageable tools;
  • Learning at personal spaces;
  • Continuous invasion to new spaces
  • Distributing one’s personality between spaces;
  • Community as an identity
  • Publishing artifacts to define communities and ourselves

These main changes at Web 2.0 social spaces require a considerable degree of self-direction and self-management. Self-direction refers to the increased freedom, independence, responsibility and autonomy of one’s activities. It means the capability to process information effectively, and be aware of one’s abilities and skills. In this paper we refer to the self-direction as a continuous learning process, an instructional method, where individuals take the initiative in order to diagnose their needs, set up their goals, choose the strategies and resources (Lowry, 1989). Additionally, it presumes personal efficacy of self-analysis and self-reflection, the ability to be conscious of own needs, and experiences of positioning him/herself within the learning situations. Brookfield (1994) characterises self-direction on the one hand, as a continuous exercise carried out by the learner having a control over decisions related to the learning, and on the other hand, as the ability to access and choose from available resources. Thus, we argue that the freedom to choose the most appropriate tools to mediate one’s activities, and the opportunity to create personally driven learning spaces are part of the means, prompting towards decisions that need to be handled by learners themselves.

Self and self-direction are the subjective concepts influenced by many factors. Self-directed learning activities take always place in a certain social context and cannot be separated from that social setting and other people (Brockett & Hiemstra 1991). Thus, we cannot talk about pure autonomy and absolute freedom, rather self-direction is framed by other individuals and groups (Lindeman, 1926). Furthermore, environment and surrounding culture, social spaces and communities we create and belong to, people we communicate determine our consciousness and dictate our self-directed activities.

Knowles (1975) has introduced the model of activities that form a self-direction: diagnosing needs, formulating needs, identifying resources, choosing and implementing suitable strategies and evaluating outcomes. According to the model our attempt was to provide a challenging situation for learners, which helps them to move from being dependent on instructions given by teachers, towards being independent individuals with increased learner control and personality.

New Web 2.0 distributed social spaces enable learners to simultaneously keep their personality in multiple social-, work- and learning spaces and mark their presence in different modalities. The result of keeping distributed self increases likelihood that person‘s external knowledge, artifacts, meanings, activity patterns will be noticed, modified and duplicated. Keeping distributed self keeps the person in touch with different learning-, work- and social communities. Being simultaneously the member of different communities enables to the person to bring information across the borders of the communities, enabling to constantly create new knowledge (Beach, 2003). The maintenance of distributed self has also become external – people and groups tend to feed together their distributed spaces into aggregators or weblogs in order to feel as a whole, and observe their external presence. In these spaces, where their distributed knowledge meets again, people can propagate themselves as the connectors between the communities. If they mix their distributed self with the knowledge of other community members (like in microblogging feeds of Jaiku or Twitter), these mashed feeds start triggering new ideas, providing knowledge community-wise access, and enabling to transfer knowledge to the other community spaces.

In order to be able of using social spaces effectively as learning- and work-environments, the educators should:

  • Provide learners with cognitive tools to self-manage the distributed learning spaces, and suitable activity patterns in these spaces (eg visual language to plan personal and group environments from social tools and to describe activity patterns at these spaces);
  • Enlarge learners’ conceptualization of distributed social systems as dynamic and ecologically defined spaces, in which tool properties are not fixed, but depend on (co)learners‘ objectives, preferences and commonly grounded activity patterns;
  • Develop learners‘ competences of handling socially defined tools for organizing learning and work processes;
  • Develop learners‘ competences of using feeds and mashup technologies for developing distributed learning spaces and maintaining distributed self;
  • Advance learners‘ reflection and monitoring competences in social spaces to get awareness of their own and of other learners‘ activities;
  • Support learners to stream towards conscious connectivity for transforming knowledge from one community to another in order to keep the communities and knowledge in constant development (Siemens, 2004).

Personal contracts

Quite common idea of learning contracts is that they are initially set up for students by teachers to guide the process of achieving certain teacher-defined knowledge and competences. Usually contracts are not dynamic, but are made in the beginning of the learning process and revised in the end of it.

Most of the learners have no operational language with which to analyse, reflect and evaluate learning. This language needs to be personally meaningful to mediate learning processes. Therefore, learner defined contracts are suggested. Learner defined contracts (e.g. in ePortfolios) are facilitated and periodically evaluated by other knowledgeable persons when learning proceeds. Conversational contracts presume that, as learning procedure continues the contracts should be updated according to facilitators comments.

The construction and reconstruction of learning process of each individual is unique. It should consist of:

  • sustaining self-conversation with oneself about learning
  • externalizing learning conversation for the learner
  • passing the control back to the learner as the language of awareness and skills of learning
  • this process goes in spirals, initiating learning networks

All this process is channeled into specific domains and work-settings becoming related with on-job learning.

According to Harri-Augstein and Webb (1995), the learning conversations consist of three kinds of dialogues: the process, support and referent dialogue.

  1. The process dialogue focuses on gaining awareness of individual personal learning experiences. This takes place in phases:
  • What is my purpose in learning? (purpose phase)
  • Which learning strategies do i follow? (startegy phase)
  • What is my learning outcome? (outcome phase)
  • How do i evaluate my learning outcome? Was the startegy effective? (review phase)

MA(R)4S strategy is suggested to accomplish the process dialogue:

  • Monitor yourself
  • Analyse yourself
  • Record your activities
  • Reconstruct your learning
  • Reflect how you learned
  • Review your learning from this perspective
  • Spiral it always
  1. The support dialogue enables the learner to cope with the effects of becoming aware of own learning processes.

It is mentioned that becoming aware makes performance worse initially and this scares the learners back to their routine practices. To facilitate, the anxiety and tension must be reduced and the learners need to start trusting the learning situation which gives them more freedom to experiment and take risks in trying out new strategies. This anxiety can be reduced at on-job learning conditions where peer-support, resources and space are provided.

  1. The referent dialogue aims at defining the referent as a set of criteria against which learners can begin to assess their competence.

This is the process where persons themselves need to identify appropriate criteria amongst wide range of referents. One way it is suggested to happen is of copying the standards of community members as referents.

In learning contracts the learner and the teacher would agree with a set of rules what they agree to follow, these will be negotiated and mutually agreed and then followed.

The following aspects must be addressed:

  • Why i wish to learn something, what is meaningful for me?
  • What is my strategy to achieve it? What is the order of my actions?
  • How do I know that i was successful? What worked and what did not?

Often the learners face learning opportunities in which the inconsistency between the initial strategy of the task and the effective strategy is at present. The iterative process of revising the contract takes places with the help of the instructor.

Evaluation has to take into account the learner’s subjective perspectives. Subjective judgment and objective measures must be the complementary sources of evidence for learning and strategically planned growth. The learners must record in timeline evidence of their learning, this evidence of learning must be subjectively traced by someone who guides the learner; learners must be evaluating what were their meaningful outcomes, this can be also done subjectively by tutor; in addition some objective means must be measured as well which suggest indirectly is the learner successive.

Group contracts

In most cases learning does not happen alone and part of the knowledge-building takes place by collaborative effort. This process suggests also the community to build up learning contracts in order to organise and monitor its learning.

In ordinary e-learning settings the group learning contract has been used.

In social software based e-learning systems, the groups have lose boundaries and this kind of contracts may not be applicable. One cannot ask anyone to contribute into the knowledge-building efforts we do in our blogs or other social software based learning environments in self-directed manner. The public contract would then exist as a distributed intersubjective knowledge of the community members’ learning contracts becoming visible mainly in dynamic intercourse, actions and in the dynamic changes in individual contracts.

Keeping this public unwritten contract is the basis of any functioning activity system, the distribution of labour and the establishment of norms inside the community suggests shared metacognition (and shared activity space), the formation of the ownership of shared meanings and similar intentions (shared meaning space) suggests shared cognition.

The result of community-directed learning depends in great deal of how the other people, contributing to the individual knowledge-building would perceive why, what and how the individual is aiming to do and how they act on the basis of their interpretations.