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The nature of learning – through travel, online, face to face … and in your head

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I love to travel, not just on holiday with friends and family, but alone. Maybe this happens to you too, but I always find travel, especially new trips and destinations, are a catalyst to reflection.

All I did was take the first train out of Lewes to spend the day at the University of Birmingham.

Two things come to mind that shook my brain: St. Pancras International … and, sounding like a commercial, Virgin Trains. Although the train was quiet two people came through the train to collect rubbish … as bubbly as buttons. Four times. The toilets were spotless. All in very sharp contrast to Southern Trains out of London where everything was overflowing …

St.Pancras International reminds me of the first time I stood in Gar du Nords, Paris and looked up at destinations that included Moscow. Inside and out St.Pancras says that travel is a ‘grand adventure’.

I last studied ‘lecture style’ 31 years ago, yet I have signed up for one of these while I continue my learning journey online with the Open University through all the Master of Arts in Open and Distant Education (MA ODE) modules.

Learning is learning – it neither takes place online or off. It is in your head. It is what the brain is given a chance to do with it that counts.

I can now weigh up the two as I study in two very different ways in parallel.

There is of course ‘blended learning’ too that in a planned way mixes up both use of e-learning and face to face.

The key to successful use of elearning, offline or blended is the same of course – ‘planned’.

I met a fellow student on the MA in British First World War studies who, like me, has just completed a degree with the Open University (OU). He has a BA in History, while I now have the MA ODE. We immediately began to share notes on this ‘new’ experience of making our way to and now being physically present in the senior common room of a faculty on a traditional campus – Birmingham doesn’t look the way it sounds … (Forgive me Birmingham but you have a reputation, which isn’t for grand Victorian buildings and exciting architectural ‘super builds’).

The OU is of ourse ‘open’ to anyone – online learning makes formal learning possible for any of us who either need to stay in one place, or, by contrast, are always on the move. People who need significant flexibility in how they manage their time … and don’t want the cost in time and money to get to a place for a tutorial, seminar, lecture or conference. And people who ‘don’t get on with people’ – not just agrophobia … you know what I mean.

Nothing beats getting to know your fellow students than spending a day with them, during coffee and comfort breaks, at lunch, walking through the campus, in seminar rooms before a talk begins … and on the way home when you find part of your journey is shared. Online attempts to ‘get to know each other’ can be spurious exercises in sharing trivia about pets and holidays. Actually, you can get to know eachother by talking about what you are here to do – the subject matter.

Relationships formed online are akin to a long distance phone call, or letters to a stranger, even, oddly, having a chat with the postman or a builder … you let them into your house.

And your head?

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Twitter for e-learning?

I feel like a kazoo player in front of the Great Whirlitzer organ.

Reading ‘Twitter for Dummies’ doesn’t help, but I am trying to master LinkedIn, WordPress and Facebook at the same time. Which strikes me as trying to learn to play the violin, oboe and piano at the same time as having to conduct.

Thus far I manage the following:

  • Compose blog in WordPress.
  • Tweet.
  • If it is OU related add the appropriate #.
  • May also add ^JV

I’ve been doing this for the ‘Made in Britain’ series with Evan Davies which starts on Monday with Business School input.

My handle in Twitter is JJ27VV. Someone had my name. This has stuck for a few years.

As I get my head around the OUBS website and this content is refreshed I and others authorised/enabled to do so, will Tweet pertinent content too.

Adding to the noise? Or or value? A must have … because everyone else is doing it?

I may Tweet things I find of interest, adding the hashtag or not. I am just as likely to ‘Share’ by sending the content to one of several WordPress blogs first.

There IS an educational value to this constant chattering, and that is to listen in and join conversations on something that is current.

So this week it might be conversations on m-learning. (A suffix that is likely to become more quickly redundant than e-learning).

I wish I had the details to quote the person properly but in an interview a few weeks ago someone said ‘research into a subject until the narrative reveals itself’.

I feel I have reached a stage where conversations that made no sense to me a year ago, now make sense and I can pick out threads, create my own narrative from it, even place the ‘level’ of conversation somewhere along that person’s learning journey so that I can compare it to mine.

This in turn, again, there is a person to quote … makes learning with this technology more akin to direct, face-to-face conversations that in the past would only be picked up by physically being on campus, in a student common room, lecture hall or tutor group.

The ‘democratization’ of education that I dismissed a year ago occurs because more often or not, the undergraduate gets to listen in and even join in discussion in the ‘senior common room,’ as it were.

This in turn picks up John Seely Brown’s idea of learning through participation, starting on the periphery whoever you are and through listening and engagement slowly being enrolled and brought into the group.

Off hand I can think of my brother who develop his passion for all things mechanical by watching his grandfather, then hanging around competent hobbyist mechanics, or pestering people who were servicing Mum’s car. He read the magazine, watch the TV shows, ‘listen in’ to the conversations and goings on around go-kart race tracks. He never had a lesson but is more than capable of rebuilding any car under the sun today.

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