Home » Posts tagged 'john seely brown'

Tag Archives: john seely brown


The Oxbridge tutorial is open to all online in a MOOC from FutureLearn

Fig.1 The intimate qualities of the Oxbridge tutorial are now experience in massive open online courses

I have been studying full-time for a year – an MA in a traditional university with lectures, book lists and online completing eight MOOCs and even trying to start a module with the OU.

My goal hasn’t been simply to gain yet further qualifications in subjects I love, but to experience first hand the variety of approaches to learning that exist.

Back to the classroom while learning online.

The MOOCs I’ve done on FutureLearn are highly ‘connected’ – I believe the way huge threaded discussions are managed and can be managed successfully recreates what some consider to be the Holy Grail of learning in HE, the ‘Oxbridge tutorial’ where a subject expert sits one to one or at most one to three to discuss a topic, set each other straight, and then return every week, or twice a week to do the same.

MOOCS completed or underway include:

Start Writing Fiction

How to read a mind

Climate Change

World War One: Trauma and Memory

World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

World War One: Paris 1919

How to succeed at: writing applications

Experience and research shows that even in a MOOC with 25,000 starters, in a threaded discussion that has 3000 posts, that groups of learners form – typically a mix of experts, keen learners with some knowledge and complete beginners. These groups can last the duration of a two month course and spill out into other platforms and meeting up face to face. John Seely Brown called this a couple of decades ago ‘learning from the periphery’, where new, keen learners gravitate from the edges to the centre. It is learning vicariously, as we do in our day to day lives. But it is more intimate than a community of practice: two or three people learning together in real-time or in a quasi-synchronous platform is like an Oxbridge tutorial. I had the privilege of attending these as an undergraduate and my father in law is one of these career Oxford fellows who taught in this way for several decades and has gone to great lengths to explain the unique qualities of the method, how and why it works. It now works online. You don’t have to be communicating directly with the lead academics – though you may do in a MOOC, but you can gravitate, with ease, if you like to the many experts who are in and contributing to these forums. I can cite examples of both types: the extraordinary care and fluency of the PhD contributors to WW1: Aviation for example, or in the massive (25,000 participants) threads of Start Writing Fiction.

This is ‘transitional education.’ Not a revolution, just building on the best of what has gone before and gradually taking others along with it.

I like that after 700 years of keeping the approach to themselves that the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ as a way to learn is, online at least, open to anyone.


What are MOOCs going to do for learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1.  Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0. The way it was, the way it is, the way it will be.  J F Vernon (2013)

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and to results and improve.

MOOCs will be new for a decade.

E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book or book list online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for ‘ground based’ educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.

What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to World War One fighter planes: we are seeing hints of the jets to come: we are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week FutureLearn MOOC ‘World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age‘. Innovation takes time, though not necessarily violent conflict.

Innovations go through recognisable phases.

E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of ‘early adoption’ – rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name? MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.

Academics need to resist hiding away in their silos and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved – that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn (neuroscience and physcology) and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their accredited status of ‘doctor’ and ‘professor’ through e-learning and when we can call them all ‘digital scholars’ – then we’ll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.

Think evolution not revolution

Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics – thirty to fifty years? Whilst many embrace change, most do not. They chose academia as a lifestyle and fear closer, open scrutiny and engagement. Learning is now experiencing what retail has gone through over the last decade. They are exhilarating as well as scary times.

Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and ‘interactivities’, collaboration and connection.

Gilly Salmon coined the term ‘e-tivities’: sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online – doing stuff on your own, with other fellow students and with the academics. Academics who like to observe from their ivory towers are failing in a duty as educators, and are missing the opportunity to have their own thinking challenged and refreshed.

Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in ‘communities of practice’ most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.

Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this ‘connectivity’; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the ‘quality’ of the participants in that they need to have both basic ‘digital literacy’ skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection. ‘Connectivity’ is often associated with the academic George Siemens and is the new kid on the ‘learning theories’ block.

Embrace the pace of change

A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: ‘head work’ is different to’ handiwork’ – academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and ‘traditional’ learning most certainly have their place.

Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning. 

John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a ‘learning guru’ is passionate about the idea of ‘learning from the periphery’ – this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity. It is evidence of the ‘democratisation’ of learning.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Learning at the speed of desire

Fig.1. My whirlwind of postgraduate learning. (c) J F Vernon (2013)

For a brief period I have been a registered student at three universities: Oxford Brookes (FSLT14), the Open University (MAODE H818)  and the University of Birmingham (MA First World War). This is what my mind needs to feel I am ‘in the flow’. Live TV does it too – behind the camera, anything can go wrong, or go right.

The first two online and the latter campus based. My motives for joining FLST14 were to push my learning towards education in Higher Education and applied learning in business – as a practitioner I’ve been making the transition from production and learning services to the education side for a good decade – seeking to be part of the learning process rather than creating resources at a distance. First Steps into Learning and Teaching 2014 (FSLT14) came along where I have had a brief window and for an opportunity to revisit, understand and apply this process of reflection it worked where previous efforts to crack this have failed. I’m also, in some respects, testing from a professional perspective different learning platforms and approaches.

I’ve done three MOOCs in as many years – some huge, one so closely managed it was like a formal MBA module. I’ve done and nearly completed a FutureLearn MOOC too (WebSciences) and enjoyed taking part in another FutureLearn MOOC on Hamlet (University of Birmingham) as an observer. I can see myself doing a couple of these a year: they replace an inclination of buying hefty, coffee-table non-fiction books on a thing in the belief that ownership alone will result in the transmission of knowledge from the page to my head. For the last decade I’ve applied the same principle to eBooks which hasn’t worked either. I need to be reading the things for a reason – increasingly this is because, voluntairly, I need to respond with a book review, intelligent intercourse in a seminar or in an essay that will be assessed and graded.

It is interesting to be back in class: lectures and reading lists with essays to write, but the comparison I make for FSLT14 is with other online modules.

Where, for me FSLT14 worked so well as that it clearly knows what it can and cannot deliver. It is a Bonsai tree, not the entire forest. It might even be a cherry-tree haphazardly trained along the back wall of the garage if I am to continue the metaphor. This is a blessing. More is definitely less.

I’ve been on modules that say it is 14 hours a week but it quickly becomes apparent that it is more like 22 hours – sometimes they excuse this by having ‘Optional’ activities, but these are ambitiously long, even indulgent reading lists set up us students to feel we may be failing or inadequate if we can’t or don’t take an interest in these. I am not a strategic learner; I expect those responsible for the learning design to do this. If you go to the trouble of putting a book or paper it is because you expect students to read it – rather than, what I feel the academic is doing – showing off how much they have read. Research shows that activities that are marked ‘optional’ are not done. I find, where I do these any effort lands on deaf ears – no one else could give a monkey’s … That said, I’ve also just completed an OU heavy-weight H818: The Networked Practitioner.

Here the commitment and presence of the Chair was palpable and of enormous value. As students it is encouraging to us to have those who designed a course to show maintain their presence.

On the one hand you have the course content, designed and posted online, on a railway track learning journey that is suitably detailed, but never overwhelming. You can battle on alone, or join in. With fellow students this is straight forward, it is simply a matter of sticking your head over the garden fence on a regular basis and returning the compliment of someone commenting or providing feedback to do the same to them … while being mindful as you become one of the experts to look after those who may feel on the edge of things. How, when and if the tutor is a presence depends on if they go by their contracted hours, or are indulgent enough as a vocational educator to be around. I feel a tutor should host their group. Over four years, and seven modules I’ve had seven tutors, of course, though seen and probably remarked on the actions, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses of at least another 14 tutors. Some what the French call ‘animateurs’ – they galvanise their group; others are withdrawn, very academic and correct – but brilliant in their own way. Others become, for want of a phrase ‘one of the lads’. I’m less certain that this works or is appropriate – not in primary, secondary or tertiary education. And so on. The worse are the ones who simply are not there. Who seem to have less idea what is going on than their students and as you’d expect a student who is struggling to do start to winge and make excuses. I’ve never had to do it so I ought to be more circumspect; I am sure that it can only be reasonable to expect tutors to work their contracted hours. My view of education and being an educator is more Socratic. I expect their presence.

With seven significant online postgraduate modules under my belt this is of course not the typical picture: some are heavily based on reading, others on activities with assessments patterns to suit. Mentioning the ‘traditional’ course I am doing, actually 1000 pages to read per week is clearly excessive isn’t it? You give up lie-ins and TV, and other hobbies …  (By the way, I share regularly in the OU Student Blog platform thoughts and hopes with someone who has now completed 21 postgraduate modules with the Open University. I think this equates to four degrees!!)

Fig. 1. Muir Woods. One visit wasn’t enough. I spent three days in here.

I describe my inability to see the wood for the trees as I was too busy enjoying being a woodsman.

I could not stand back and reflect on what had taken place – not during the course, though perhaps a few months later. I return to this horticultural metaphor as I found with FSLT14 that I could fit it in, no more, no less. I could see it for what it was and admired its focus. During FSLT14 I feel I have become fluent in the language of education. It has been the tipping point, the moment, where like learning a new language you feel the fog has cleared.

This has been possible because of its modesty and humanity – there is an intimacy in the connectedness that I haven’t found elsewhere – perhaps in specialist interest groups in LinkedIn and Google+

Fig.2. Dr. Zbigiew Pelczynski taking his grandson for a walk

Our feedback session felt like an Oxbridge Tutorial; I’ve had the privilege of learning through that system as an undergraduate but took it for granted thinking that it was how all university’s could do things. There is significant value in a few people being able to talk around a topic and have enough time to take in what people were saying. And of course, the global reach of this is such a revealing way to consider your own position and practice. My insight on the Oxbridge tutorial system – I was an undergraduate thirty years ago, has been embellished by marriage to the daughter of a prominent Oxford tutor and personality, Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski. I interviewed him about the tutorial system and shared this online. Ever since I’ve pondered how Web 2.0 could be used to give tens of millions the Oxbridge tutorial experience – some institutions are doing this already. The Webscience MOOC I did, though hosted by two University of Southampton professors, was populated, on rotation I think, by four PhD students each week. This meant, as we have come to expect using communications platforms, that more often or not, a reply came to whatever you posted in a few hours, or sooner – rather than days later or not at all. As an online student you start to recognise the pattern a tutor has – never on a weekday, never at the weekend, only on a Tuesday. That’s their plan, but it feels like a gross misappropriation of powers they ought not to have … to effectively ignore you until they can be bothered. All should and could be receiving updated posts on an RSS feed.

Fig.3. Something I drew.

Setting out to become a ‘Master’ of anything at all – ‘Open and Distance Education’ has received my attention, though four years ago I was interviewed to take an MA in Fine Art.

True! It has taken this extra year, a couple of modules beyond graduating with the MA, to feel that I can describe myself as a ‘Master’. It’ll be another six years before I can, some theorists think, a ‘Scholar’. But I, like John Seely Brown, do not believe in this ‘10,000 hours’ thing – I’ve read the original research paper on musicians learning violin at the Berlin Conservatoire. Playing a musical instrument does not readily translate to anything else or everything else, especially where most violinists start at the age of 4. Which is when Picasso picked up a paint brush under the tutelage of his father, an art teacher from the local university. What were your learning at age 4 that you have developed into an expertise ten or twenty years later? Picasso, in his words, could paint like Rubens by the time he was 14. And we know about Mozart. There’s value in starting young and sticking with it: swimming anyone? Singing too.

Web 2.0 allows ‘learning at the speed of need’, to prefer learning over TV or the gym, over friends and relationships, walking the dog and the garden.

I have for the last five months been working on two MA degrees in parallel – not something I would have considered even three years ago. Not only do I think it is doable, I think, with the right course, you can contain it to the 14 hours a week each requires. The magic, the synergy, the insights that come from this greater intensity is, going back to it, what Oxford and Cambridge expect when they ‘hot house’ students through their short, eight week terms. And how many hours are they expected to put in? At the Oxford Internet institute I was advised that the MA students would be doing 44+ hours a week. Intensity works once you are up to speed. For this means getting myself into ‘the flow’ as Mihaly Csikzentmihayli puts it.

Reflection on a decade of e-learning


Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.

H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)

I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning  tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.

A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.

I  feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.

In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.

It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.

I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.


Reflections of a post-post graduate – the no-man’s land before a PhD


Fig. 1. How the eBrain looks – everything’s tagged. (Lost property, London Underground)

I’m delighted to say the Open University’s student blog upgrade is an enhancement. The improvements are seamless without any loss of what we had before … a ‘bulletin-board-cum-blog-thingey’.

Become an OU student to see this for yourself.

I will get Internet access in my ‘office’ – a studio down the road, away from home and family, DIY, the garden … but not the dog. She’s allowed.

All that it requires from me is something I lack – self-discipline NOT to get distracted by email, which includes updated postings from forums and the likes of Linkedin (let alone a gaggle of family members on Facebook). AOL is the worst as I innocently go to check email and find 20 minutes later I am still clicking through the inviting gobbets of news and sensation that is offered.

I had hoped to behave like the smoker trying to give up – I’ll only smoke other people’s fags. A very, very, very long time ago … I can honestly say I have never smoked a cigarette since I turned 20.

Back to the Internet. Like Television.

Or diet. We are living in an age where self-control is vital. Having not had a TV for several months I was eventually pushed to buy one. Courtesy of Which? we now have a TV so Smart that it probably tells my brother in South Africa who is watching what …. we can Skype sofa to sofa. I just wonder if our antics could be recorded and posted on YouTube? Not my doing but any of the teenagers with the wherewithal just hit a record button somewhere.

In all this hi-tech I DO have a tool I’d recommend to anyone.

I’ve invested in an hour-glass. In runs for 30 minutes. While that sand is running all I may do is read and take notes. This might be an eBook, or a printed book, either way they are on a bookstand. I take notes, fountain pen to lined paper. What could be easier? The left hand may highlight or bookmark and turn a page, while the right writes?

This works as the filtering process of the knowledge that I am reading and want to retain needs to go through several steps in any case. The handwritten notes will be reduced again as I go through, typing up the ideas that have some resonance for me.

My current task has been ‘How Europe went to war in 1914’ by Christopher Clark.

I doubt my second thorough read will be the last. From notes I will start posting blogs and going into related social platforms to share and develop thoughts and in so doing be corrected while firming up my own views. I need this social interaction, to join the discussion if not the debate.

Meanwhile I will revisit Martin Weller‘s book on Digital Scholarship.

However swift the age of the Internet may be he suggests it will still take a person ten years to achieve the ‘scholar’ level … whereas John Seely Brown recently reckoned this was now down to five years. i.e. through undergraduate and postgraduate levels and popping out the other end with a PhD in five years.

DIdn’t an 18 year old who was home schooled just get called to the Bar?

She graduated with a law degree while contemporaries did A’ Levels and finished High School and then did a year of pupilage I suppose.

The intellectual ‘have’s’ of the future will, by one means of another, achieve degree status at this age. The Internet permits it.

School is far, far, far, far, far too lax.

It tends to the median if not the mediocre. Long ago it found a way to process kids as a genderless year group instead of treading each student as an individual … so let them skip a year, let them stay back a year … allow them to expand and push subjects that appeal to them.

All you need to know about blogging that you can’t be bothered to research for yourself because you’re too busy blogging …

Fig. 1. Passion at work: Blogging practices of knowledge workers (2009)
by Lilia Efimova
Doctoral thesis published by Novay.

I’ve come to this thesis for a number of reasons:

I’ve been blogging since September 1999, sometimes obsessively so, such as the couple of Blogathons I instigated in 2002 and 2004 where participants had to post 1000 words every hour on the hour for 24 hours – words were meant to be written during the previous 60 minutes. Three of us made it to the end.

I’ve posted regularly since 1999, with several years never missing a day – that’s the diary writer in me. We created ‘circles’ in Diaryland a decade before Google used the term for those with 100, then 500, then 1000 posts.

I know of one blogger from that era who is still there, plugging away ‘Invisibledon’. 

I’ve written on a theme, typically creative writing, parenting, swim coaching and e-learning.

And added to this typed up entries from diaries. There are some 2 million words ‘out there’.

My credentials therefore are as a participant, as a player.

Perhaps I am too close to the hubbub to see what is going on?

I blog as a means:

  • To learn
  • To collate
  • To share
  • To test and practice my knowledge (or lack of … )

Fig. 2 It helps that I’ve kept a diary since I was 13. Blogging since 1999. On WordPress since 2007.

I’m used to gathering my thoughts at the end of the day or logging them as I go along. And learnt that a few succinct sentences is often enough to bring back the day. My first blog was NOT assembled in ‘reverse chronological order’ – I posted to a set of 32 themes. It works better that way.

  • One diary covers my gap year working in the Alps.
  • Another diary covers a few weeks of an exchange trip to France.
  • A third covers a year with the School of Communications Arts.

I personally value blogging to form a  writer’s journal and as a student’s journal, particularly over the last three years during which time I have successfully completed the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE).

  • I read everything I can on blogging. 
  • I’ve just read this engaging PhD thesis by Lilia Efimova. 
  • She is Russian, works in the Netherlands and writes perfect English.

Her supervisors were:

Robert-Jan Simons
Robert de Hoog

My interest is twofold – blogging and methodology, as I am doing a postgraduate module on research (H809 : Practice-based research in educational technology)

The methods used (Efimova, 2008. p. 1):

  • Use of unconventional research methods
  • Cross boundaries
  • Define and defend choices

Blogging can support a variety of knowledge worked activities to:

  • articulate and organise thoughts
  • make contact with people interested in the same topics (like minds)
  • grow relations with other bloggers
  • work on a publication


  • personal
  • crossing boundaries passions and paid work, private and public.

I read ‘Uses of Blogs’ for the second time. Edited by Dr Axel Bruns and Joanna Jacobs. I had a OU Library copy so bought another through Amazon. A book on blogging that only exists in print. I far prefer eBooks. I’ve posted on that elsewhere. (Versatility, notes and highlights in one place, search and having as Lt. Col Sean Brady described it a  ‘university in my pocket’).

My take on blogging – who does it, is based on Jakob Nielsen’s 2001.

I can’t find figures that suggest that this has changed in the general population, though research with undergraduates might give a split of 5/35/60. The problem is, what do you define as a blog? And can your really say that someone who posts once a year, or once a quarter is blogging at all?

Fig. 3 For everyone 1 person who blogs, some 90 don’t and the other 9 are half-hearted about it. (based on stats from Nielsen, 2006).

According to Nielsen (2006) most online communities show a ratio of creation, commenting and simply reading of 1% – 9% – 90%. With blogs, the rule is more like 95% – 5% – 0.1%.


I agree with Efimova that we learn from the edge. We come into everything as an outsider.  She cites ‘legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and moving from being an outside in a specific knowledge community to a more active position. I would John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. (2007)  Awareness, as a starting point of this process, comes through exposure to the ideas of others and lurking at the periphery (observing without active participation), learning about professional language and social norms. Efimova cites (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003). I would add Cox (1999).

As the thesis more reason to blog, or reason not to are offered. Efimova also commits to looking at blogging in the workplace, amongst Knowledge Workers. Efimova (x.p )  In 2000 we used the term ‘infomediaries’  people who dealt in information and knowledge on behalf of others.

Worker use of blogs to

  • develop ideas and relationships
  • inspire conversations
  • work on specific tasks

Early adopters experimenting with the medium. Here I think a full consideration of the diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2005) would be beneficial too. Efimova offers some ideas from Gartner, though without offering the self-explanatory chart that I offer below.

Fig. 4 . Gartner mid-2005 projection (Fenn & Linden, 2005)

I know of all three company types. Whilst a very few at A can be hugely successful, the safest approach is to come in at C – as Virgin do, time and time again, letting others make mistakes. On the other hand, for example in e-learning, if you aren’t willing to behave like a Type A you may find your clients start speaking to companies down the road. Ditto advertising and social media.

Efimova talks of the  ‘peak of inflated expectations’ and the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Fig. 5 Evaluation criteria for this research

This is where I need to put in a good deal more scrutiny. Whilst I don’t question the validity of the approach, I do wonder if a more ‘scientific’ approach would have produced something more revealing that observation of 34 work related blogs – which is how this thesis plays out. We wander into the questionable arena of informal interviewing and participant observation as central way to generate ‘ethnographic data’.  This smacks of anthropology to me. Of social anthropology. But perhaps such qualitative techniques are as valid, and may be the only way to study subject if you are going to take the challenge of researching it at all.

The best answer I have read and give myself now when asked, ‘what is a blog?’ is to say ‘electronic paper’. That is how broad it has become, in 2001-2002 a handful of us in Diaryland set out and shared our standards:

  • A minimum of 250 words
  • Post every day for a least a year.
  • Fact not fiction (unless expressed as otherwise)

At the time it was rare to post images and you wouldn’t and couldn’t include video. Today a blog might be a stream of images or streamed video. It can be multiple users too, posting on the hour for a year in a team of six if they wish, which can be the way Andrew Sullivan (2013) posts to ‘The Daily Dish’ which gets a million views a month.

Efimova uses a technique called ‘triangulation’ to help validate her research – this is the use of multiple sources and modes of evidence to make findings stronger, by showing and agreement of independent measures, or by exploring and explaining findings (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Schwartz-Shea, 2006).

i.e. Triangulation by study – studying blogging practices from three perspectives using a variety of methods.

She also used ‘data triangulation’ – including in the analysis different types of data ( e.g. text and statistics), data sources and data collection methods. So including non-elicited data (Pargman, 2000) from public sources (e.g. weblog text) as well as recorded interviews.

I can’t fault Efimova (2008) introduction to Blogging

‘Since their early days, weblogs have been conceptualised as personal thinking spaces: as an outboard brain (Doctorow, 2002), a personal filing cabinet (Pollard, 2003a) or a research notebook (Halvais, 2006). In fact, the first academic publication on blogging (Mortensen & Walker, 2002) discusses uses of blogging in a research context, particularly in relation to developing ideas, and the weblog of its first author, Torrill Motensen, has a telling title: “Thinking with my fingers”.  I soon discovered that a weblog worked well that way, but also that this “thinking in public” provided an opportunity to show how ideas, my own and those of other bloggers, develop over time.

Pacquet 2002 discussed the use of blogging in research.

Fig. 6 Number of weblog posts per month

Blog analytics are mystifying. We count the undefined.

What is a blog?

What is a blog post?

A group of us asked these questions in 2000 then got on with it. We had our guidelines to post at least 1000 words every day, with no post less than 250 words. We did this as others flooded online and in the race to have 100 or 500 posts would put up a random string of letters and post every few minutes. As it become feasible and easy to post images was a picture worth a thousand words?

Was it still a ‘blog’ in our sense of the definition if it had no explanation behind it. And in my case, by storing by category not date in defiance of conventions could what I do still be called blogging?

And if used to archive diary entries was I now an archivist?

Looking at the fall-off in posts in Efimova’s blog I also see that when things get more interesting, when there is more to say – we post less. From an earlier generation I stopped keeping a diary when my fiance and I moved in together.

Had I found what I was looking for?

Around this time, 1998, Ellen Levy featured in the Washing Post for keeping a ‘blog’ (not called this) for a year – writing up business meetings and how attended, even adding photos. She struggled to post when she was ill. Over time knowing when we fall ill can start to explain why. And if, as we can now do, our daily life is captured automatically, is that a blog? To what degree must the blogger select, frame, write and edit what they have to say rather than a device, like your own CCTV camera hanging around your neck does it for you?

Fig. 7 Using a Weblog to store information  (Efimova 2008. p. 58)

To understand the mind of the blogger should we look at the reasons why people in the past have kept a diary? Or is keeping such a record, a journal simply one strand to something that has become extraordinarily multifarious? The 17th century diaries of Lady Anne Clifford and Samuel Pepys, the 20th century diaries of Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin, the audio-cassettes of British MP Tony Benn …

Surely to say you want to study blogging in 2013 is akin to saying you want to study printed matter in the 17th century. That the field is too diverse. In a way we have gone from the mechanical era of print, to the organic era of the blog. Even to study one facet of blogging, such as the business or corporate blog,  would be like studying the ecology of a meadow in order to understand the interplay between different plants and creatures.

Efimova speaks of ‘sense-making’ (2009. p. 70)

‘As with writing, blogging is not simply formulating in words an idea already developed in one’s mind. It is also about connecting, developing and redefining half-baked ideas. When writing, I often go through the weblog archives to explore connections with what is already there. Reading and rereading what I wrote before shapes and changes what I’m about to write: I often find something unexpected or see patterns only in retrospect’.

And others some reason to blog … and just one reasons not to.

  1. Somewhere to “park” emerging insights until the moment they are needed. Efimova (2009. p 75)
  2. Doesn’t require much effort
  3. Somewhere to park ideas
  4. Reading and engaging with others to become aware of issues and themes
  5. Topics accumulate and connections grew and things become clearer.
  6. A set of sense-making practices
  7. “Everyday grounded theory” Efimova (2009. p. 75)
  8. Connecting multiple fragments
  9. Getting into the writing flow
  10. Strengthened by readers’ feedback
  11. A channel for distribution
  12. Publication additional motivation to document emergent ideas
  13. A legitimate place to share thinking in progress
  14. -ve when the need is to be extremely selective and focused. Efimova (2009. p. 80)
  15. To collect in one place the fragmented bits relevant to my thinking Efimova (2009. 3.5.4)
  16. Clusters of conversations
  17. Conversations unfolding
  18. A personal space and a community space simultaneously.
  19. A personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. (conversation with self. p 90?) around 4.3
  20. An example of hypertext conversation. Efimova (2009. p. 129)
  21. Weblogs provide a space that helps both to develop one’s own point of view and discuss it with others.
  22. Bloggers present their ideas to the world, readers learn from them. Efimova (2009. p. getting things done. staying in touch)

This would make a good topic for debate.

And if I post multiple entries on my personal life is this content less of a blog when it is locked, then when made available publicly or in a limited way by password?

Eight functions of corporate blogs are offered (Zerfab, 2005, Juch & Stobbe, 2005)

  1. Public Relations
  2. Internal Communications (knowledge transfer and contract negotiation)
  3. Market communications:
  4. Product blogs
  5. Service blogs
  6. Customer relationship blogs
  7. Crisis blogs
  8. CEO blogs

Fig.  9 Conversations with self. Efimova (2009)

To mean something plotting ‘conversations’ requires annotation and even animation for it to start to make sense.

It is also very difficult, even unrealistic, to isolate activity on a website from other forms of synchronous and asynchronous ‘conversation’ – the dialogue in a forum, through email, even on the phone or Skype. This is why as a metaphor I return to the notion of an ocean, in which all these digital assets, this ‘stuff’ is floating around, mixed up by the currents of search engines, micro-blogs and social networks, churned by new Apps, software and kit and made dynamic as it is remixed, shared and transformed through translation, borrowing, plagiarism or mash-ups.

In this way an ocean of content is thrown into the cloud, circulated and recycled like a virtual water-cycle.

Others will see it differently, many talk of an ecosystem, of something organic going on. Would a zoologist or ecologist make more sense of it? Or a biologist, mechanical engineer or psychologist? Some of these questions, and this eclectic mix of folk have been gathering at the University of Southampton for the last three years under the umbrella title of WebSciences – a cross-disciplinary faculty that works with computer scientists and educators, with the health sector and social sciences, with the creative industries, geographers and historians. It’s as if a mirror has been held up to our off-line world and by translation, as Alice through the Looking Glass, transformed the real and explicable into the surreal and the unexplainable.

The history of blogging at Microsoft, Groundup from 2000 to 7000 internal and external by 2005. What it brought and what was hoped for:

  • Humanizing the company.
  • Visibility to its author (Efimova 2008. p. 187)
  • Recognition as an expert
  • Communicating about product
  • Reader expectations and visibility-related risks shape the content. Efimova 2008. p. 191)

‘Employee blogging creates tensions by crossing boundaries between work that is paid for, regulated and controlled, and personal passions that enhance it, passions that could be recognised and appreciated at work, but couldn’t be easily specified in a job description.’ Efimova 2009. p. 199)

For 11 months I worked in a business school in social media.

My efforts to support those who didn’t blog to do so, or to encourage those who said they blogged to post something more often than once a quarter or a couple of times a year failed. If they had wanted to be journalists or politicians and got up on a soapbox they would have done so in their youth. They saw no individual value or purpose to it so wouldn’t. As academics they have readers and their pattern of research and writing is long set. Some do, some don’t. Some will, some won’t. And it would appear that those inclined to share their point of view online are just a fraction of the online population, and just a fraction of that population who read blogs – i.e. 1% (Nielsen, 2006)

‘On the downside, blogging requires an investment of time and effort that could be a burden. Although potentially useful, work-related information in employee weblogs is highly fragmented and difficult to navigate. Although the visibility of bloggers, their work and expertise, can have many positive effects, it may also result in undesired communications overhead, time spent dealing with high reader expectations or with taking care of negative effects.’ Efimova, 2009. p. 200)

  • Lack of control of the company’s message
  • Dependence on personalities
  • Challenged hierarchies and communication flows

Efimova (2009. p. 201)

  • To illicit passion for knowledge (Kaiser et al., 2007)
  • Change the image of the company in the eyes of others (Kelleher & Miller, 2006)

It’s easy to blog, so more should do it.

  • low-threshold creation of entries
  • a flexible and personally meaningful way to organise and maintain them
  • opportunities to retrieve, reuse and analyse blog content
  • opportunities to engage with others.
  • fitted in while working on something else
  • providing a way to keep abreast of others ideas
  • capturing ones’ own emergent insights
  • clarifying matters for a public
  • over time ideas on a topic accumulate and connections between them become clearer.
  • feedback from readers turns blogging into a sense-making practice
  • eventually an ideas is ‘ripe’ and ready to become part of a specific task.

Efimova (2009. p. 208)

The reality, if Nielsen (2006) has got it right, is that only a tiny fraction of any population want to go to the trouble or has the inclination to post something. Better that those with something to say and a voice to say it do so that everyone is obliged to express themselves online. I liken it to cooking on holiday. I disagree with obliging everyone to cook on a rota, for some it isn’t a chore, it’s a joy and if they do it well encourage them. With the proviso that others make their contribution in other ways – laying on the entertainment, doing the drinks … it’s what makes us human?

Conditions for a weblog ecosystem Efimova (2009. p. 232):

  • Scale and reach
  • Readership
  • Visibility
  • Feedback
  • Lowering thresholds – a tool for everyday tasks
  • Making it accessible
  • Crossing boundaries

Ecosystem suggests that blogs exist in something organic – they do, the Web is fluid, shifting and expanding. What value would there be in studying blogs in a way that is somehow ‘scientific’ as if blogging were a natural, evolving feature? Like trees in a jungle?

What other metaphors might contribute to such understanding and how, if at all, can they be justified in research?

Could I look at the Web as a water cycle, as oceans with clouds, as currents and climate? Or is this shoe-horning systems we understand in part to explain one that we do not? Is it presuming too much to look for a natural rather than a machine model for the Web and where blogs fit in?


Plant CPSquare : communities of practice in the blogosphere.


Bruns, A. (2006). What’s next for blogging? In A. Bruns, A & J.Jacobs, J (eds) Uses of Blogs (pp. 247-254). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Brown, J, & Duguid, P 1991, ‘Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation’, Organization Science, 1, p. 40, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Cox, R, McKendree, J, Tobin, R, Lee, J, & Mayes, T n.d., (1999) ‘Vicarious learning from dialogue and discourse – A controlled comparison’,Instructional Science, 27, 6, pp. 431-458, Social Sciences Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Efimova, L. (2009) Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. Novay PhD
Research Series 2009 (www.novay.nl.dissertations)

Halvais (2006) Scholarly Blogging. Moving towards the visible college. In A. Bruns, A & J.Jacobs, J (eds) Uses of Blogs (pp. 117-126). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Kaiser, S, Muller-Seitz, G, Lopes, M, & Cunha, M n.d., ‘Weblog-technology as a trigger to elicit passion for knowledge’, Organization, 14, 3, pp. 391-412, Social Sciences Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Kelleher, T, & Miller, B 2006, ‘Organizational Blogs and the Human Voice: Relational Strategies and Relational Outcomes’, Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 2, pp. 395-414, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Miles, M.B. & Huberman, M.A.  (1994) Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Mortensen, T & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool. In A. Morrison (ed.)., Researching ICTs in Context. InterMedia report 3/2002 (pp. 249-278). Oslo.

Nielsen. J. (2006) Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. (Accessed 16 February 2013 http://www.nngroup.com/articles/participation-inequality/ )

Nonnecke, B. & Preece, J. (2003). Silent participants: Getting to know lurkers better. In C.Lueg & D. Fisher (Eds.), From Usenet to CoWebs: Interacting with Social Information Spaces. Springer Verlag.

Pargman, D. (2000). Method and ethics. In Code beges community: On social and technical aspects of managing a virtual community. Department of Communications Studies, The Tema Institute, Linkoping University, Sweden.

Pollard, (2003) Blogging in Business – The Weblog as filing cabinet. How to save the world, 3 Mart 2003.

Seely-Brown, J.S and Duguid, P. (1991) ‘Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation’, Organizational Science, 2 (1): 40-57

Brown, J.S.  (2007) October 2007 webcast: (accessed 16 Feb 2013 http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1063&s=31 )

Schwartz-Shea, P. (2006). Judging quality. Evaluative criteria and epistemic communities. In D. Yanow & P. Schwartz-Shea (Eds.), Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn (pp. 89-113). M.E. Sharpe.

Sullivan, A (2013) The Daily Dish (accessed 16 February 2013 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/jan/03/daily-beast-andrew-sullivan-daily-dish )

von Hippel, E. (1986). Lead users: A source of novel product concepts. Management Science, 32 (791), 805.

Weller, M (2011) The Digital Scholar : How technology is transforming scholarly practice.

Zerfaβ, A 2005, ‘Assembling a Localization Kit’, Multilingual Computing & Technology, 16, 7, pp. 60-11, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 February 2013.

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, both externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster's Second ...

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster’s Second Life? (Photo credit: Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

Fig.1.  Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, but externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

If human remembering is the weak link, then perhaps memory needs to move from the brain to some external storage and retrieval device. By drawing or writing, we capture an event, an emotion, a thought. Looking at our own drawings or reading our own words aids us in remembering, making it possible for us to recall more, and do so more accurately’. Mayer-Schönberger (2009. p. 28)

Does a weak or false link matter?

If an author looking for material for a teen love story would it matter a jot as the parameters for the story would need to be met by fiction, not fact. Can we so easily make-up stories based on fact, if we are encumbered by the actuality?

Being selective though there are times when an absolute record may be of value – a surgeon operating so that multiple aspects of the experience can be shared, at a distance with colleagues and students.

An artist in their studio, working in a niche material and using rare craft skills not simply preserving their actions, but doing so in a way where many followers get as close as they can be to sitting at his shoulder? And of value to the protagonist, to identify mistakes where improvements could be made.

On the other hand, the act of creating your own version of events, of reflecting afterwards, adds value, adds originality and perspective, like the director’s voice talking through a movie they have made.

The real-time record lacks the context of the person’s thoughts.

These ‘inner-workings’ are surely of greater value to prosperity?

In addition, to personally make the effort to externalise events by taking notes, by creating a drawing or chart, or table … by translating the essence of the experience for others into a form we recognise we etch it into our memory. It benefits from the phsyiological attribution, something that will be lost if the ‘memory’ is gathered automatically.

It matters that we select as we go along, listening to someone talk, but only seeing them or caught by a conversation on another table as we are served, or watching the traffic and thinking of a cycle ride we had a child.

Memory creation is not as literal as a digital snap … and when we hear, as any professional sound recordist will attest, we filter out a huge amount of noise.

Mayer-Schönberger (2011) takes us through a brief history of how we externalise our thinking and touches on painting. ‘Painting is perhaps the oldest form of establishing external memory. It creates an image of a scene or an event, whether real or envisioned, and thus enables remembering’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 29)

If I want a record of events, translated through my mind’s eye, then perhaps a drawing or painting is a better way to do it than to write about it? Then again, a ballad might do the job. Either are preferable to a poor ‘absolute’ digital recording of what took place from the odd-perspective of my chest (or the chest of another) via a cigarette-packet sized gadget hanging around my neck.

A record of what I read and watched might suffice.

Why complicate it by creating a personal digital log of all the above where so much will in future simply require a link – so not some grabs of a text book as I read it, but the eBook, not parts of a film that catch my attention, but the film in its entirety. This supposes a record that is even greater than that experienced, but one which may be of greater value to others so that they can ‘live’ a life alongside, rather than stepping into the shoes of someone else. This may be a more valid and useful way for someone to pick through the digitised memory too – as a video editor or director, at arms length.

Fig.2. John Seely Brown speaking at the Open University in 2007

‘The emphasis, though, is on mixing and recombining, on creating a bricolage as the former head of famed Xerox PARC John Seely Brown has suggested, in which the value is derived from the (re) combination of its parts, not necessarily from the parts themselves’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 61)

Activity Theory in sports

Responsibility comes up and that is what I come across even before people start to look at the tools – eyes glaze over on the discovery that there are many tools and lengthy guidelines and they’ll conclude that it is potentially not worth the effort for them or the client … in certain contexts – sports have strict guidelines relating to accessibility, as do places of education … workplace education is another matter and I sometimes wonder if people just don’t think there could possibly be anyone in their workforce who could have a disability that would prevent them using the internet … otherwise how could they do their job. A number of charities have paid for an insightful video that introduces the viewer to a dozen or so people with disabilities in the workplace to understand where assistance and support comes from. We should remember that many have been on top of this themselves, often being early adopters of the technology for the benefits it brings to them – they don’t need help necessarily, but could probably show you a few things if you need to personalise a browser.

I’ve had an inkling that Engestrom has something interesting to say and I’ve misquoted him and convinced people who it means x, when it actually means y with no one wanting to correct me. As I indicated, I wanted to crack this once and for all, especially as I am in the final weeks of the MAODE.

This therefore is essential reading. Find a case history that you might be familiar with and take it from there. These are thorough case studies from beginning to end of consultancy like projects he and his team have undertaken for, amongst others, a TV production company, a court, a regional health service in Finland – so hospitals, specialist clinics and GP surgeries … courts and think and several others.

Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive & Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. Series Editor Emeritus. John Seely Brown.

This brings it up to date.

Engeström.Y (2011) Learning by expanding: ten years after (last accessed 19 Dec 20-12) http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/intro.htm

My take on it includes drawing up an activity system on a large piece of board and adding some chess pieces – to get it into my head that all these nodes are people dealing with other people even if they manifest themselves as tools or rules – someone wrote or designed them, and someone effectively holds the ‘keys. Also to remind myself of the historical point of view .. a half eaten Toblerone.

Various manifestations of this in my Blog.


If you want to share thoughts and have time to get your head around it do please get in touch. It is my hope that I can research, construct and use an Activity System for real. I just think it is a way to get inside a subject thoroughly to understand the actions that are working and those that are misfiring or getting stuck, blocked or shredded.

An inspired promotion that goes to the core of my current thinking on e-learning

Fig.1. NHS Advisory – where to go and what to do if you area bit hungover or on death’s door. My GP clinic this morning.

Learning from the periphery is the same thing – at the right level, at the appropriate time, from the centre in. John Seely Brown talks of ‘learning from the periphery’. Obvious really, whatever it is we want to understand or learn to do we come in on the fringe and through our own endeavours or the machinations of teachers, guardians and institutions, we gravitate towards the centre.

Fig.2. Gravitation to gravitas … blue through green to red degrees of worry and action.

In the above instance, you’re a bit unwell – you manage yourself, you have greater concerns you speak to someone – a pharmacist or a nurse through NHS Direct, if it is more serious, though not life freatening, you see a doctor. The last call is the A&E or 999.

Fig. 3. Damien Hirst, Dot Painting – named something pharmacalogical probably. I may or may not have seen it at the Tate Modern over Christmas.

Try this. Where are you in relation to something you want to master? Let’s say, how far are you from exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts? Your name is David Hockney – you’re there already, bang smack in the middle. You are at primary school and your mum teaches art – you’re out on the fringe. Pick a dot and try to plot your path through school, college or university and beyond to an MA in Fine Art.

And finally, inspired by the wonderfully inspired promotion for the new Macbook Pro.


Fig.4. The new Macbook Pro. http://www.apple.com/uk/macbook-pro/?cid=CDM-EU-37171&cp=em-P0013538-193105&sr=em

My interests here are mutliple:

👋 the quality, duration and substance of the video – its use for promotion or learning.

👉 what this says about learning and a career pathway – Johny Irvine is a Sunderland lad trained in the North East of England and London. His passion for design got him to the centre – the design world now spons to his tune.

👇the missing influence of Steve Jobs.

👆 I want one!

Two webinars to follow today at 12h00 and 14h00 with the Learning Skills Group


%d bloggers like this: