Friday, 16 December 2011

The learning cycle and the power of asynchronous learning activities

When grappling with the concept of learning I often talk about the importance of reflection.  However, another key concept is asynchronicity (I'm not entirely sure that's a word).  I've reflected on this previously within Asynchronous = Time and Space Learning.  In that post I talked about how learning is more likely to occur when given time and space.  I wanted to tease this out a bit more in relation to learning itself.


Learning is hard, really hard.  It's a skill just to recognise when it's happening and cultivate it effectively.  Often, the pain associated with it is viewed negatively.  But the pain needs to gritted out because this is an important stage of the process.  Marilyn Taylor characterised learning as a continuous process of disorientation, exploration, reorientation and equilibrium (see p53 of this).  It's a cycle and the desired state is multiple loops through the cycle.  For every stage the flexibility, time and space offered by asynchronous learning activities is preferable to a purely synchronous involvement from formal education.  Of course, for synchronous learning events you always have the time afterwards to reflect.  But if you have a formal learning experience where everything is synchronous, the asynchronous times the learner has alone are not facilitated, not supported and without structured communication or collaboration when they need it the most.  You may be thinking "so what" but this is the point of formal education - to structure, facilitate and, in some senses, manufacture the learning.  When you structure in asynchronous learning activities through the various guises of learning technology tools and carefully facilitate such activities the stages of Taylor's cycle are given the best chance of being rowed through by the learner.  It's easy for learners to capsize in the first time they encourage the disorientation stage and they'll keep doing this every time they encounter it.  Pretty soon they shy away from the mental states associated with the learning cycle.  


I think this has contributed to the a vast mass of humans who don't really know how to learn properly.  They grew up on a diet of synchronous learning and the difficult process of moving through the learning cycle wasn't supported in any way.  The tragedy is they carry it through their adult life and have trouble becoming lifelong learners thus inhibiting their potential.  I am still honing my learning skills but I keep trying and am able to support the process through various social media tool (like this one).  BTW, learning overall is great.  The "ah ha" moments are worth the pain.  It's a bit like going for a run but that metaphor can wait for another posting. 


A couple of asterisks to this post.  There is, of course, a lot of literature out there on learning theories and models.  For this post, I chose one that describe a process I recognise.  Also, the statement: "there are vast mass of humans who don't really know how to learn" is based on anecdotal evidence.  I think I have a somewhat informed decision but would welcome insights from others on this.

5 comments:

  1. Some interesting insights in this article Tom. I particularly like the phrase 'manufacture the learning'. But I also believe that our formal synchronous education equips us badly for the sort of real learning we need to do in the workplace.

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  2. Overall I think you are right. However, it's a difficult issue to draw on specific evidence is it's a wide-ranging issue with wide-ranging criteria. You can only go on what you observe. My feeling that the most important thing formal education can do is equip us with the ability to learn and a passion for learning. This is what you need in today's world.

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  3. I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information I got gathered. Thanks to Author.
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  4. If carefully pondered- behind those big words "Synchronous" and "Asynchronous" learning it's just a simple concept of blending the two together to get the same output.Off course in order to do that the teacher needs to be competent enough to plan out her lessons well.

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  5. You're right Chills, sometimes the big words can get in the way. What's important to understand is that asynchronous learning activities allow greater time to reflect and articulate which is vital to the learning process. Used in conjunction with synchronous activities you can facilitate the learning process better than without such activities.

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