Inversions and new learning spaces

The Classroom

Continuing my line of thought from earlier this week, I got caught up in thinking about social media as an online “learning space.” As such, I looked into the creation of learning spaces and how they affect us as learners. To me, an online classroom is as much of a “space” as a physical one, and that includes WebCT, a wiki, or even a conversation held via replies over Twitter. All of these things create an environment for potential learning, that has its own mores and accepted behavioral structure, and also potential effects for how and what we will be able to learn there.

A few months ago, the Educause Review (man, I love Educause) was on the creation of learning spaces, and Malcolm Brown wrote a wonderful piece that codified the ideas from each article into one review he titled “Inversions.” In it, he describes the “new curriculum” that states that new learning spaces, both virtual and physical, are inverting the traditional classroom and education structure, and allowing students to become their own knowledge creators and “active planners of their own learning.”

This is how I view my own activity on social media like Twitter, Delicious and even Facebook occasionally. By allowing me a learning space that enables not only an active and social learning experience, but also one that blends our own learning with the learning of others as inextricable from the system in which we are involved. That is, because social media mores and accepted behaviors as they pertain to learning are almost always under development (given the shifting nature of the specific tools and young age of social media as a “learning space”), we are also engaging in something that could be considered enactivist, or (hope you’re at a university somewhere) co-emergent.

Social media tools as learning spaces allow not only the inversion of the classroom structure by almost requiring their participants to take responsibility for their learning, but in doing so, they include themselves in a variety of theoretical frameworks of contemporary learning theory. In my opinion, in order to continue to properly justify the utility of social media as education tools and “learning spaces,” especially as they grow in popularity as well as infamy, the framework for understanding our learning within them needs to begin to be developed.

There’s a lot here, I know. Too much. But I’ll leave you with this quote from Brown’s Inversions. He uses the architect’s concept of a “desire path” to illuminate the challenges of effectively creating and sustaining a new learning space. He says, “People create desire paths not just through the built environment; they also create desire paths in their “practices” environment. Faculty and students will do the same in learning spaces: make a beeline back to the old, familiar practices unless they are assisted in undertaking and sustaining the transition from the old practices to the new ones.” It is on us to support the transition.


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