Thinking Outside the Crowd
Many learning professionals are currently focusing their efforts on getting people to learn socially and informally. These ideas are important and we have years of research ahead of us on the most effective ways to use these approaches to learning. But we already know that humans learn in social and informal situations. Bandura’s Observational Learning Theory is well established and one of the most obvious learning theories we have.
We shouldn’t have to do a hard sell to get people to recognize the benefits of learning this way. After 20 years of cooperative and collaborative teaching methods in schools and universities, most people are comfortable with this approach to learning.
So if we are increasingly open to learning in social and connected ways, what will our challenge be in the future? My guess is that it is not going to be to encourage everyone to learn socially, but rather to make sure that we don’t lose the ability to think and reason independently. A related desirable characteristic may also be to encourage people to not be afraid to step outside the comforts of consensus within groups or networks and to form opinions apart from the crowd.
A while back George Siemens referenced an article titled The Liberty of the Networked which questions whether technology liberates or enslaves. Another post by Blanche Maynard reflects on technology and solitude in response to William Deresievicz’s essay The End of Solitude. Some feel that we may slowly be losing the feeling of being comfortable alone with only our own thoughts, disconnected from the world. Another article questions whether too much emphasis on particular types of technology is impacting our ability for critical thinking and analysis.
Sometimes ideas develop better whe they have had time to be worked through, reflected upon, tested in intimate circles, and only then brought out into the public light. Daniel Lemire addressed the role of private thought in research in Why I Hardly Ever Blog About My Ongoing Research. The common warning in all of these articles is basically that while social media can be beneficial, we need to maintain balance in our lives and we need to set time aside to be away from networks: to cultivate real and personal relationships at a deeper, more human level that is not mediated through technology. We need to make time for reflective thought.