A reflection about my perceptions of learning in the collective

This week’s topic of learning in the collective definitely challenged my assumptions and thinking; I struggled with the distinction of a collective from a community, mostly in part because I value community so much, actively seeking it in learning environments.  At the same time, I value being able to “follow” conversations on twitter, subscribe to YouTube channels, catch up on newsfeeds, and other collectives that have been afforded through technology, without the “commitment” of a community.  I can participate and learn and then move on when it no longer interests me or I’ve accomplished what I wanted.  Sometimes in our class twitter chats, I find myself “sitting” back and observing and processing the conversations around me; sometimes it leads me to look up something else online and then return to the chat feed.  Sometimes I write notes to myself about something that comes up for me that I want to write about in my blog, and other days I’m engaging in each tweet and side chat, sharing my own thoughts and reflection.  Thomas and Brown’s (2011) discussion about inquiry and collective indwelling definitely resonated for me, and I also thought this week about the learning environments that I have cultivated in my work.  I realized that the irony is that I tend to create space for collectives without even realizing.  I guess these are just other clues that maybe I am more receptive to the idea of learning in the collective without realizing it!   

Cherie (@cherbabes) shared a different definition of collective learning, that it is “group conversations around questions that matter.”  She also shared some doubts about whether learning in the collective would be appropriate with younger learners; I responded that the fluid nature of the collective could mean that the process is not scripted, not necessarily that there wasn’t a specific overarching goal or standard driving the inquiry.  One of her concerns, was that for younger students who are still learning to read or type, learning in the collective through technology could present challenges in the classroom.  However, I think discussions around those “questions that matter” could still be facilitated, as Cherie’s own blogs proves; and I think as educators, we need to model what type of inquiry can take place within the structured boundaries or focus of a particular collective.

Matt (@stimeeducator) focused on evaluation in his blog post and shared an interesting article on evaluation of learning in a collective.  Because schools are focused on standards and learning objectives, it makes sense that if we facilitate collective learning in the classroom, we need to figure out how we can demonstrate progress and growth and evaluate students.  One thing we often do in non-profit organizations, is to write narratives about our participants to demonstrate those “intangibles” that show how an individual has been impacted by our programs over time.  I commented that I believe teachers have tools they currently use that can help to capture some of that collective learning process – portfolios, journals, etc.  However, I did acknowledge that grading according to a rubric can move students away from the organic nature of a collective, but teachers still have the added benefit of being able to observe students in the physical classroom.  If educators can figure out how to design their own tools and methods for measuring and tracking learning in the collective, they might be more likely to incorporate such learning environments into their classrooms.

Chris (@tchrcoffeedrnkr) shared similar skepticism about the distinction of a collective versus a community.  I agreed that I found myself bringing or seeking a sense of community to various collectives, but when I began to think about group members who participate as they wish or who seem to observe from afar, I realized THAT was what made a collective significantly different from a community.  While I had my expectation of how members should participate, the reality is, that was not an expectation when members joined and it certainly wasn’t being tracked and each member could engage only as they saw fit.  Perhaps that would impact the overall quality and strength of the collective, but I think in a larger more public collective, there are enough participants engaging in the discussion that it doesn’t seem stagnant or unbalanced.  I think about students who often sit in silence during group discussions and imagine it must be torturous when they are completed engaged in the dialogue by listening and I (or a teacher) call on them to “share.”  Maybe I need to adjust my definition or sense of what “community” means, since it’s entirely possible that I might be in a collective but thinking that I’m in a community!


Thomas, D. & Brown, J.S.  (2011).  A new culture of learning:  Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change [Kindle book].  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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