Hi universe. I’m on Medium. Here goes.
I teach because I am ALWAYS LEARNING when I am teaching.
When I am learning I FEEL ALIVE.
When I feel alive, I know I CAN CHANGE THE WORLD for the better!
A couple days ago I had a BIG conversation with Bill Mills, the Community Manager for Mozilla Science Lab, about open learning, designing for participation, online engagement, collaboration, inspiration and a bunch of other metaphysical ideas that I often create practical implementations for. During our conversation, Bill asked if I had any advice for designing learning experiences that can engage and activate the far ends of the introvert / extrovert spectrum, and I said something along the lines of “The extroverts are easy, and the introverts just need time.”
Later, I was mulling this over and thinking about how hard it is for an outgoing person such as myself to understand people who are shy or don’t participate the way I do. I was thinking about why in our online spaces we have so many people lurking and so few participating. Why don’t more people contribute?
Then I got an email from a blog I follow, and I realized I’m a lurker too. For almost two years, I’ve been lurking around a community that I quite admire. I’ve never said hello, never reached out, never participated in the challenges, or submitted a comment. I’ve not gone to any of their events. But I read what they’re talking about, and I try out their ideas. My life has, without a doubt, changed for the better since I started lurking in this particular community. And no one on Earth knows it, except for me (and you, kind of, though you don’t know what community I’m talking about or the topics they care about).
That website, and the people who participate there, have done a fine job of designing for participation. They have made me feel welcome, I feel like I know people there, I trust those people to a certain extent. I wonder what they’re up to when I haven’t been around in a while. So why don’t I say hello? Why don’t I say “Hey guys, you’re a cool community, thanks for the things you’ve put out in the world. It’s helped me,”?
Simple: I don’t feel like I need to.
I have a global community I like, the Open Community is where I choose to spend my time interacting online. I have the issues that I want to discuss in the open, and the themes of this other place I lurk around aren’t things I feel like I need to discuss. But I’m growing, I’m a better person, I support what they’re doing over there.
We can’t force people to participate, and if we really care about educating people, we shouldn’t try. We should build and design for the people who are participating, and we should be careful to ensure that the lurkers feel welcome. We should create safe spaces of learning and mentorship where even those who don’t complete the call to action still start to develop trust in us, in our products. The fact is you are always a lurker before you participate, so we should be careful not to push people away by implying that they don’t count if they aren’t like us. If we work to love our lurkers, maybe some of them will find their reason to participate.
My CLMOOC friend and colleague Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) recently wrote a blog post for the Connected Courses community that prompted us to think about the importance of “lurking” in a connected learning environment. For those of you who might not be familiar with the term within the context of online behavior, to “lurk” means to click here and there (and check out what content and commentary is being generated by a community) while remaining an observer more than a contributor to the unfolding conversation.
As Kevin aptly pointed out, people need time to process before entering into the fray of an open online discussion. Those who lurk also learn. I think the trick in emboldening our evolving open learning community (here’s to you #ccourses!) is to build a culture of guilt-free participation. People should know that is ok to dip in and out of the open online networked experience because it is a dynamic, ever unfolding phenomenon, and each perspective brings new energy…. it is indeed OPEN.
But how do we ensure that everyone feels the “vibe of open”, rather than racking up that sense of guilt that grips a busy soul when a bit of time marches on and one has not “weighed in”. We are all prone to that familiar fear of “losing momentum”, or (heaven-forbid) – the dreaded sense of failure that can so easily seep into our academically-wired mindscape. There is work to be done in “unlearning” the message from the hidden curriculum of lifelong schooling. As academics and educators we have been pummeled for years by evaluations, deadlines, tests, authorized outcomes. We have jumped through many hoops in order to become professionalized. One result of this is the easily-come-by guilt stemming from fear of not meeting prescribed expectations. “I should have blogged last week, I should have read that already, ….should’ve, could’ve, would’ve….”. But as co-learners in open connected learning, we must free ourselves of that guilt prone habit of mind.
As we collectively kick-off Connected Courses I officially declare this a guilt-free learning zone. What a relief to know that even though you might have missed a couple weeks of Connected Courses (or you never even heard about it until mid-October) you can still jump in and your participation is welcome. What a relief to know that you can customize and calibrate your “take-away” from this experience based on what matters to you. What a relief to know that even if you would rather lurk-to-learn, you are still a valued member of our community of co-learners.
I for one want everyone to know that their own learning pathway (whatever that may turn out to be) is perfect. Such is the particular affordance of truly open learning. In my experience, magical things happen when we let ourselves unlearn the criterion of institutionalized conventions. So let’s drop the guilt instinct, and just learn by self-design (interest-driven lurking is the foundation!). What “open” really means is that YOU are the true center of the learning.
In the two weeks that lead up to the September 15th launch of Connected Courses (#ccourses), a connectivst experience to help you build your own connectivist experiences (META), Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine, Jim Groom and the organizers of #ccourses will be helping you get set up with your own space in the web, so that you can start blogging, building your network and otherwise practicing openness.
In a happy coincidence, Webmaker Training is posting two under-development modules that can help you understand the ins and outs of building your online presence and beginning to tinker around with the web. The “Building an Online Presence” and “HTML Basic” modules are renewed and remixed, maker centric intros to becoming a master of the technology behind open learning. Using peer to peer methodologies (hey, this content was built together with P2PU!) and clear production oriented tasks Webmaker Training can help you learn everything you need to know to have your own space of the web.
The entire Webmaker Community is eager to #TeachTheWeb, and we’re looking forward to helping people who are starting to dabble. Have a look at the modules, and pop into our discussion forum or a community call and ask questions, share ideas and get advice.
Looking forward to making and learning with you.