Friday, April 10, 2015

Sometimes I just want to learn on my own

Maybe I'm weird but when I'm at a concert and the singer says "come on everyone clap your hands!" or "everyone get up and dance" I instinctively dig in my heels and refuse. I simply don't like being told to enjoy myself or being forced to participate. If I want to I will but I don't like being ordered to.

The same applies sometimes to learning. Of course learning is largely a social process where we test ideas, discuss, reformulate, copy, adapt and create but there are times when we simply want to be alone. A colleague of mine, who is a major MOOC enthusiast, confessed to being tired of contrived group activities and enjoyed being able to work through the material at her own pace and on her own terms. The effort of joining a group and dealing with often wildly diverse expectations and skills is sometimes greater than the payback and when you have many other commitments you need to be able to focus on course activities exactly when it suits you best. For people with good study skills and the ability to focus, participation can simply get in the way of learning.

Webinars are another arena where many people prefer to remain passive. I'm currently involved in a project that is examining how to make webinars more interactive and engaging instead of the traditional lecture format. There are many methods for stimulating participation but I just wonder if everyone really wants to get involved. I have arranged, moderated and participated in many webinars in recent years and usually enjoy contributing to the chat session and taking an active part. However sometimes I attend a webinar that is only of marginal interest, just in case something interesting crops up. Here I choose to sit right at the "back of the class" and listen with one ear whilst checking e-mails and doing other work. It's like interesting background music and even if I miss a lot I often focus when something catches my attention. Maybe I only really listen for 5 minutes or so but those short sound bites can be very rewarding. I have learnt something from a session that I actually didn't have time for but thanks to having it in the background I picked up a little pearl of wisdom. Does that mean I'm a poor participant? Has the webinar failed because I didn't get up and dance?

Maybe we have to consider that participants on courses or in webinars all have different levels of commitment, from passive background listeners to fully active learners. We all move up and down this sliding scale and we all need to spend sometime sitting at the side.


  1. Interesting post - I often like to learn by myself - although I work better if there is some background noise. I can engage with the webinar or keynote without actually participating. Often the engagement occurs in my mind or notes as I make connections, see possible ways to implement ideas or even get inspired.

  2. I really like this approach. It is not just pedagogical thing -> self directed learning. It is even almost a political attitude. Kind of liberalism where learners are free to choose if they want to connect, interact... This will certainly contribute to the attractiveness of webinars and other formats.

  3. I think we need to accept more that some people need their own space sometimes and are maybe not as engaged as we may like. But being passive doesn't mean that you don't learn something from the experience. We need to offer different levels of engagement.

  4. A very interestin post, Creelman. I usually think of learning in a "pendulum way" meaning going in and out of social settings. Let's take an example from learning to sing in a choir. I am quite a mediocre singer and I just sing for joy. When it comes to a new song represented as a musical score I might firs listen to how it should be performed by skilled musicians but after that I strongly prefer to work, manipulate, "chew" the music score by myself until I feel confident. After that it is necessary to join the choir and make real music together. I think this is how I see learning - social and individual generally.