Learning is messy

Show me a learning programme that does NOT follow a rigid and linear pathway through a curriculum and I will cheer LOUDLY for they are few and far between.

Education (online and offline) is crowded with tightly scaffolded experiences bounded by conventional notions of teaching, learning and measuring performance; where learners are forced to move sequentially through compartments of instruction and expert knowledge (videos, resources, managed discussion boards) towards a quiz, test or similar summative assessment.

Spot the fallacy: ‘I have watched the learning videos, read and absorbed the course materials and passed the test – therefore I have learnt.’

Within this context – these spaces designed with traditional instructivism in mind and in which academic policy sometimes discourages pedagogical experimentation – forward thinking practitioners are heroically integrating the affordances of networked learning, unbundling their practice into informal public spaces and thinking emergently in public: Role modelling the networked messiness of real learning. For learning as it is enacted is messy and complex.

My learning space is steeped in my ideology, my values, and my experience. I step into it with a unique perspective (my perspective). I listen, I observe, I empathise, I struggle, I disagree. I capture thoughts and ideas and explore these in dialogue with others. I am challenged. I feel uncomfortable. I reflect. I articulate. I move beyond the artificial boundaries imposed (because there are always boundaries). I explore, within the relative porosity of my informal networks, sense-make and co-create ideas. This process further shapes my ideology, my values and my experience.

And so it continues in multiple directions, through and with others, around and around in circles, backwards and forwards in a tangle of complexity, in a tangle of messiness.

It is not a process that occurs within neatly compartmentalised boxes, within the walls of one organisation, along a neatly defined pathway, it is greater than that. It requires the expansive canvas of my networks, of my lived experience and a sprinkling of serendipity.

I cannot easily classify this messy process, nor should I have to. It is emergent and therein lies the challenge. How do we design learning that honours our lived experience? How do we provide just enough structure without restraining the possibilities inherent in the messiness? How do we provide viable alternatives to the straightjacket of linearity? And to this end how do we experiment with our pedagogy within the restraints of traditional academic policy?

I am thinking aloud. I am full of questions and whilst I have the inklings of some ideas and some responses, I would actually prefer to curate other practitioner’s thoughts on this and begin to collate some case studies.

Are you experimenting with learning design that enables messiness? Where are you experimenting? What is your pedagogy? Get in touch and let’s start a conversation. There is much to learn.


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