Today, I read Joan Young’s edSurge article 7 Ways My Classroom Is Better Because I Connect. It provides great advice for classroom teachers about the benefits to students of their teachers’ online connections, but it included, at the general level, advice that equally applies to self-directed learners. While many of the specifics, such as participation in the Global Read Aloud Project, apply mainly to school-affiliated classrooms, the seven points themselves are totally applicable to a “classroom” of any size. Additionally, if you want to participate in one of the groups-of-young-students-only projects, you can always volunteer to be a mentor! Most schools are usually desperate for volunteers to help expand their students’ learning opportunities, and you can almost-certainly find an opportunity by just asking! (Note: Background checks are required for volunteering with children, but many schools will pay the small fee for you.)
This post will focus mainly on the ways that aspects of an effective classroom (specifically, the ones mentioned in the article above) also make you more effective as a self-directed learner. The rise of the internet has made self-directed learning more diverse and accessible than ever before, but not all of the most important online educational tools come labeled as “educational.” Most people have figured out by now that online articles, MOOCs, and overtly-educational tools like Khan Academy can be used for learning, but is your Facebook educational? Twitter? Your Blog? It certainly can be. Writing regularly is the primary goal of countless formal courses in effective communication, and a blog allows you to get feedback on your writing in the form of comments. When you’re asked to clarify something, you’re really being asked for a revision, and, even if it doesn’t need to be incorporated into the body of that specific post, you can take that comment into account when editing your next post to increase the clarity of your writing. Facebook and Twitter offer you the opportunity to network, and Joan Young does a wonderful job of itemizing why that’s important:
1. “New ways to solve problems.” Just as new means of learning, whether it’s apps and programs or more active strategies like blogging or screencasting, are useful in a classroom setting, they can be useful to you as an independent learner, and you can find new ways to learn by interacting with other learners regularly. Your choice of social media tools (I’d suggest using both Twitter and LinkedIn) can open doors to new means of learning just as surely as any teacher-directed classroom can.
2. “I learn from the collective wisdom of the crowd.” The author says it herself, learning from your own and others’ successes and mistakes is an important part of any learning process. By engaging with the internet communities surrounding your area of interest, you don’t have to make as many of the necessary mistakes for yourself, which can save time and prevent burnout.
3. “A growth mindset.” By presenting your learning process and sharing resources online, you, too, could gain experience presenting at conferences, teaching others (if that’s what you’re into), and taking advantage of other speakers’ presentations at these events to enable yourself to better learn and grow.
4. “My students impact the world through collaborative projects and global connections.” The author’s students are able to connect globally because she has first gone through the process of connecting herself. While organizing projects is her goal as a teacher, it can also be your goal as a learner. Pick a project and try to recruit participants on your blog or twitter! You can also volunteer for other people’s projects to gain experience in an area you like, such as recording books through Librivox or adding resources into the Peeragogy wiki!
5. “My students learn from entrepreneurs and see themselves as critical reviewers of educational technology.” The internet prevents critical review from being limited to the invited group, and the best way to find yourself into an invited group is by practicing your critical feedback skills through independent reviews. You, too, could learn from primary sources and become a critical reviewer of educational technology, or anything else out there to which you have access! Review articles, music, technology, or food. No matter what you review, you’ll learn about what makes that form work (or not) for yourself and probably others. This is also where comments come in handy again, because they’ll let you know whether other people share your opinions!
6. “Students receive inspirational feedback on their work!” This, once again, is all about the comments! As you get better at producing your work (whatever form it takes), you’ll attract a more skilled audience, who will, in turn, give you more useful comments and possibly include a few names you recognize, which can give you the extra boost you need to jump into overdrive and finish a project that’s been losing steam.
7. “I keep perspective and avoid burnout.” In any learning situation, but especially self-guided learning, things will go wrong. You’ll have an unanticipated trouble spot in getting feedback, the resource you’re reading will disappear from the internet without warning, or you’ll lose track of your goal and veer off course so far you have to start in a different place than you’ve left off from to get to your intended next step. When this happens, your network become invaluable. They can help you get feedback by recruiting friends-of-friends, find new resources that can be used in place of the old, or give you the encouragement you need to enthusiastically re-immerse yourself in a project to get to your next goal.
Regardless of what you’re learning, how you’re learning it, whether you have a classroom, or how traditional your educational path is, connectedness can be a great benefit to the learning process. In becoming connected, you increase availability of resources by an unknown and immeasurable amount, and by using those resources you can make real progress on your learning goals.