Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


What Do You Want to Learn Today?

So I’m going to see if I can begin articulating a rough thought still emerging from a webinar I just attended, Libraries and the Era of the Learner: A Vision for the Future.

I’m not going really share notes on the webinar (except for a couple of PowerPoint slides as images) because my initial reaction to much of what was presented was actually negative; the presenter seemed, in my eyes, to trivialize the knowledge and learning mission of the library by saying we should design learning experiences based on gaming mechanics:

I don’t like the way this trivializes the learning experience, as I said, and makes it all about extrinsic motivation and external gratification—it implies people will only enjoy learning if they get constant rewards and recognition.  Doing these things might make the experience more fun for those who aren’t motivated to use the library on their own, but implicit in the model is the idea that learning is a laborious, demotivating process that people can’t enjoy without incentives.

I radically disagree, both philosophically and based upon my personal experiences.  If you have interest in a topic, the act of learning is its own reward.  The process of discovering new information, personalizing it, and putting it to use is fun in and of itself—without bribes and badges—and adding those things undermines the inherent intrinsic motivation of the process.  There are probably some good ideas on the surface of the presentation, some practices we can modify and put to good use, but the philosophical underpinnings of the presentation are counterproductive, from my point of view.

But it did get me thinking about the social aspect of learning, and here’s what’s stewing in my brain right now.

Besides the actual information itself that is learned, the concept of learning could be said to have two aspects: inquiry and sharing.

In a traditional school classroom setting as we currently imagine it, the sharing comes first.  A teacher takes information and shares it with students unasked for, who share the passive reception of that information.  Then, later, the teacher inquires of the students what they know to see if they received and retained the information.  The learning is a shared experience and the inquiry is individual.

In different models of the past, many alternative education theories through the years (to the present), and what I see in much of the online activity taking place these days, that pattern is reversed: the learning is an individual experience based on personal inquiry and then shared with others.

That’s what happens when people use libraries in a traditional model: they have an inquiry, come to the knowledge storehouse that is the library for information, and learn; then, presumably, they put that learning to use in some way, thus sharing it with others.  Individual inquiry first, sharing of learning second.  And that presumed endpoint of sharing/application is where the motivation to learn comes from; people want to learn because they have a need, and learning what they need to know is the reward.

But some people—many, in fact—just love learning because it’s fun, whether there is a need or not.  They love it so much that they love sharing it, as well.  Traditionally, these people have become teachers or writers or preachers or pursued other fields that allowed them to share what they learned for a living.  With the Internet and social media and our currently connected world, however, everyone can share what they have learned regardless of profession.

It’s what many blogs are all about; the authors learn new things they’re excited about—things they learned through individual inquiry—and create posts to share their excitement.  Much of the sharing on Facebook and Pinterest and similar tools is the same thing, people sharing new and interesting things they’ve learned.  Goodreads has become the most popular social book site because it allows people to take their individual experiences with books and share them with others as reviews.  And Wikipedia, of course; the most popular and extensive encyclopedia in existence is entirely based on volunteer work because people get so much meaning out of sharing what they know with others.

But, unlike in school, people participating in these activities are choosing what they want to learn and share and the learning comes first.  Individual inquiry, then sharing.  That’s all the motivation people need, because the process is its own reward.

Many have tried to find ways to reform schools with this in mind, without much success, and I’m not going to bother about that right now.  My thought today is libraries.  We’re based on individual inquiry to our cores, so it seems we have that aspect of the process covered pretty well.  So if we want to be more attractive to people, retain our relevance and meaning for them, find ways to improve and grow, then we must focus on the sharing aspect of the process.  How can we better become/provide venues for people to share the learning experiences that get them excited?  Book clubs and reviews in the catalog are simple ways to start, but I’m sure there is incredible potential for other ideas to take hold and blossom.  We don’t want to just be the repositories of knowledge that people come to take from, but also the places that people contribute to and where they find connections to audiences for what they have to share.


At 5/19/2012 11:17 AM, Blogger Eri said...

Hmmm. What did that have to do with Weight Watchers?

At 6/06/2012 2:44 PM, Blogger Degolar said...

He didn't describe the program specifically so I can't say exactly, but he shared it as an example of a program that is based on gaming mechanics design principles.


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