Random Thoughts

I don't like Learning Alone!

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I’m back from the ETC (EARCOS Teacher’s Conference) in Kota Kinabalua, Malaysia. Where I did four presentations as well as watched Kim Cofino pack them in for her Connecting Across Continents presentation.

It’s the first conference that I’ve gone to where I truly did not “do” the conference. Other than my own four presentations I only went to two others….one if you don’t count Kim’s.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why I didn’t feel motivated to go to more sessions. I like learning so what was my problem?

Then it hit me…..I don’t like learning alone!

The Internet was horrible…when it did work at the conference, and I found myself disconnected from my friends colleagues and my network of learners.

Learning for me needs to be social. I need to be able to live blog a session, to Ustream a session or have a back channel chat going with others in the room.

Without that….a presentation is rather boring. So boring in fact, that I couldn’t motivate myself to even go to a session. Learning for me happens in these social spaces. It happens when I’m able to listen, reflect, and connect with others near and far in the moment. I’m so use to this anymore that regular old sit and get learning just isn’t the same.

And then I started thinking about our students. Our students who spend there day not just in front of screens but connecting with people, learning in the moment and creating content.

I thought that maybe it was just me…but then this new study from the Nielsen Company was just released this week showing amoung other things that adults are spending 8+ hours a day in front of screens (via nytimes):

Among other surprises, the research found that young people aren’t the
only ones dividing their attention among multiple screens and machines;
people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and early 50s essentially multitask for
the same amount of time. People over 55 are markedly less likely to be
multitasking. “That’s where the generation gap, if there is one, may
exist,” Mr. Bloxham said.

So it’s not just me (thank goodness!). You mean I’m just like the rest of the multitaskers out there? Multitaskers who expect to be able to connect with people, content and ideas in a moments notice and who find such value in connections that without it learning becomes boring? Not that you can’t learn without it…it’s just so much more engaging when you do!

Once again the best part of the conference was meeting people outside the conference. After having the Twitter Meet-up bust on me in Portland at NCCE I wasn’t sure how it would go over here at a teacher’s conference. But I was impressed when we had eight people show up for a Twitter Meet-up. Some people I had met before, but most of them new faces and even some who came to set up their Twitter account for the first time.

Of course there was only one official Twitter Meet-up but I had a couple great spontaneous meet ups with mscofino, klandmiles, Skardalien in the lobby.

Once again I found that it was the face to face time that was the best part of the conference. Meeting new people, connecting with old friends, and talking about education from different angles.

So, my big take away from the conference was this: Conferences are about people and connections…and not about content. If the content is there and there is no way to connect with people around that content…then learning is boring. Learning is being social and without that social interaction I feel disconnected from the content.

I just keep shaking my head and truly feeling for our students who every day have to disconnect to learn. Even worse….they don’t get to choose which session to go to…they just have to live with it day in and day out.

Learning should be social…and in today’s world being social means being connected while you learn. Do we help create these social connections or are we to worried about the time students might waste being social and being connected?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Me neither! Much more fun when you have others to interact with. Was great to chat with you at #ETC09.

    Fascinating info from the NY Times! What a find! I know I multitask a lot (judging by the number of tabs & applications I have running right now…), so it’s nice to know I’m in good company.

  2. I am also turning into the person you describe. I find it very difficult to watch television w/o having the freedom to access the web.

    Have you ever heard a presenter say “you don’t have to write this down?” I often wonder what else I should do while listening.

    • Just find away to connect and learn with others….be creative.

      I’m the same way when it comes to TV…it’s too passive…I want to be able to interact with my information.

  3. Jeff: While I certainly share your enthusiasm for live blogging and live streaming sessions, your point about poor Internet connectivity is unfortunately quite common at many of the edtech conferences I’ve attended here in the states. While live connections can be great, I think there is also great value to reflecting asynchronously about a conference session as well as sharing audio from the session after the fact (with presenter permission) of course. I think the potential impact of a conference session shared asynchronously either as a blog post and/or audio podcast can far outstrip the “reach” and accessibility provided by a traditional, F2F only presentation.

    Great content and great ideas make for great conversations. Next time you run into this situation, I’d challenge you to pick out a session and if you can get presenter permission, audio record the session and post it with the presenter’s slides on Slideshare. Take note of how many F2F participants the session has, and then after you post the SlideShare/Slidecast note how many views it’s had. I’d certainly be glad to retweet the link, and posting it on Classroom 2.0 would be sure to draw some viewers as well. I haven’t done an experiment like this myself, but I am going to sometime soon– again I think we just underestimate the amazing reach and value of the “asynchronously shared” presentation.

    I’m so appreciative of you continuing to catalyze these conversations and web2 tool use with teachers in East Asia and elsewhere. I hope I can see you in person in Hong Kong in September. 🙂

    • Thanks Wes,

      One thing I keep rolling around in my head is how far out is to far out to post something on the web? Other than Twitter the bandwidth wouldn’t support much more then that and forget uploading something like SlideShare.

      As for the recording, what I have found is that at tech conference people are more giving and confident in allowing someone to record their session. In a regular teachers conference, like this one, they are scared, don’t understand what you would do with it, and therefore seem to shy away from it. Most of the presenters were just teachers talking about their classrooms and are nervous enough presenting their work without the added pressure of someone recording and posting their PowerPoint.

      I do like the challenge you pose to myself and others and will give this a try the next time I find myself in this situation.

      As for Hong Kong…we’ll wait and see. 🙂

  4. I’ve been rolling this one around, while enjoying a precious few days away from conferences. I see and understand what you are saying and what really jumped out at me is your initial statement, “I don’t like learning alone.”

    I think that the loss of social interaction is a huge part of it. But I also suspect that we are becoming accustomed to working within a great brain their our own. We have become accustomed to having quiet conversations within our networks, to ask questions and get answers back from people we respect, and to contribute knowledge and insights to a larger community — and not just for the sake of helping others, but for the value-added that will happen from the perspectives of others — what will come back.

    It’s like trying to learn with half your brain tied behind your back — or a full three-quarters in my case. I think that your extension to students is a valid one. They play together, learn together, work together, and grow together. Then, in the classroom, we value the space between their desks more than their tendency and the power of connecting..

    Great post, Jeff, and welcome home!

    • I like that:

      But I also suspect that we are becoming accustomed to working within a great brain their our own. We have become accustomed to having quiet conversations within our networks, to ask questions and get answers back from people we respect, and to contribute knowledge and insights to a larger community — and not just for the sake of helping others, but for the value-added that will happen from the perspectives of others — what will come back.

      and I think that’s exactly what it is for me. It’s not that I can’t learn something in a session without being connected it is more I can’t expand on my own thinking in the “greater brain”. I’m use to being able to ask questions, get feedback, bounce ideas in the moment when it’s relevant to me as a learner. When I’m not able to do that I ‘shut down’. I can still learn, but I’m not meeting what I know to be my ‘learning potential’.

      If only Internet access was ubiquitous even in a beautiful resort town on Borneo. 🙂

  5. As I read your comments, while I understood (and agree with ) the idea that a dry presentation that lectures is boring and not really what people learn from, I find it also a little disheartening that you felt “alone” at the conference. You say since the internet was down you found yourself “disconnected from ..[your] network of learners” but what about the person sitting beside you or the behind you. Could they not have been your network for the moment? I realize that because of the presentation design you may have felt rude talking to the person next to you. Maybe presenters need to design presentations better so that we feel like we can have a network of learners with those around us because as you pointed out the best part of the conference was talking to the people, then the content and the contacts could both be a highly valued part of the conference.

    • Sarah,

      I think you make a valid point. The conference itself was about meeting people and I enjoy that about conferences. It’s just as you state when you got to a “traditional” presentation where you are expected to sit and get, not talk, and just listen that I find myself non-motivated to learn.

      I start every one of my presentations with saying “I want this to be a discussion…please interrupt me, talk with someone close to you, etc.” I feel I give my audience the OK to talk in the moment.

      While during other presentations (not that I went to many this time) I’ve actually been given that teacher look for talking with the person next to me.

      Within a connected network we’re allowed to give our thoughts in silence and we can do so in the same session. At the opening keynote for the conference 6 of us who were at the keynote took part in a backchannel chat. Physically we were all in the same room but the technology allowed us to learn from each other in the moment without disrupting the keynote speaker. We were able to expand on his thoughts, to bounce ideas, and jot down meaningful notes…all saved for the collective body to review later. Connecting with a network doesn’t always mean going outside the walls of your own classroom. But do we find ways to even allow those within our physical proximity to connect and learn when and how they want to?

      • I’ve been given “that look” too and even reprimanded for it. I think finding ways to connect when in physical proximity can be very challenging.
        Thanks for the comments

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  9. Thanks Jeff for sharing his leaning style/pattern with us. From my understanding, the most engaging way of learning something, according to jeff’s post, is to be connected to both content and connections( people, the social network) at the same time.

    Come back to our normal classroom teaching, Jeff raises a very intersting point here: How our students do their learning by listening to teacher’s persentation(the content) and interact with the peers and the teacher at the same time? Of course, it has been always one of the best mode of teaching and learning in F2F classroom environment. I am thinking, in what subject, under what topic, at what grade or level, the learners are motivated to learn the given content more engagingly and enthusiasticly via this way of ” I am leaning socially”?

    Maybe it is more suitable to High school or college study?

    Appreciate Jeff’s sharing a lot!

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  11. Hi Jeff;

    The NESA conference begins this weekend, and my initial frustration was the overpriced charge for ONE single computer to log-in for a presentation; “no wifi available”. I really wanted to stretch out and have collaborative brainstorming, but now I’m responsible for projecting it instead of letting it happen interactively.

    While I validate the research that advocates a loss of efficiency with multi-tasking, I find the opportunity to reflect with colleagues through my fingertips invaluable during PD or presentations and less disruptive than side-bar conversations. Most fun PD session I had included a concurrent msn chat to bring in a colleague who was out of the office. Can’t get them to see the value of twitter just yet.

    How do we get conference hotels to unilaterally realize that 21st Century educators will no longer fill their rooms and spaces until they allow free flowing, uninterrupted access (avoiding separate log-ins for room vs. conference space)to both presenters and participants?

    How do we get educators comfortable with students chatting and reflecting on their learning as they encounter it without fearing the loss of control? I think by making sure they experience it in their PD!

    I too don’t like learning alone and my PLN keeps me whelmed by all there is to learn about learning. But what I like even less is the way I fall victim to using traditional structures which inhibit learning in our current world of short circuitry and small chunks.

    Thanks for the continued inspiration (and reply to my post – still flying under the radar where possible).

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  13. Didn’t George Siemens say that there is learning in connection making or something like that? Probably why I enjoy NECC online rather than f2f….

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