In a course I teach each summer in USM’s Adult & Higher Education master’s program, I have my students compare learning theories, and share which resonates with their own experience the most. Social learning theory trends towards the top, an indicator of the power of interaction. I myself tend to learn best with others, which may be in part due to my extroverted preference: sharing with others helps me to clarify my own thoughts and feelings. It also is about purposefully seeking out new information, ideas, and perspectives. One of my favorite podcasts is Make Me Smart, and the hosts’ tagline is, “All of us are smarter than one of us.”
Connections offer a vehicle for both the creation and spreading of ideas. We become part of a network of many through making even one new connection. This week’s experience with Twitter illustrates this point. I followed some of the recommended personalities; not only did I almost immediately find some valuable “nuggets” associated with my professional interests, I followed additional people who were connected to those initially suggested. It used to be that one of the few ways of making professional connections was to physically attend a conference, with ongoing collaboration achieved via phone, email, or good ol’ fashioned handwritten correspondence. Now we can forge connections from a smartphone while sitting out on the deck by the fire pit on a summer evening to the sounds of the Red Sox losing again due to a weak bullpen.
The readings and other resources shared for Week 2 of our #DigPINS adventure included window into possibilities along with cautionary perspectives about digital networks. Regarding the latter, Nicky Case’s narrative game, The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds, touched upon concepts such as the Majority Illusion. One of my responsibilities in my first gig at USM a few decades ago was to address the culture of high-risk alcohol use, one of the examples illustrating the Majority Illusion. Back then, social media platforms didn’t exist, but it was still easy to spread misinformation and develop skewed perceptions of reality. It’s easy to accept what’s in front of us, and not struggle with the possibility that there is another perspective that may be more accurate. Struggle, though, is necessary if actual learning is to occur.
I try to be metacognitive about my own beliefs, including what steps I take to challenge them. One reason for doing so is to attempt to better understand the “other”, since most of my time (physical and virtual) is spent around people who have similar interests and experiences. That is, I am cognizant that I risk being influenced by an echo chamber of my own making. In the article Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy, Alison Seaman noted, how an “echo chamber can obscure alternate viewpoints and prevent learning from taking place”. I notice this with Twitter: people retweet perspectives with which they agree, and much like a Facebook feed very quickly one’s Twitter-verse can be filled with a loud, consistent message. I will continue to make connections, being the social learner that I am, both to create and spread information I think is valuable, but also to challenge and expand my own thinking, not just reinforce my existing perspectives.