PSA uses the phrase “Social Learning Construct” (SLC) to describe an online learning community. An SLC is a type of community that is constructed to enable online and blended learning and which involves a series of “required” aspects. Today, only a few of these aspects have been imagined, researched and developed into ready to use pieces of the puzzle. Until they all are, we won’t really know what a SLC can do for learners when it’s working on all levels.
In the meantime we can identify areas of promise and areas of difficulty that need to be addressed for optimal SLC.
Some areas of promise of SLC:
1. Is a “new” kind of space, using new communication tools to establish an improved relationship between learners and guides.
2. Can create opportunities for open honest and quality sharing that creates trust and a supportive environment.
3 Can bring each person’s capabilities to the group, where they can be used by others to meet their needs, improving the overall learning capability.
4 Creates the reality of learning by teaching others…the best retention situation…and allows learning leadership in the group to be dynamic, and flow from all to all.
5 Has a membrane that provides security and safety for being who we are, and being open to change.
6 Effectively curates access to unlimited online resources
7 Creates an emotionally supportive community where “You can do it” prevails, as in 12 step communities.
8 Social media platforms and tools abound…some tried and true and readily adaptable to an SLC chat group.
Some areas of challenge for creating SLC:
1. Online security is a huge problem today…trolls thrive on destroying quality human interactions, and exploiting self-revelation online with cruelty and worse. If you create a safe secure place where people are comfortable sharing who they really are, and stretching their boundaries to learn, you are creating a ripe fruit to be trolled and vandalized by those who choose to get their kicks that way.
2. if online security can keep trolls out, and there are ways to improve online security, there’s still the matter of “getting along” within the group. And group has its own dynamics, which can become destructive and dysfunctional…and need careful planning and structure to avoid.
3. Some of that group planning requires a pre-selection or preview and assessment of who should be “allowed within the membrane” of the group. OTOH, a group can benefit from a wide cross-section of human “types” with different experiences. OTOH, different types may well have trouble understanding each other, and bring prejudicial attitudes to the new circumstances.
4. IOW, any group is susceptible to the plusses and minuses of all social interactions, and structure needs to be applied to minimize the negative aspects, and to support the positive aspects . Sometimes there can be little agreement as to which is which. For example, is it better to communicate with “safe language” that lacks “soul”, or is it better to be rude but “true”?
5, Fundamentally, there’s no way to make a SLC completely safe, and at the same time optimally support learning. Tradeoffs will be made, and one of the ways to make that work is for the group themselves to jointly establish agreed upon protocols.
SLC as new Learning Space.
1, One of the big challenges of creating a learning model that makes the old one obsolete is to first understand all the functions that the traditional educational model provides or enables. It’s far from a place where only education is enabled. For example Warehousing or Babysitting children in the US is an important function with smaller families where the adults are not home during working hours. The kids have to be somewhere that they won’t or can’t get into “trouble”.
Perhaps Bart Simpson would agree that schools sometimes resemble prisons…
IN addition to a “holding cell” School buildings and campuses provide meals and healthcare for kids who can’t afford to eat well or to get regular medical care. In addition there’s an assortment of “extra curricula” activities ranging from art to music to athletics, and more. These are fairly obvious, but there’s also a socialization function that schools are famous for, which, if the movies are to believed, often takes place in the hallways in front of an open locker. There’s a social world with all the challenges that any collection of humans brings for civility, law and order, and good will. Needless to say all the aspects of human conflicts are present, and must be accounted for.
Which leads us to wonder which of all those functions might be the most important? Because if we were to have an opportunity to re-envision learning and what functions and supporting structures would exist, as well as what personnel would oversee and guide the activities…we’d probably construct and design a place with much different architecture, features, and functions.
Yet, if security, food, healthcare, and babysitting aren’t provided through the “new school” how would they be provided? If mobile technology allows access to learning tools regardless of physical location, what would the large school buildings strategically placed throughout all communities in the US. continue to have and perform?
2. Another challenge is trying to construct a virtual space for Social Learning Constructs, that is secure, and somehow limits participation to those that won’t turn being allowed in as an invitation to troll and destroy fragile trust. The current social media climate in the world exemplifies all that can go wrong in trying to construct safe and secure Learning worlds online, to say nothing of the challenges of online etiquette.
3. Yet a virtual SLC space can also be a “special space” created “just so” for a specific purpose. Rather than a physical location determining what can happen…the architecture of the place…the organization of its physical space makes certain things easier or harder. The “old”style school building is designed to control crowds, and bring order and regimentation to unruly children and teens. A virtual SLC can take any physical space, and turn that into a new place. That opens up incredible potentials for learning and change.
One of the spiritual methods of religions world-wide, is to change the context of “ordinary space”, or “ordinary place”…turning the ordinary into the “sacred”. In the US we are familiar with at least some of the religious ways of doing that…churches in every town, for example. But there are some other religious traditions that put all of our environment into play as a “transcendent space” and lack the “sacred buildings approach”.
Not to speak for Native Americans but in general their idea of “sacred space” is congruent with the natural environment. In some types of Buddhism this is also true, and with Zen Buddhism one sees an attempt to abstract certain qualities of a natural environment into a symbolic “place” where sacredness is somehow present. Such as with those gravel gardens sculpted with rakes to look like bodies of water with some rock islands arising from the gravel. Maybe Bonsai plants too. The Tea Ceremony also take the everyday and by changing the context with some ritualized sequences and motions, turn it into a different context full of meanings hard to explain, but evident to the participants.
Or to put it another way, consciousness has different “levels” if you will, and there’s different ways of invoking the “higher more spiritual” sense of the sacred by putting ordinary reality into a new context. This is analogous to what a really good teacher does in the classroom. It’s hard to say exactly why they are a really good teacher…but you know it when you see it. It’s the same appearances, the same classroom, the same textbook, but the really good teachers bring an ability to frame all of that as part of a “higher” or “more sacred” level of experience, which “turns on” aspects and parts of the learner always present but rarely activated.
What if a really well done SLC could create a “sacred space” or an “elevated context” for learning, much as the best teachers do, and as the best spiritual guides do?