Edges, Constraints, Play, and Gaming: John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning

Today I listened to a podcast interview of John Seely Brown talking about his work, A New Culture of Learning, recoded on February 22, 2011, available from The Future of Education.com. Brown spoke of what schooling is and needs to become in a changing world.

Here are a few of the key points that Brown spoke about, and my comments on them:

Pull the edge toward the core. Old approach: Make changes to the edge of the system and expect the core to appropriate the edge. New approach: Make changes to the edge of the system and then pull the core toward the edge. Empower those who are willing to make the changes first, and then attract those who are using the old ways to the new.

  • I feel as though this has been the mantra of change leaders for a while now–we try to work with those who are eager and interested first and watch their enthusiasm and passion spread to others. Eventually, the most powerful forces in the form of students, will demand the change from everyone.

Parallel process of change for both educators and students. We are all learning in this time of technological change so we need to learn just as our students are learning.

  • I feel that it is more important than ever for educators to model open minds and learning processes that include trying new things, making mistakes, reflecting,  and working collaboratively to learn and improve. Without modelling, how can we expect our students to develop these skills?

Make constraints into resources. Teachers and students need to learn that constraints and frameworks that control how we live and approach challenges can also be considered through the lense of resources and opportunities to grow and make things happen.

  • When we approach a new challenge, we need to turn our heads not only to what we have (as opposed to what we do not have), but to also look at how what we do not have can be used to find a solution. For example, when teachers complain that a lack of computers in the school hinders their use of technology with students, I always turn their argument around and show them that collaborative projects where students share computers can be much more effective for learning than projects where students work at individual computers. The lack of resources is a constraint as well as an opportunity to learn differently.

Learn to embrace change. Not only do we need to be more comfortable with constant change, but we need to learn how to keep learning all of the time. We can do this by: being open-minded to new approaches and ideas, engaging in practice and reflection constantly, listening to others, and examining both what works and what doesn’t.

  • As someone who grew up in an education system where teachers were the knowledge authorities and a correct answer was correct forever (or at least until I took the test), embracing change around learning is a skill that I am working on. I feel like I am a great listener and I have never considered myself to be an expert in what I do, but I want to learn to be more flexible and adaptive all of the time.

Tacit learning, engagement, and gaming. Brown talks specifically about the learning that happens in MMO (massively multi-player online) games such as World of Warcraft. He states that online gamers are experts in adapting to constant change. They build complex dashboards where they keep statistics on their own progress and learn from it all of the time to improve their own performance, and they build their own personalized dashboards and use them because they are intrinsically motivated to become better players. The culture of gaming also includes complex communties of players who share strategies, build on each other’s knowledge, reflect on the game, write fan fiction about it, discuss new developments, analyze meaning, and refine their community’s knowledge about the game. This rich learning environment is the result of immersion in a world in which tacit learning is developed because people are fully engaged in it. Tacit knowledge cannot be taught through lectures or memorization–it is knowledge that people feel and understand implicitly through experience, reflection, and practice over time.

  • In recent years there has been much interest in the motivation that can come from engagement in gaming. Although many educators still dismiss gaming as a legitimate way of teaching, most will agree in the power of engagement and motivation that games have. The question now is how to bring the elements of gaming into the way we teach. What is the difference between a gaming approach and inquiry-based learning? There are some similarities, but there are also differences. I would like to examine this closer in future posts. Below is a video by Rosse1691 titled, Accidental Learning in World of Warcraft. It may not be completely accidental, but it certainly happens in gaming.

Information + Experimentation = Play
. Play is the vehichle by which children develop frames of reference for their world. They then put new knowledge into their established frames of reference to make sense of the world and feel as though their world is stable. However, in a world of constant disruption, we not only gather new knowledge, but we must constantly develop new frames of reference. In order to do this, we must play to try things out, reflect, and re-frame all of the time. 

  • Thinking of play and new frames of reference can be intimidating. It seems as though the world as we know it must be perpetually moving and fluid. We need to be able to understand it from many different perspectives. I can see our use of understanding, knowledge, and information becoming more and more relative to specific contexts. How will we know what we really know if our frames of reference can change in an instant? Looking at something can be valid in one light and invalid in another. How will we make the best decisions? What will the truth be then? Will there be pure truth? The up side that I can see in this shift is that people will be more drawn to their true passions, instead of accomplishing things just because their frame of reference says that achieving a particular test score or career is considered to be a high achievement. In this sense, peoples’ passions can ignite fully and I presume that they will be motivated to accomplish a great deal.

John Seely Brown’s work brings up many important ideas about the nature of how we learn and deal with change. Your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Edges, Constraints, Play, and Gaming: John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning

  1. I, too, enjoyed reading A New Culture of Learning as the approach is apt for learning out of school, in the workplace and independently – vita in this increasingly complex yet connected world where our capacity to share, learn and collaborate with those unlike us – in settings that are a mix of the bounded and unbounded is key to staying relevant and to savoring our lives – with others.

    Thought you and your readers might enjoy some of the quotes from the book that most resonated with me. They include:

    * The new culture of learning gives us the freedom to make the general personal and then share our personal experience in a way that, in turn, adds to the general flow of knowledge.

    * In the new culture of learning, people learn through their interaction and participation with one another in fluid relationships that are the result of shared interests and opportunity.

    * Play is the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules. When play happens while learning it creates a context in which information, ideas and passions grow.

    * The important thing about the Harry Potter phenomenon is not so much what the kids were learning, but how they were learning. Thought there was no teacher in this setting, readers engaged in deep, sustained learning from one another through their discussions and interactions.

    * In a world of near constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change rather than a way of growing out of it.

    * The challenge is to find ways to marry structure and freedom to create altogether new things.

    * Study groups dramatically increase the success of college students in the classroom.

    * The connection between the personal and the collective is a key ingredient in lifelong learning.

    * When information is stable, the explicit dimension becomes very important. The speed of light, for example, is probably not going to change….The twenty-first centry, however, belongs to the tacit. In the digital world we learn by doing, watching, and experiencing… not by taking a class or reading a manual.

    * Students learn best when they are able to follow their passion and opeate within the constraints of a bounded environment. Without the boundary set by the assignment there would be no medium for growth.

    * Indwelling is a familiarity with ideas, practices and processes that are so ingrained that they become second nature. When engaging the learner, we must think about her sense of indwelling, because that is her greatest source of inspiration, but it is also the largest reservoir she has of tacit knowledge.

    * Dispositions indicate how a student will make connections on a tacit level… how she is likely to learn.

    * Learning from others is neither new nor revolutionary; it has just been ignored by most of our educational institutions…

  2. Pingback: Ignite! Learning – falando a linguagem dos caras « Enio de Aragon

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