Sunday, January 22, 2012

Confessions of a linear learner

For professional development purposes I am working my way through a four week online workshop on designing authentic eLearning courses. Aside from the knowledge and expertise gained, I see great value in being a learner again, and being reminded of both the joys and the frustrations of it.

Although we are technically only half way through the course at this point, one of the most powerful learning "moments" has already occurred for me - I have learnt that I am a hopelessly linear learner. In a sense I knew that about myself, and saw it as just a learning preference, but wasn't truly aware of how restrictive and limiting it can be.

What do I mean by linear? I like to know the beginning and end of a process, and all of the steps laid out in between, before I start doing anything. I try to work out at the outset exactly what is required, how it is to be done, and when it is to be done by. I like to be clear on the style, format, length etc. to be sure I do it exactly right. And on top of all that, I like to know what the "rules" are in any given learning situation - and by rules I mean that unspoken understanding of how things are "commonly" done, what is "typically" expected, and so forth. I need to know the right way.

And so I reached a point early on in this course, where I was trying to work all of these things out in relation to a blogging task. Just when when I thought I had it straight in my mind that we were to blog about X, I saw something else in the course that said we were to blog about Y, and something else again said we were to blog about Z. My linear learning cells activated the anxiety alarm and I no longer knew what I was to do, or how I was to do it, and if I didn't know that, how could I possibly do well? My conative processes were withering and sliding into the background.

Immediately I remembered the same sense of (di)stress I had when I attempted a MOOC on Connectivism - that style of learning felt too chaotic for me - and I will be so brave as to confess that I thought "this will never take hold in universities because most learners need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose." A gross generalisation, I know, but that's what I thought. I didn't realise that the thought should more correctly have been, "this will never work for me because I need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose."

But even that thought is flawed - never say never! This time around I did not just throw in the towel, but rather I expressed my anxiety and confusion to the course convenor. Here comes another confession - because I am such a linear learner, and because I didn't yet fully understand the nature and form of authentic learning tasks, I assumed that the design of this course was a little flawed, because the instructions weren't clear. [I didn't tell the course convenor this bit, but she'll know as soon as she reads this!] But by the end of our conversation, I fully understood the why's of her course design, the essence of  authentic learning and its openness and flexibility, the intended nature of the task, and the challenge to my way of learning it was going to represent. The fact that there is no right way leaves it up to me to decide how I approach it, how I complete it, and what I learn from it. Now I know what I have to do, and how I am going to do it.

The big revelation for me is that even though the only "rule" in this situation is that there are no rules other than those I set myself, just knowing that seems to have satisfied my learning needs, and it seems I am not as linear as I thought! The next big confession will need to be that authentic learning is not what I thought it was - but that's for another post.


  1. Hello Leitha
    I would just like to clarify that whereas there are no set "rules" about how you achieve the course outcomes I hope there are clear instructions/information about what you should hope to achieve by the end of the course e.g., the learning objectives and the end product - a course (or unit) outline for your own online course. :) Great reflection thanks for sharing :)

  2. Hi Jenni,
    Absolutely - "rules" is my own subjective term that encompasses everything from expectations through to possibilities. I guess what I was trying to impart was that in my manic need for order, I try to make new information fit into what I already know, in order to be sure how to deal with it, rather than being entirely open to new ways of thinking and doing. I am (and have always been) very clear on the intentions of the course, and what I should hope to achieve. My previous doubts were more about how I approach the journey.

  3. Hi Leitha
    Nice to know I'm not the only linear learner. And so reassuring to have a label for myself as well :-)
    I tend to panic with lack of structure and I think I impose this on my students a bit too at times. Maybe I'm not giving them enough latitude to learn for themselves because I'm so worried it's all my responsibility??

  4. Hi Leitha,
    You offer some thoughtful reflections. I believe some students need their learning to be highly structured, others less so, some prefer it, some don't. I'd be interested in hearing the key principles you implement when you design student learning. Love the background image of your blog!