Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ubiquitous learning

A colleague has pointed me in the direction of Ubiquitous Learning a couple of times now. It seems to have developed in parallel with the idea of feral learning, from a similar starting point, and spread much more quickly. And, as the name suggests, it seems to have a considerable amount of overlap.

My first impression was that the focus of the Ubiquitous Learning discussion is more firmly on the  technologies of virtual and distributed learning environments (see for example the UbiLearn conference website, but reading Leigh Blackall's critique suggests to me that perhaps there is more overlap than I originally thought.

But, even so it seems to me that there is a fundamental difference in that the material I've found so far on Ubiquitous Leaning is still beginning from the perspective of the educator, and trying to extend it out, where Feral Learning - in my conception of it at least - begins with the individual, and perceives schooling or other forms of education, training, or instruction (when they work) as subsets of the learning and growing that we all do. I may be being precious about this - reality checks are welcome here - but I believe that is a substantive difference. We may all be headed for the same middle ground, but I think we are heading for it from somewhat different worldviews.

The stuff I've read about Ubiquitous Learning seems to start from the idea of ubiquitous technology, and extend that into the area of education and from there to informal learning. Feral learning starts with the human being's need to grow and develop. Learning is an intrinsic part of growing up, growing wise, and growing old.Technologies like the internet and mobile phones can be great enablers, but actually they're not necessary - people learn stuff wherever they are and whatever they do. It's part of the human condition.  In other words, feral learning is a rather more anarchic and radical proposition than what I've read of Ubiquitous Learning suggests.

But, that said, it seems like it's a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"How am I supposed to be inspired by that?"

A few days ago, Jan Visser of the Learning Development Institute (LDI) posted this on LDI 's Facebook page
Attached is a link to Paul Lockhart's "A Mathematician’s Lament." A brilliant plea, in my view, to refocus education on such things as beauty and to acquire one's knowledge of disciplines like math and science within the context of relevant current issues that can be seen, also, within a historical perspective. Not an entirely new viewpoint, of course, but it's very well formulated. Enjoy! JV
Jan's right, it's a great paper on why our teaching of mathematics puts kids off instead of showing them what's fascinating and beautiful about it. Although it's several years old now (first published in 2002) it remains relevant - unfortunately. Here are a couple of tasters...
A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.
Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.
As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language— to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: “Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key." ... educators soon realize that even very young children can be given this kind of musical instruction. In fact it is considered quite shameful if one’s third-grader hasn’t completely memorized his circle of fifths. ...

In the higher grades the pressure is really on. ...Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. “It’s a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, they’ll really appreciate all the work they did in high school.” Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent. ... “To tell you the truth, most students just aren’t very good at music. They are bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible. ... I guess there are just music people and non-music people. I had this one kid, though, man was she sensational! Her sheets were impeccable— every note in the right place, perfect calligraphy, sharps, flats, just beautiful. She’s going to make one hell of a musician someday.”
...Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul- crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.
... By removing the process and leaving only the results of that process, you virtually guarantee that no one will have any real engagement with the subject. It's like saying that Michaelangelo created a beautiful sculpture without letting me see it. How am I supposed to be inspired by that?
Check out the full paper on the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) website.

BTW - the BEST mathematics book I have ever read is The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

?! Interrobang - How fun is this ?!

How fun is this?! 
The latest adventure from Interrobang is
Mission: Use Microsoft WorldWide Telescope to create a tour of your favorite spots in space. Explain why they are your favorites. Ask each viewer to add a new destination to the tour.
Interrobang is a great concept - a fully realised feral learning site! Participants can choose from existing challenges, or create and share their own, challenging others to join in as well. The framework provided allows for collaboration in teams as well as individual enquiry, and provides a framework of language and acknowledgements to make participation transparent to other site users.It's obviously targetted at school students, and is developed in a way that enables activity on Interrobang to merge in to school-based study.

When is a problem not a problem?

When it's a game!

InterroBang?! is a game where you get to have fun with problems. Students complete real-world missions with deeds that can win prizes, improve problem solving skills, and connect them with others to do things that just might change the world.
Those who remember the success of the Carmen Sandiego games ( a lifetime ago now!) will have no trouble at all recognising the concept and the appeal. Interrobang takes the concept of self-directed enquiry learning and moves it "into the cloud" - with space for participants to interact, compare results, and develop their own social hierarchy through a system of mission badges  and forums.

Gotta love it!!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

People who've been talking about feral learning Frances Bell (University of Salford)

‘Communities of Practice’ Online? The case for ‘going Feral’ in Academic Development  by Frances Bell & Mary Hall, published in Innovative Learning in Action   ( 2006, University of Salford) 

This paper is a few years old now - one of the  earliest. It follows the development of one of the early online discussions about feral learning on the CABWEB portal where Frances was facilitating a group I joined. It goes on to consider the activities on online groups as communities of practice and examines how professional communities of practice themselves embody the ideas of feral learning.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

People who've been talking about feral learning - Jane Bozarth

Jane Bozarth (Author biography posted on Amazon)
A decade ago I moved from the world of traditional instruction to designing and facilitating both asychronous and synchronous training. Now that technology -- and learner access to it -- has finally caught up with possibilities, my interests have expanded to the world of social media tools to support and extend the work of the workplace training practitioner.
I have an M.Ed. in Training & Development/Technology in Training and a doctorate in Adult Education. (My dissertation, on workplace social learning/communities of practice, is available free via a Google search). I enjoy writing, and in addition to my books I was, for 10 years, a member of "Training Magazine"'s book review team and now write book reviews and a monthly column, "Nuts and Bolts" for the eLearning Guild's online "Learning Solutions Magazine".
You can find me "live" most anytime on Twitter @janebozarth and almost always on Thursday evenings as one of the moderators of the popular #lrnchat sessions. My Twitter profile describes me as a feral learner, positive deviant, and World's Oldest Millenial.
I also drive too fast.

profile posted at


People who've been talking about feral learning - Stephanie Zimmerman (ALA Learning Round Table)

Feral Learning posted December 29, 2009 By Stephanie Zimmerman  at  The American Library Association Learning Round Table
The original title of this post was going to be “Using FREE Online Resources for Continuing Education”. However, I was reading my Training Doctor Newsletter for November 2009 (yes, I’m a little behind and you should subscribe too) and came across a term that is new to me, feral learning. The newsletter states:
The term “feral learning” was coined in the 1990s by Ted Nunan, perhaps, or by Dr. Roy Lundin. It is in reference to employees taking control of their own training needs and education by utilizing resources they find themselves (such as Google).
Beautiful description of how I go about meeting my training needs with a very small budget. In these trying times, I currently have no CE budget, so I’m grateful that I have developed the skill of furthering my knowledge through online connections.

People who've been talking about feral learning - Dr Alison Ruth (Vicarious Conversations)

Defining Flexible Learning 

posted by Alison Ruth on 24 March 2008 on her  Vicarious Conversations blog

So, is flexible learning new? Gee, what a loaded question. In some ways, it is a new concept that we recognise and promote, but I think there have always been some elements of flexible learning around, we’re just getting better at talking about it. I came across a phrase a few years ago, and it’s one that has stuck with me since and that is feral learning. Ted Nunan first used it as a kind of throw-away statement in a paper about Flexible Learning. Since then, feral learning has taken on a new meaning for me (compare it to the way we do our PhD research as opposed to the structured processes in degree programs). But I don’t think it (feral learning) is really useful as a phrase for discussing structured learning environments, which is where I am most likely to be found. There are elements of feral learning in both flexible and blended learning environments.

Who else has been talking about feral learning?

Finding the Facebook group "Fans of feral learning" that I blogged about in my last post made me wonder what else has been happening with the idea of feral learning since last time I looked.

The posts that follow are some of the other people who've been talking about it...

People who've been talking about feral learning - Pam Hook (Artichoke)

Learning communities as cryptoforests   
posted by Pam Hook on  March 23rd, 2011 at  Artichoke
Wilfried Houjebek’s Cryptoforestry blog looks for “forests in cities” and for “cities in forests” – a purpose I want to adopt as I travel around different places working with schools in New Zealand.
He describes cryptoforests as a “cultural and not a biological way to classify nature”.
And claims that “the recognition of a cryptoforest is a visionary act, not a mechanical operation: there is no machine vision here.”
1) Feral forests (Planted tree zones, for instance along motorways, that have been allowed to become wild to the point that their wildness is outgrowing their manmadeness.)
2) In limbo forests (Tree-covered plots that feel like forests but technically probably aren't; states of vegetation for which lay-language has no name.)
3) Incognito Forests (Forests that have gone cryptic and are almost invisible, forests in camouflage, forests with a talent for being ignored.)
4) Precognitive forests (Lands that are on the brink of becoming forested, a future forest fata morgana.)
5) Unappreciated forests (Forests regarded as zones of waste and weed, forests shaming planners, developers, and the neighbourhood. NIMBY forestry.)  
It is a lovely way of looking at forests – one that allows us to more widely imagine what the connection between human systems and natural ecosystems might be.
And it makes me want to look at "learning" and “learning communities/networks” in a similarly "visionary" way.
1) Feral learning communities (Learning communities, for instance associated with a prior event or a conference, that have been allowed to become wild to the point that their wildness is outgrowing their manmadeness.)
2) In limbo learning communities (Imposed or artificially populated teacher learning communities that feel like learning communities/networks but technically probably aren't; communities formed to meet a contract outcome; states of networking for which lay-language has no name.)
3) Incognito learning communities (Learning communities that have gone cryptic and are almost invisible, communities in camouflage, communities with a talent for being ignored.)
4) Precognitive learning communities (Communities that are on the brink of becoming learning communities, a future learning community fata morgana.)
5) Unappreciated learning communities (Learning communities regarded as zones of extremism, immaturity, irresponsibility, belligerence, anecdote, and romanticism; communities embarrassing those with institutional authority, policy writers, politicians and curriculum developers, and the neighbourhood. NIMBY learning communities.)
I can identify examples of each but it is likely I will not understand these learning communities fully until I find a way to join them.

One of the comments posted in response on
 March 29, 2011 botts says...
I love the idea that a learning community could be feral. That it could become so wild and entangled that it no longer resembles whatever it was that it originally resembled.
In Australia, the biggest danger of the feral forest is that it might catch alight and as the tangled, heavy, uncontrolled underbrush burns, the canopy above explodes with a violence not unlike a war zone. As the canopy explodes, the burning embers that are thrown into the air get blown forward ahead of the fire, sometimes for many kilometres, and when these embers touch down new fires are created. When this happens we start describing them as wildfires and wildfires are extremely dangerous and unpredictable, fast moving and incredibly hard to stop.
Imagine working with students who’s learning is dangerous, unpredictable, fast moving and incredibly hard to stop.
I want to see my classes go feral. I want to feed them with the passion and energy that comes from knowing that everywhere around us is the chance to learn, that all knowledge should be grabbed and grappled with and turned into usefulness, that everyone around us has knowledge that could be gleaned, that everyone of us has knowledge that should be shared, that not knowing is simply an excuse for finding out.
I’ve spent years reading and studying the “right” way to teach and learn. I have regurgitated countless thousands of words on proper controlled educational environments. I have university degrees that declare that I have mastered the understanding of how to appropriately disseminate knowledge to those who would come to listen to my outpourings of know-it-all told-you-so lock-step lessoning. But I’m not convinced.
The more I explore the fringes of learning, the more disinclined I become to believe that we have it right. I want to deconstruct and tear down and grant freedom. I want to lose control and give back power. I want to give permission to go feral.

People who've been talking about feral learning - Gary Woodill

Gary Woodill

Psst…wanna hear something great?   (Posted on December 15, 2008 on Gary Woodill's blog)

As a “feral learner“, I am always searching for interesting sources of ideas and information. ...

DIY: Do-It-Yourself Learning  (posted on May 27, 2010 on Workplace Learning Today)

When change happens as quickly as it is now happening, there are few experts – just a few people running to keep up. Most of what I learned in university it not relevant to what I do today…and I’ve stopped taking courses a long time ago. Instead, learning has shifted to being a do-it-yourself operation, looking for answers when you need them, “learning by wandering”, being a nomad in a continuous search, a feral learner, and other metaphors of relative freedom from the confines of a classroom. The downside is that you have to know where to look, and what to look for, in order to succeed. The upside is often innovation and exhilaration. What is making it all easier is that knowledge is becoming more open, once exotic technologies are becoming inexpensive and can be easily ordered.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Fans of Feral Learning"

How exciting! I've just discovered a Facebook page called "Fans of Feral Learning".  The initial post references Jan Visser's 2006 blog posting on feral learning, which in turn references my earlier blog ... so there you have a perfect example of social media nurturing and disseminating innovation and social change.

What an exciting example of the amplification process Sandy Britain talked about.

I wonder where it will lead next?