For one of our potential clients, I’ve recently been delving head-first into the interconnectivities of social engagement and learning. At this point, I feel like my feet are the only things still visible outside of that endless chasm of knowledge. One set of research that has particularly piqued my interest is the ecological learning school of thought. Allen has, for a long time, studied and proven the effectiveness and efficiencies of instructional interconnectivities. But to put it in terms of an eco-system makes so much sense to me.
There are certain things ecologies demand: symbiotic relationships and interaction, self-regulation, progression…all things inherent in any truly effective learning space. When we create instructional design systems in which our learners can access such social learning elements as social rating systems, social scoring, social media, mobile assets, forums and discussions, we are creating an ecology in which they can not only interact as learners, but in which their outside knowledge base and their other learning environments (smartphone, anyone?) can have a place.
The theories behind ecological learning bring the existing knowledge base of a learner, then add it to the support of peer, social, and/or expert mentoring, then help them launch that knowledge into different spheres through interconnectivity and technology—connections to digital media, community assets, universities, online learning environments, etc. That interaction, then, creates the web that is an ecosystem.
How much power there is in that model:
- Learning experiences are systems working together rather than events working in a vacuum.
- They are using and integrating the technological assets that have become “critical” to daily life rather than pretending such technologies do not belong in the classroom.
- They are creating environments in which learners can find interest-driven mentorship in a multitude of relevant ways.
The ecological learning model is truly planting a learner in the midst of a forest of information and teaching them how to feel at home, find their passions, and progress into what excites them. This placement is not new; each of us experiences it every day. However, our acknowledgement of the interactions and using those interactions to our benefit has been a hard thing for some organizations to adopt.
This model goes hand-in-hand with the No Trend 2014 we have seen—ecological learning is not a trend. It is simply a definition of the way the world is heading whether we tip our hat to the change or not. But why not keep up with such progress? Why not stay right there on the relevant edge of technology? Why not strengthen our learners’ and employees’ use of the assets available rather than silo knowledge into courses that operate individually and ignore other resources? For it is only those elements in nature that do not adjust and adapt that become extinct. Just ask Darwin.