Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Question: To-Learn Lists

My response to this month's Big Question:

I’m sure few people have a formal to-learn list. We all start with a to-do list. We don’t start thinking in terms of learning; we first start thinking in terms of doing. What is it that we want to do; do we know how to do it? Only if the answer is no, does learning come into the picture. We rarely want to learn something just for the “heck” of it. Isn’t that the premise of the all too important motivation factor, the “what’s in it for me?” factor that we incorporate in every course we create? It has to have a relevance to the learner’s life and needs.

Of course there are exceptions. I may come across something interesting that I want to learn about, even though it may not directly impact my life. But, I believe that doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately. And of course, though we may want to learn something irrelevant, we mostly end up not doing that because they’re not linked to a to do item

So, basically we first create to-do lists and then create to-learn lists as an auxiliary document (mostly in our minds). Consequently, it’s the to learns that are associated with the to dos at the top of the list that get preference in our personal learning catalog.

For example, I want to keep up with the new e-learning trends. I want to implement them in my courses. So, I’ve started learning and working with Web 2.0 tools. I want to create game-based learning. I have some experience with them but not enough. So, I want to learn to design and develop (at least the logic) such courses. I plan to take that up more intensively as soon as I feel I’m comfortable with e-learning 2.0. I love music and dancing. I want to learn to play the guitar, I want to learn to do the salsa. But, right now it doesn’t have an important bearing on my life (yeah, I know, it’s too focused on work). So, I will learn these skills, but I don’t have a time frame.

We should have formal to-learn lists. That would help us be more focused and have concrete learning goals for professional and personal development. You can have lists linked to to-do lists or categorized into professional and personal learning lists. Have a time-frame fixed to each item on the list along with a reason why you should do it. Spend some time every day tracking your progress and revising the list. The sense of personal achievement that would come out of crossing items off that list would be worth the little trouble we’ll take to set it up.

In fact, we could create shared to-learn lists online, similar to the wish lists shopping sites have. The lists can be used to form online learning communities, who share and learn through each other every day. Instead of having to rummage through hundreds of online resources to get what we need, we could learn through connectivism and collaborative learning. We do some of that now, but the lists might make it more structured and easier.

A to-learn list, whether personal or shared, will of course only be able to document the conscious learning decisions we make. The things we learn while simply surfing the Web, reading the newspaper, etc. cannot obviously be captured. But, if you realize you’ve just learned something new, you can add it to a have-learned list. You should also not restrict your learning to the list. Learning is an ongoing continuous process. Having a list doesn’t mean you stop at the end of the list, you have to keep adding to it, as often or more often than you cross out items from it.

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