Learning in private

I’m not a shy person. Ask anyone who knows me – I can be very fond of blowing my own trumpet. And I enjoy collaborative writing – the stuff we’ve been doing over the last year has been fun, and rewarding, and I’ve learnt a lot. But I don’t always learn by collaboration, and I don’t only learn from collaboration, and often I don’t learn best by collaborating – there are some things I learn best by practising, privately, on my own. So I think this is wrong:

One of the central narratives of rhizomatic learning is the idea that learning is at once a deeply personal, individual process and something that only happens in collaboration with others. We are all different, but we need each other. A practical guide to rhizo15

Here’s why.  I’ve been learning to play the ukelele for the last few years. I’m not very good, but that doesn’t matter because I only play in the privacy of my study. Well, our old cat used to sit and watch me – her favourite song was the Internationale, which I cannot play anything like this:

… but apart from that my uke playing is an entirely solitary, private activity. And I think that practice is making me, well far from perfect, but a bit better than I used to be. I’ve learnt a lot of chords, and some basic strumming and picking techniques, and I can play  a few of my favourite songs. And I have done all of this on my own.  No collaboration. I think a lot of learning is like that.

(Simon makes a related point on his blog)

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17 Responses to Learning in private

  1. dogtrax says:

    This is a longshot — but do you know any chords? I’ve been tinkering with this collaborative music site that allows peeps to record tracks together … we could experiment, if you want. Something wicked basic … give a shout-out on Twitter …. use the code phrase — “Let’s Jam”

  2. I agree that there’s a lot of value developing things on our own. My current project is to rebuild myself after being treated miserably for months by my “helpers” at the cancer institute. After kicking me in the teeth when I was desperately ill these fools now want me to thank them. Yar Har to that! I wasn’t good enough when I was sick and now they want me to play nice?

    Don’t mind collaborating in volunteer projects where I’m expected to melt into a common interest but I don’t learn that way. And in some projects where I’ve selflessly collaborated some asshole has come along and taken credit and my sense of current popularity of collaboration it to reward agreeableness–nothing ever comes from giving away your own values.

  3. Maha Bali says:

    Ha, just saw this! So is that how the jamming began?
    I agree learning often happens on our own, shouldn’t overdo the collaboration narrative 🙂 valuable as it is…

  4. NomadWarMachine says:

    Yup, Kevin and Ron tricked me into it. I am sooo glad they did!

  5. I think ‘honesty’ might be an emerging # for this MOOC. There is a sense in which some of us (me) have to push ourselves to participate in more collaborative forms of learning even when, intellectually, we support or even champion it. So perhaps its about a process of stepping in and stepping back – I wonder if all learning is like this.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Hi Simon

      Yes, i think you are right, and thank you for helping me to think about it that way. Rhizo14 got me started with collaborative authoring, but I still have a long way to go.

    • summitupperschool says:

      I agree with this. I like the idea of moving in and out of private and public learning. I tend to avoid collaboration even though I force my students to do it, a lot.

      • NomadWarMachine says:

        Yes, I’m becoming more and more aware of the varying degrees of public/private that are appropriate at different points. I recently used Fedwiki and one think I do not like about that is that there is no private space for you to save a draft. Most unsettling.

  6. I could relate to this. I spent 10 years trying to learn to play the clarinet on my own using books and cds and then when I went to join a band and play with other people i had to spend a year unlearning all the things I had learned wrong. Unless you have got perfect pitch and perfect rhythm then feedback is what is needed. I could circumvent this a bit with using a tuning machine and a metronome to help – but in the end what I really needed was to play with other people. Thats where the joy was anyway – weaving in and out of other peoples harmonies

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Yes, I agree – having spent the weekend playing along with Kevin and Ron’s music I realise what fun it is. Do you still play clarinet?

  7. I think I agree. As a boy I taught myself to play musical instruments and most of my research when working in a university was either personal or through supervising others doing their personal research – very rarely collaborative in any strict sense. I did co-author a book with a friend and colleague in another university but in pre-internet days this involved time-consuming typing of drafts, postal delays and train journeys. Now, connecting with like-minded people is so much easier and the advantages of collaboration come into their own. Personal learning can run out of steam – my musical ambitions never got as far as learning to read music! There’s a place for both types of learning. I’d go as far as to say you can’t have one without the other.

  8. Pingback: #rhizo15 Learning Subjectives is #insidethebox | Viplav Baxi's Meanderings

  9. John says:

    I am a Rhizo #15 lurker and a closet guitar player. I learned by myself, and mostly play by myself. The only exception is that I play with my daughter, to whom I am very close. I used to play for my first and second graders, but I considered that more of a language lesson than a jam session. I would probably be much better if I played with others. Regardless, I appreciate your story.
    I also believe that learning can be a very private activity. I have always preferred to get it done, figure it out, etc. by myself and then share. Twenty something years ago in university, we studied cooperative learning in and out. As a young teacher I promoted collaborative learning and I think I did so effectively. A few years ago, I learned that there are others like me who would rather work alone first, referred to as “introverts”. I am not that hung on such terms (defining people with labels tends to negate their existence, just ask Kierkegaard, but learning that I am not alone in my preference to be learn alone shed some light on my teaching. I have always recognized such learners, and now give them greater freedom to learn as they choose.
    Finally, I find blogging an extremely satisfying manner in which to learn. I get the best of both worlds, freedom to create alone and global connections through which to share and receive feedback.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Hi John – nice to hear from you. I have just been listening to Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts and annotating it with vialogues after a Twitter discussion last night. I don’t like labels either but I was very introverted as a child and preferred books to games, so it resonates with me.

      I think that there are a lot of different ways of aspects here that I will have to think about and blog about, but the point about introverts not necessarily being shy was something I really took from her talk.

      Thanks for your thought provoking comment, and the reference to Kierkegaard, who I don’t often get to talk about.

  10. John says:

    Ha! I was going to scribble something in my previous comment about Cain’s book, which I bought straight away after her Ted Talk. And yeah, shyness is a different beast.
    As somebody who lives in Kazakhstan guiding fifth graders through a unit about Genghis Khan, I can’t help but ask about your blog title…
    Great collaboration on the song, by the way.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      My blog title’s a riff on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept in A Thousand Plateaus. A Thousand Plateaus I started using the handle before I got to know Dave, and it seems quite appropriate now.

      Thanks for the compliment – I am having a lot of fun now I have overcome my reticence. 🙂

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