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Blogging for Learning

Beth Kanter wrote yesterday about the recent growth in blogs maintained by nonprofit techies, linking it to my earlier posts on creating a climate of learning. She points out that:

What's great about this type of blogging is that a) encourages self-reflection and personal learning that  contributes to organizational learning  b) encourages a sort of peer dialogue. 

It got me thinking about how to make this kind of blogging for learning a little more intentional. I think this line of thinking went with a blog post I read over the weekend about how Web 2.0 should be changing our thinking about learning:

"But except for a few small pockets of innovation, many of the technological tools we use in the classroom — from course-management systems to PowerPoint — help primarily not with teaching students to think, but with the most pedestrian (and often least effective) aspect of teaching: the delivery of content. Online course-management systems are perhaps the most pernicious in that respect, in part because IT departments across the country have made them the primary teaching-and-learning tool available to faculty members. The problem is not the idea of a course-management system itself — a basic set of tools for content delivery, evaluation, and communication — nor the various uses of such systems, many of which serve their purposes quite well. Rather, the problem is that most course-management systems were developed at a time when the Internet was seen primarily as a mechanism for information delivery. Course-management systems were not created to enhance learning, but to make it easier for a faculty member to deliver materials to students. Even though most of the systems now include basic tools that allow students to turn in assignments, take exams and surveys, and communicate with each other through discussion boards and chat programs, those tools tend to be limited in functionality, generic in form, and based on relatively old technology. Course-management systems are generally used in very basic ways. A recent study by the Educause Center for Applied Research, for example, suggests that the vast majority of students who use course-management systems do so simply to gain access to course materials and their grades. In other words, the role that the systems play most often is like that of an advanced photocopier, allowing faculty members to deliver materials to their students with greater ease than was previously possible."

This is something I've been thinking about for awhile--that the beauty and value of many Web 2.0 tools, at least when it comes to staff development, lies in the fact that these tools encourage active content creation and engagement with learning by the participants. Good learning requires students to actively interact with the materials they are learning--to reflect and apply and use this information. Tools like blogs make this possible for individuals to do much more easily than in the past.

So how to make blogging for learning an intentional process? Carter McNamara has a nice set of questions to reflect upon in maintaining a learning journal:

1. What learning have you accomplished (or are you accomplishing) lately?

a) What experience spawned that learning?

b) What learning did you accomplish from that experience?

c) How can you carry this learning forward to improve your life? Your work?

2. What learning might you accomplish in the near future?

a) What experience might spawn that learning?

b) What learning might you accomplish from that experience?

c) How might you carry this learning forward to improve your life? Your work?

And in this article, Journaling: A Learning Tool for Project Management Training and Teambuilding, the author suggests reflecting on these questions:

  • What was the learning situation or event?
  • What have I learned and how did I learn it?
  • How do I feel (good and bad feelings) about what I've learned and how I've learned it?
  • How could I have learned more efficiently/effectively?
  • What actions can I take to learn more efficiently and effectively for the future?
  • In what ways do I need to change my attitudes, expectations, values and the like to feel better about learning situations?

For this process to really work well, I think these questions should be considered every day or every few days. Since 80% of what we learn is informal, happening outside of a classroom or course, we shouldn't  wait for a particular "learning event" to reflect on what we've learned. I'd love to see an organization that routinely used these kinds of questions to start or end the work day. That would be an amazing way to create a culture of learning.


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Carter's work is great. I was a coach in a peer learning circles program based on his design. It's all based on action learning models.

There is a group blog that is all about this - and does a regular piece "What five things did you learn today?"

Wouldn't that be a cool collaborative exercise for us to run? Start a nonprofit group learning blog where we could have our learning experiences in one place. We each do some of that with our own blogs, but I think it would be interesting to have that as its own space. If you have the link to the group blog you mentioned, I'd love to have it!

And I completely agree with you about Carter. I've been a big fan of his stuff since the mid 90s. Talk about someone who's willing to share his info with the world--he's had his nonprofit management library online for at least 10 years now I think.

Beth, I'd like to join the "five things I learned today" blog if you can share the link. I made a commitment on my blog today to "make learning more intentional."

Thanks for the link to Carter McNamara. His site is chock full 'o information!

Great post Michele,

I'd also like to join the "five things I learned today" blog. I've been thinking about ways to learn more that addds value and this might be a good opportunity! Michele/Beth, please share the link with us!

I've just come across your post on using blogs for intentional learning and this is just what I ahve been trying to ask people to be considering. As a healthcare professional in the UK we have to evidence our continuing professional development as to how we are keeping upto date etc. A big part of this is reflective practice for which we use a few models for (Gibbs, Johns etc) which ask similar questions to those in the article presented. I am trying to get pratitioners to consider that blogs could be ideal evidence of reflection which is not just an isolated journal - but open to peer comment and review. I am trying very hard to practice what I preach and am now making more headway in offering comment and posts for discussion. Thanks for your blog - it is definitley a model to aspire to.


I've been all over your blog today, picking up wonderful ideas from various posts.

First of all - Love the conversation about reflection. After reading Carter's questions I wonder if there is a difference between reflection and retrospection.

One essential question about reflection -it seems to me - is what is the meaning of my experience and how can I express it? OR, perhaps a better question is how can I express my experience in a way that allows the meaning to surface or manifest. Now, that's more like it!

Personally, I think reflection requires us to turn back to the experience and not think so much but instead let go of thinking long enough to arrive at some sort of expression of the experience. For example I reflect with patterns, colors and textures - which yield insight. But insight is not necessarily the goal. Sensing and expresssing the experience is.

I found one idea about reflection in Storytelling and Inquiry, Peter Reason, editor.

"Explanation is the mode of classifying, conceptualizing, and building theories from experience. Here the inquirer stands back, analyzes, discovers and invents concepts, and relates these to a theoretical model….orthodox science is an exercise in explanation – endeavoring to answer the question of what and why.

Expression is the mode of allowing the meaning of an experience to become manifest. It requires us to partake deeply of an experience, rather than stand back to analyze. Meaning is part and parcel of all experience – although it may be so interwoven with experience that it is hidden. It needs to be discovered, created, or made manifest and communicated. We work with meaning when we tell stories, write and act in plays, write poems, meditate, create pictures….."

This idea that the meaning of our experiences are hidden is so powerful and TRUE but ever more powerful is the very act of discovering, creating, making manifest and communicating the meaning of our experiences!

Candee Basford

Wonderful use of thought! A great description of how we should think about learning, as a life long feeding of our souls.
Its my hope to educate a greater population of the youth of today in this manner as well, so that they might grow up knowing tbat learning isnt a chore to be "got through" and that the passion of igniting the fire of wanting knowledge can be the greatest thing we encounter. I will use some of the journal tips to self examine, and perhaps offer to parents who are
unschooling their children, when I attend the unschooling conference in the UK this summer http://www.londonunschoolingconference.blogspot.com/

I have had some experience in managing blogs for my classes in last 5 years, and recoganise and experience it is a great chllenge to sustain effectiveness and learning through Peer education.

Blogger students do surprise you (teacher) at times. many a times you get endorsed (without any credits to you) regarding what you had taught, and that gives confidence to you, for the following, the ability to influence, and validate they are learning.

I did not go through the postings, and am sorry if I appear to be an unaware intruder in this blogged subject
Thank You,
Priyavrat Thareja

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