Let Go of Fear for Connected Learning Success

I want to talk about the one thing that I think is the biggest risk in connected learning: Not Trying. The biggest barrier to meaningful experimentation that I’ve encountered is the fear of an experiment not working or achieving the desired results. In other words, people are afraid of failure. When we take things like negativity bias into account, that makes sense. So, how do we reframe learning experimentation outside of failure that takes into account our fear of failure?

I think the most successful shift I’ve seen implemented, and that I’ve made myself when I’m teaching is letting go of the fear of failure toward the act of trying and experimenting.

One of the 21st century challenges and literacies that those of us who lead learning activities need to work toward is meaningful digitally augmented experimentation. Connected learning still is a relatively new learning experience. The people who lead the learning experience are in a role that is different than past models of education because we have access to more information than we’ve ever had before. This means, the classic model of rote memorization doesn’t always make sense (though there is still a place for this type of learning). We are still trying to figure out what all the new modes, models, and methods of learning will look like.

Creatively experimenting with information toward specific learning objectives helps us get there. By framing these things as experiments, we allow a space to try and have them fail. Part of the learning outcome is the process. The wonderful thing about structured learning environments is that we have the ability to experiment in a defined space that has limited consequences on a learner’s bigger life picture. Once someone is in, say, a professional environment, there are consequences to something failing that mean that the person might have actually “failed” in a way that has far-reaching consequences. That is not what learning is. It is about accepting that there are many risks that are just part of learning. A learning module or experiment might not work. A student or even the teacher might not be good at something. Even when someone is good at something, he or she might not be doing as well as he or she hoped. What is so wonderful about learning is that, despite all of this, we try anyway.

While we aren’t building learning from scratch, a lot of the things we can do will be start with an idea and a subject or area of explorations. Foundation building is work, but once it is done, it can be shared, repurposed, and forked. With that, I have a few guidelines for trying to create new experiences in digital media and connected learning I’d like to share.

Starter Guidelines for Successful Experimentation

              1. Learning experiments should take advantage of networked learning. Co-learning, or, at the various least, discussion of the project, paper, etc., should be in conversation with other people working toward the same learning goal. One of the biggest advantages we have because of connected learning is the ability to share our work as it is being shaped, easily and quickly, so we can build giving and receiving of feedback into the learning experience. This allows for constant assessment of how things are working and mitigates some of the risk of “failure.”
              2. Any digital medium, tool, or technology implemented in the learning experience should make sense in the context of the learning experience. The newest gadget, technology, or platform might look like fun and it might seem like it has a lot of potential for learning. However, if you cannot build the experience into the course as its own learning module, it might lead to more frustration than a satisfying learning outcome. If you have to go through bureaucratic channels, being able to justify the non-traditional learning format in this way is infinitely useful as well.
              3. Whatever the project or learning experience is, make sure it is meaningful to the learners. Asking students or learners to rethink what they think learning should look or feel like is asking them to take a big leap of faith. They have more at risk than the people leading the learning experience. If the usefulness of the experience is clearly defined and obvious, it is much easier to ask someone to try something new.
              4. Don’t completely throw out traditional learning activities. Connected learning and learning experimentation should be understood as something that augments rather than replaces the methods and modes we have of learning. Even in a co-created classroom space, when there is someone there to lead, the role of that person is, and should always be, to help learners and students explore the things they do not know. Critically engaging with material in all formats is another skill that often needs facilitation. Traditional learning, like reading texts or applying concepts in writing (a test or exam), helps students or learners learn how to learn, a skill that is necessary for self-directed learning.
              5. Share resources and results. The way we can build a new culture of learning that puts the student at the center of his or her learning networks is by sharing what works. By allowing others to see and build on our work, we practice connected pedagogy, something I think of as the other side of connected learning. Other eyes help push the design of experimental connected learning further.

The last things do not have an explanation, but they make sure the experience is safe, and as accessible to as many students and learners as possible. We are in a world of potential and possibility right now. I hope we can push those limits and possibilities together in our connected spaces. 

Banner image credit: BK