The Learning Flow and the User Experience

rapids-71594_640In my last post I described the concept of a Learning Flow as  a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities, and explained how this new learning framework lies between the instructionally designed course and the unstructured knowledge sharing of teams, groups and communities that takes place in public activity streams and enterprise social networks.

But what advantages does a Learning Flow bring to the individual? Let’s compare the user experience in the traditional online course (or e-learning) and in activity streams.

Traditional Course

ferry-boat-123059_640On a traditional course an individual is taken through a body of knowledge in a pre-defined, instructionally designed way. Users (or learners) are also usually required to undertake activities to reinforce or test understanding.  Often they have very little autonomy in how to make use of a course, so far example in a lot of online courses they are required to work through every action on a screen because it is assumed this means that learning has taken place!  Social activities are frequently “bolted on” and used as a means to enforce or reinforce learning, rather than offer a genuine opportunity to have an open discussion around a topic. So, whereas some people like the structure and prescription of a course for studying a body of knowledge – since it is familiar approach since childhood – others find the experience too constraining, as well as frustrating and annoying.

Activity Streams

At the other end of the learning spectrum we have the unstructured knowledge exchange that takes place freely in activity streams. For those who have been active on the Social Web for many years now, connecting with people and sharing ideas and resources  has become second nature. They love the free-flow of knowledge and how they can learn from one another sometimes without even realising it, as well the autonomy of being in control of what they are doing.

In fact, commentators like John Seely Brown believe that being in the flow of new ideas is the new way of learning. He uses the analogy of a whitewater kayaker to explain how it works. Rather than being like a ship with passengers where the captain sets its course and the ship keeps going for a long time (having picked up a set of fixed assets that have been “authoritatively, transferred in delivery models“) – ie the course model –  the whitewater kayaker participates in the ever-moving flows of activities and knowledge, “because in this new world of flows, participating in these knowledge flows is an active sport“.

JSB also points out the necessity of learning like this, because“in a world of increasingly rapid change, the half life of a given stock/skill is constantly shrinking“, at around 5 years, this is  becoming a vital skill to stay on top of all the new knowledge and skills relevant to today’s employment market place.

However, as social tools becomes mainstream and a new set of individuals begin to make use of them, it is clear they are finding the experience overwhelming and time-consuming, they are unable to separate the signal from the noise, and they find the learning experience too random, as they are unable to “join the dots” themselves between pieces of information. So this is where Learning Flows can help.

Learning Flows

river-rafting-50851_640For instead of being out in the turbulent waters of the fast flowing stream of (new) knowledge, kayaking, on their own, individuals can get support by jumping into a raft (steered by a guide) and experience the thrill of riding the stream together with their peers – who all have a part in helping to navigate the waters.

Using this analogy in the context of the Learning Flow, the guide steers a way through an (often emerging) body of knowledge, whilst the process of working and learning together can help to build individual confidence and competence in Web navigation skills as well as knowledge sharing.

Of course most analogies can only go so far, and another key element of a Learning Flow that is not obvious from this analogy is that a Learning Flow offers users more opportunities for control over their own learning than the traditional course. For example

  • the ability to jump in and out of the flow  as they wish – there should be no pressure to join/stay
  • the ability to interact as they want on a daily basis – just read or share thoughts or resources (constant participation is not expected)
  • the ability to be notified of new social micro-learning activities as suits them – e.g. as it happens or when they want to find them.
  • the ability to fit the daily micro-learning activity into their work as/when it suits thems.
  • the ability to use the most appropriate device to access it.

So for the user, the Learning Flow is not just about a flow of delivered knowledge nuggets, but a means to develop vital new social and collaboration skills.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Learning Flows, you can do so here: Creating and guiding a learning flow