18 September 02009

More on self-organised learning

Here's the next instalment in a 'slow conversation' with Seb Schmoller, which kicked off with my post Progressive austerity and self-organised learning, followed by a response from Seb. I think it's fair to say Seb is more cautious than me so far. He splashes a little cold water on my enthusiasm for things "lightweight" — pointing out that the institutional and technical infrastructure underpinning informal learning is far from lightweight — and worries that I underestimate the importance of accreditation. He's probably right. I'll come back to those points in a roundabout way in a bit.

But in this instalment, I want to bump the conversation along to the question of how the professional practice of people like me and Seb should change to respond to the "progressive austerity" environment. Leaving aside whether the right term is "collapse", I think we agree that business-as-usual is not an option.

Ten years ago, I was part of the team that built the original infrastructure for learndirect. The total contract value ran into eight figures. More recently, clients have been seeking to update their web portals (yes, some still use that term) and gateways rather than build from new, but there's still an implicit expectation that the cost will run comfortably into six figures.

In parallel, agile start-ups and community projects have been stitching together learning materials and peer discussion using whatever was cheap and ready-to-hand. (The Living IT project that Seb and I worked on in the '90s used listservers running on my Mac Performa, though we also had the advantage of a software partner who contributed a prototype Virtual Learning Environment.) Now the online learning ecosystem has matured, and the scope of what's cheap and ready-to-hand includes heavyweight resources like iTunes U learning materials in your pocket and MIT Open Courseware, plus tools for organising like Facebook, meetup.com and (if you need a full-scale VLE) Moodle — not to mention (still) good old email listservers. With these at your disposal, and a bit of imagination, it's possible to offer some pretty impressive learning experiences.

Large-scale, build-your-own-infrastructure learning environments are going to look like vanity projects that are hard to defend in the face of a tight squeeze on spending (arguably this lesson should have been learnt five years ago from the failures of UKeU and NHSU). Imaginative application of existing resources and infrastructure has always offered more bang for your buck. In an austere climate, that's irresistible. How can we make sure it's progressive as well? How do we retain the elements that make learning in online environments inspiring and liberating, cut away unnecessary bloat and barriers to learning, and perhaps even reform the ancillary practices around learning — including accreditation?

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12 September 02009

Reflections on Longplayer Live

Longplayer Live at the Roundhouse todayI wasn't going to blog about today's first live performance of Longplayer, since I go on about Longplayer fairly regularly already.

But Christian Payne recorded an Audioboo interview with me, and the combination of vanity with minimal effort created a path of very low resistance, so here we are. I refer a couple of times in the interview to Jem Finer, and should probably have explained that he is the composer of the 1,000-year composition, of which today's performance is a 1,000-minute excerpt — still playing as I write (until 1am British Summer Time, tomorrow). Many more Longplayer interviews, including one with Jem, on Audioboo; photos on Flickr; and the inevitable Twitter search with its very short time-horizon.

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