24 August 02010

Agile Learning meetups in London

Photo of meetup at the start of AugustHaving taken a few soundings — and please complete our short Agile Learning survey if you haven't already, as we're keen to get a broader input — the first meetups are under way in London. In fact, this isn't so much a new activity, as an evolution and gentle morphing of an existing one. More on that in a moment, but first the key points:

  • Self-organised discussions on the themes of self-organised, flexible, sometimes disruptive (vis-a-vis established habits and institutions) approaches to learning
  • A mix of invited guests, interviews, group problem-solving, themed chats — maximum dialogue and minimum structure
  • Every Wednesday morning, 10.30-12.30 (the first 30-45 minutes is usually the most informal, with introductions and establishing a shared base)
  • Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, London, SE1 8XX (free wi-fi available)
  • Free, open and hopefully welcoming to all
  • Details and sign up (not mandatory) are on Meetup.com, including tomorrow's.

This series of meetups began a year ago as the "unplugged" offshoot of the School of Everything, with Dougald Hine inviting a series of fascinating guests. Tony Hall has been co-host, and the meetings have also come under the umbrella of The Learning Co-op. For a while I considered setting up a separate strand of meetings under the Agile Learning banner, but the momentum and energy favour collaboration at the moment. As you can tell, these arrangements are very lightweight and flexible, so new paths may emerge, fork or diverge further on.

As a form of collective self-discipline, we set aside two meetings this month to reflect on the meetups so far and to plan directions for the future. The photo above (by Tony Hall) is of the first of these sessions, three weeks ago. Given the voluntary, self-selecting attendance at the meeting, I guess it was inevitable that most people had mostly positive things to say about the meetups they'd attended. We talked about practising what we preach in terms of self-organised learning groups. Fred Garnett referred to Mike Wesch's work on organising groups according to their learning purposes (I think this link refers to that) and the WEA's Learning Revolution project was also mentioned.

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17 August 02010

Agile Learning is what you do when you have to 'make do'

We've known for decades that we need to keep learning throughout our careers. See the lifelong learning movement, for example. But either creating or doing a course is too big an overhead for many learning needs.

Since the web arrived, we've grown to use it as a just-in-time performance support system. As Dick Moore put it, "every Google query is a piece of shallow Agile Learning." And the ecosystem of the web has responded to this with growing sophistication in the resources and tools it provides — often free or near-free — to support learning.

Agile Learning recognises that this shift is accelerating, driven by a sudden fall in the funds available for bespoke learning infrastructure. At least that's how it looks from the UK, where we've seen the demise of the agency promoting technology in education, the Building Schools for the Future programme has been scrapped, and the decimation of the Harnessing Technology grants for schools. Training budgets in the private sector are being slashed amid poor Learning & Development impact. In the developing world, meanwhile, many who have never had access to learning infrastructure and institutions have a real prospect of cheap learning devices and mobile learning coming within reach.

So here's another stab at definining what Agile Learning is about (to add to my earlier efforts): it's how you learn when you don't have a heavyweight institutional and technological infrastructure, and a large teaching staff, to support you.

Agile Learning is what you do when you have to 'make do'. We don't have a lot of evidence yet — the Hole in the Wall examples being the most inspirational recently — but I'm playing my hunch that, as and when we get good at 'making do', we may just find it's more fun, more flexible, and more cost-effective, than the old heavyweight institutional approaches.

  • If you don't have a building, a stock of textbooks and all the other trimmings, you might try some Agile Learning techniques.
  • If you're wanting to pilot something in a corporate environment, and can't justify using a full-scale Virtual Learning Environment, there should be an agile solution.
  • If you've got a group of peers — whether entrepreneurs or hobbyists — Agile Learning can help you exploit resources online, and in your group, to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.
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