History of learning

Posted on Tuesday, 11 April, 2006 by

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Personal learning log: CoPs and web 2.0 technology

It is very hard to speak a foreign language well, but once you can it seems really easy. Web2.0 is not as easy to learn as many adepts seem to asssume. The same goes for on-line communities. I will try to log carefully my own learning, to be able to remember what is hard to learn, what are the changes in mindset required. For the past year, this had to be in retrospect.

This is how my interest for learning, on-line communities and web2.0 developed the past year

It started from surfing the web. Being in a new country, I tried to find starting points for finding a job and other entrances. I used a computer on a daily basis, both for work and privately (for emailing, finding information, reading the news, banking, booking flights, occasionally buying electronic devices or ordering presents from abroad to be delivered in Holland.) I had been a member of various emailing lists for some years. I had read and followed some blogs but stopped again. I had sometimes contributed in open forums but never really liked them as they often seemed to be circleing around the same issues (the FAQ´s), with irrelevant quarreling and quite often reactions in a snappy tone-of-voice from either the ´locals´ or outsiders.

I went looking for log-in spaces. I then discovered yahoo groups. I was interested: it seemed a powerful tool for working together, for learning. However, in the thousands of groups yahoo listed on sports, hobbies, pets or pastimes I couldn´t find what I was looking for, although I wasn´t too sure of what that was.

I joined a yahoo-group of dutch people (it appeared to be all women) who largely lived abroad, and in my second post I asked what they had learned from the group. They answered it had given them tips on travelling, where to buy coffee pads, and when the sales started, but that the group was not about learning. Learning was not their objective, it was mostly for companionship and ´just chit-chat´. Although intrigued by the bonding an sharing (community forming) that occurred, the window into the lives of people, some of whom you´ld never otherwise have known, I soon stopped contributing almost completely, although I continued to read others´ posts. I was not satisfied, I wanted something more related to work, to my real interests. Something more substantial, more objective-oriented and learning oriented. One day I asked the group what they thought of the fact I was posting very little, what they thought of lurkers. Most said they did not approve of them so I left. I still think of the women I met there sometimes.

I started a yahoo-group for my group of friends. I now was a moderator. We had emailed collectively for years, with chat, logistics of get-togethers, and also more serious correspondence, taking turns on updating the rest about our personal lifes. The group meant a small increase in traffic, but it was only temporary. Otherwise the introduction of the group made no real change. IRL contact and for some of us 1-to-1 email remains more important to us.

Somewhere along the way I came across the terms Community of Practice and Knowledge Management. The terms resonated as they had seemed related to me and interesting, but I still could not really figure out how.

I think around the same time I joined csr chicks neth, a dutch 400 women network with monthly IRL meetings who communicate through a yahoo-group. A friend indicated it to me. Similar groups exist in many places under the same name. In Holland it has organically grown from 10 to 400 young women from all sectors with an interest in CSR-corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. The dutch chicks, for 4 years now, have exchanged a steady flow of average 50 emails/month on the issues, and it is a very good source of info and contacts. The emails very much resemble the single source mailing list although they originate from a wide variety of contributors. They can be classified as announcements rather than questions, they are informative, not inviting reactions. No threads are spun. For a list with people of whom many know each other, there is surprisingly little (namely none) off-topic conversation.

I then joined Women on the Web, on their ´list´ as they call it, for women who have started their own company. Also a network which also does IRL meetings, women only. They use their own (majordomo) group. email trafic is very different from the csr chicks group. Long threads, dialogues, instant practical help, opinions, tips, and a lot of off-topic, which in turn becomes a topic.

For my daily practice of being a dairy farmer in portugal I still had not found any peers. RedeNed was my own creation. A network for women with links to agriculture in south Portugal. As I did not have access to any portuguese agricultural people, and to avoid the complexity of multiple languages, I focused on dutch farm women.

I joined VWI to learn more about how networks function. Some of VWIs special interest groups are sub-networks VWI platteland, VWI water. I had the idea to ´copy´ CSR chicks to Portugal: Raparigas Responsaveis, a group I started but which soon went dormant.
I started reading some blogs. Finally, I decided to initiate De Kennisclub. I read some more blogs and because of that met Bev, who during a wonderful afternoon in Setúbal introduced me to some more web2.0 . On her account I switched to Mozilla software, started an aggregator Bloglines, (secretely) started practicing with a wiki and some blogging. I joined Flickr and numerous mailing groups. I made great shifts on the range from perceiving ´the Internet´ as a scary place where you had to be as anonimous as possible, to perceiving it as endless opportunities where you have to profile, identify, expose yourself as much as possible. I never liked watching TV very much but now whenever I joined others watching I felt short of a mouse, of controls. It had become almost uncomfortable to be just watching, at a pace decided by others, like a straight-jacket.

This trip, from discovering yahoo groups to starting a blog, took me over a year. I find that among my friends and aquaintances, most academic thirtiers, I am still an early adopter, how laggard I may seem in bloggosphere.

Now why did I start and, this time, manage to continue this trip into web2.0? Factors that helped:

  • Having time available
  • Being at cross roads in life; networking to find my way into a new country; being relatively isolated of academical input or likeminded contacts, no peers around
  • being between cultures
  • Simultaneous with my discoveries, the emergence of Web 2.0 and social networking software: technology became social
  • Finding a field (CoPs and KM) of interest.
  • Later: Finding a contact f2f
Posted in: learning log