Friday, July 5, 2013

Rhizonomy - My new favourite word

For some time now I have been wondering what sort of learning we are obtaining through social software. To be sure, when I do Geocaching I learn a little bit more about my environment, but it is nothing that I would not have learnt if there were a notice board next to the feature where the cache was buried.
At the same time, what am I learning when I use Waze to navigate? If one defines learning as "to be able to do something afterwards that you could not do before" then owning a GPS device means that I can now reach a destination, which I could not do before. I cannot read a map. I never could. Besides, reading a map while driving is dangerous.  Now, with a GPS, I can reach a destination safely without having to read the map.  So, I learnt to navigate without having to navigate.  HOWEVER, with a social application such as Waze, other users also input data into the system, and now I can avoid congestion on roads that I cannot see.  Waze knows where the congestion is because other road users have reported it. At the same time, when I report congestion (or by simply driving with Waze open) other Wazers can also avoid congestion.  But here's the question - ok so now I can do something that I have never been able to do before - I have almost developed a sixth sense - but what have I learnt.  And then I read Steve Wheeler's post and I realized it's not what have I learnt. It is what have we learnt.  And the "we" are three entities. It's me, it's other road users, and it is Waze itself.  Here's where Learning 3.0 becomes clever.  Learning is now integrated in to the whole system - it's not just the teachers and the learners who are learning, it is also the supporting technologies that are learning.
Google knows what I am searching for before I have even finished typing the search string - because it knows what I searched for before, and it knows what other people around me are searching, and so it can predict.  And on my phone Google even knows where I am and predicts where I want to go next.  And so the learning becomes a "cloud" of learning, or as Steve puts it, a "hive" of learning that includes the technology.

So, thank you Steve Wheeler for introducing me to your new word, rhizonomy:
Learning 3.0 will be user and machine generated, and will in all respects be represented in what I will call  'rhizonomies'. The rhizonomic organisation of content will emerge from chaotic, multi-dimensional and multi-nodal organisation of content, giving rise to an infinite number of possibilities and choices for learners. As learners choose their own self determined routes through the content, so context will change and new nodes and connections will be created in what will become a massive, dynamic, synthetic 'hive mind'. Here I do not refer to any strong artificial intelligence model of computation, but rather a description of the manner in which networked, intelligent systems respond to the needs of individual learners within vast, ever expanding communities of practice. Each learner will become a nexus of knowledge, and a node of content production. Extending the rhizome metaphor further, learners will act as the reproduction mechanisms that sustain the growth of the semantic web, but will also in turn be nurtured by it. Learning 3.0 will be a facet of an ongoing, limitless symbiotic relationship between human and machine. (Wheeler, 2012) 
So now, back to the Geocaching example.  Through Geocaching I am learning more about the area where the cache is.  But, actually, the area is learning more about me too.  While visiting Bloemfontein last month I woke up to the roar of lions.  Yes, I thought, this is Africa, but lions in the middle of town?  Or was I just imagining things.  Then I opened my Geocaching app and realized that I was right next to Bloemfontein Zoo. And, very close to the Lion's cage, there is a cache.  So I paid my R27 entrance fee, and found two caches.
So, my learning is obvious.  But wait, there's more.  The owner of the cache learnt about me, and the Geocaching community learnt about my caching behaviour, and the zoo learnt that having caches inside could potentially earn them R27 per enthusiastic geocacher.
And that is the mind boggling thing about Learning 3.0 - the integration of machine learning and human learning. STUPENDOUS.
Steve Wheeler's Learning Grid