Recently, through a Saybrook University learning experiment entitled “Project X” participants were immersed in a learning experience designed through the lens of social media. The course was on Evolutionary Leadership for Sustainability and was facilitated by Kathia Laszlo, Ph.D. As a bit of a flanuer, I observed the class for research on its effectiveness and design, while becoming a member of the input as well.
From this overarching lens, the boundaries of this learning objective stretched into multiple directions such as technology and self-expression, collaboration within a social media context, and new emergent design. This learning experience was an open system of expression and thought, based on human dialogue.
The complexity of our on-line interactions created a dynamic of continuous growth of new questions in the minds of the participants, and we began to cross boundaries into different systems of influence. This emergence created new angles and curves around the initial point of focus. It influenced the evolution of the initial learning objectives, changing direction, and encircling ideas that were incorporated into the whole experience without a real “final” resolve.
The group dynamic generated by participants in this learning experiment was a reflection of a larger possibility: We do not know the future but can utilize accountability to change direction into sustainability. In the next few paragraphs I will summarize the results of a survey I conducted at the end of the learning experiment as well as some personal observations made on the web of boundaries touched within the experience.
The class was comprised of a group of 34 participants including students and faculty. The initial direction of dialogue was reliant on facilitation by the instructor to ease the start of the process. The focus of the results comes from 7 members who chose to participate in the survey, open to all, and who answered at least 80% of the questions.
The survey results showed examples of systemic action research cycles. The format of the project design provided space for divergence and collaboration within the variety of ideas, examples and inspirations posted online. These loops emerging through open dialogue also contained the potential for positive growth created by bridging generational gaps of old ideas and future visions.
The results also revealed that, with the mass of input coming in, the format and technological means enveloped the participants in a pace of growth that was difficult to keep up with. Participants expressed their appreciation and desire to co-create their learning experience. At the same time, 43% of participants stated that the real challenge was keeping up with the pace of information, and 100% of survey respondents expressed a desire for increased structure and clearer expectations.
Participants expressed concern over losing the honest creativity that got expressed through such an open dialogue within the self-organized process supported by Facebook, but there was also a confusion on the specific learning purpose. In general, most individuals have been programmed to expect certain structure associated with scholarly advancement in an academic setting. We rely heavily on knowing that we are achieving set goals and mastering set knowledge. We have lived with expectations our entire lives, so one single experience may not be sufficient to open the doors to a redefinition of this mindset.
When given the chance to diverge from an archetypal learning paradigm by using new tools such as social media for education, participants in this course said “yes.” Although, through this learning experiment it also became clear that we must find ways to slow down the continuous flow of “knowledge” and “connection” from virtual reality. The resounding desire in this online learning experience was to be co-creators in our education system. It appears that social media is a good place for such participatory learning since it seems to lack the structure most communities and institutions impose upon us at a young age.