Friday, October 10, 2008

mlearn2008 keynote from Yrjo Engestrom

The day started with a much anticipated keynote by Yrjo Engestrom who discoursed on the new patterns of mobility and learning which he terms as ‘wildfire activities’.

The presentation started with a ‘reconceptualising mobility’. Current definitions of mlearning tend to still be ‘content determine’ which does not necessarily reflect what takes place in the lives of the learners or the changes in society. He uses the example provided by Kris Gutierrez who posits that there is an official script of the educator and an invisible counter-script of the learner. There often collide but if we are able to to hybridize these two scripts, we have powerful ‘third spaces’ of learning.

A definition of wildfire activities & why are they important was then presented. Wildfire activities are non-linear & multi-dimensional with an emphasis on sideways trajectories & boundary crossing. This is in contrast to the standard explanation (eg Lave & Wenger) which moves novices from the periphery to the centre. Wildfire activities have immerged from very recent observations & studies on on-line social networking, open source movements & peer to peer sharing. These are examples of social production.

He provides examples of activities like skate boarding, birdwatching & participation in relief disaster relief as activities that are difficult to categorise. These activities offer little monetary reward, legal protection or institutional support. They require heavy expenditure of time & energy. They carry high risks of failure, trouble of authorities and even physical harm. They are discontinuous & persist over time. They are dispersed & distributed yet they are somehow coordinated. There is a quick adoption and creative use of up to date information & communication technologies. They are not only wikinomics, or just social networks ie they are not dependent on the web.

The metaphor of ‘communities of mycorrhizae’ was then used to explain the wildfire communities which are hybrid, poorly bounded, & where the centre does not hold. In contrast, craft communities are relatively close & stable & dominated by tradition and the traditional authority of the master. Mass production communites are governed by rules which are relatively transparent & has a known authority

He follows through with a hypothesis on learning in wildfire activities. These activities are examples of horizontal learning that cross boundaries & “ties knots between actors operating in fractured & often poorly charted terrain.” The learning is often subterranean and self-reflective. The learning is high stakes, often requires quick improvisational adaption and it is holoptic control (individuals have access but no single node of control).

Book – From teams to knots: activity theory studies of collaboration and learning at work, provides more reading on the concepts introduced in his presentation.

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