that's random

Desultory musing* about mashed-up selves

Trying to find yourself is a staple of the self-help literature, along with the striving for authenticity and building up your self-esteem. I probably wrote about authenticity and how you needed to practice it in my book** because way back in 2007, I thought it was a good thing, a necessary thing.

Now I’m convinced that’s all wrong. The self that matters isn’t some tightly defined, self-loving, individuated thing in the world. The self that matters is the mashed-up self, the networked self — the self made up of relationships and experiences and interactions and ideas. It’s way bigger and more powerful than the un-networked you.

These are some ideas I want to explore: combinatorial creativity, connectivist learning, the third person perspective in the creative process, and self-transcendence. What all these have in common is they all overturn the idea that the individuated self is primary.

Writer and artist Austin Kleon on how we are mashups:

We can pick our teachers and we can pick our friends and we can pick the books we read and the music we listen to and the movies we see, etcetera. You are a mashup of what you let into your life. [via Maria Popova]

Maria Popova on networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity:

Which is interesting, recognizing not only the absolute value of content but also its relational value, the value not just of information itself but also of information architecture, not just of content but also of content curation….

The idea that in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.

This relates to how we conceive of ourselves. Are we distinct individuals with hard boundaries? Or are we somehow only ourselves when you consider how we fit into a network of experiences, people, and knowledge?

Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance, is someone who might be called a creativity guru but instead of that I would call him a creation guru. He doesn’t write so much about being creative as about actually creating. In his view, the self that we want so much to develop and pin down should be set aside:

Don’t try to define yourself, instead, suspend the question. That gives you a better lens by which to create anything you want to be.

Here’s what Fritz discovered when he tried to help people become more creative by improving their self-image:

Questions of identity got in the way of the creative process, even when people thought well about themselves.  It took years to come to understand this.  Everything pointed to a fairly simple and, yet, revolutionary pair of insights.  The first was that what people thought about themselves, good, bad, or indifferent, wasn’t going to change.  All notions of self-esteem training are predicated on the idea that people can change how they see themselves.  This is one reason they don’t work.

The other insight was just as major.  It is that your view of yourself has no place in the creative process.  Simply put, the moment you make your success or failure about you, that’s the moment you can’t learn what you need to learn, experience what comes with the creative territory, and keep your focus where it needs to be, on the outcome you are working to create, and where you currently are in the creative process.

In his books, Fritz suggests that creators need to use a third-person perspective that takes themselves out of the equation rather than the first-person which makes creation all about the self, the I, the creator herself. Creation doesn’t grow out of some authentic, independent self. It launches from a networked self which is almost like no self at all.

Maybe the reason that thinking too much about our identities as distinct individuals stops us from creating is because creation comes through mashing up, through navigating networks of people and knowledge and ideas, not from the perspective of one isolated node in the network. The node alone is useless.

So we need to stop thinking so much about our individual selves — we need to transcend ourselves. Interesting that  some of the most satisfied people combine a love of the new with persistence and self-transcendence. These seem like exactly the traits you’d need to succeed in a networked world. Neophilia (novelty-seeking, love of the new) draws you to new ideas, new people, and new experiences, giving you more material for the mashup that is you and the mashups you create. Persistence keeps you from being merely a dilettante, flitting from one new thing to another. And self-transcendence stops you from thinking that it’s all about you.

It’s really freeing to realize your self alone is this puny, incompetent thing whose self-love or self-loathing matters not a bit. It’s your networked mashup self that matters, that’s capable of doing and creating great things.

* With credit to JP Rangaswami for his “musing lazily about” series. I like to be able to wander around a topic without reaching any conclusions or forcing it into some structure that might obscure the evolving ideas.

** Which shall remain unnamed and unlinked because I’m so beyond what I wrote then even though I feel like there were some really great ideas that I’d like to expand upon and refine. E.g., busy vs. bursty.

education, research

Getting ready for connected learning

Here’s a cool idea: the web enables a connectivist learning style based on network navigation, where “learning is the process of creating connections and developing a network.” Seems to me before you can learn connectedly, though, you need to first learn in more socially and contextually constrained ways.

Background: Three generations of distance education pedagogies

In this week’s Learning Analytics 2012 (LAK12) web session, Dragan Gasevic pointed us at an interesting paper describing three generations of distance education: cognitive-behaviorist, social constructivist, and connectivist. From Anderson and Dron (2011):

Anderson and Dron did not claim that the connectivist model would replace the cognitive-behaviorist or social-constructivist models but said that “all three current and future generations of [distance education] pedagogy have an important place in a well-rounded educational experience.”

These three models co-exist online today

LAK12 is itself an example of a course built in the connectivist paradigm, but just because a course is massive, open, and online doesn’t mean that it’s connectivist. For example, the Stanford machine learning class offered last fall was a (very effective) example of a cognitive-behaviorist approach. Students watched videos on their own schedule. Regular quizzes and homework assignments checked understanding. Andrew Ng was content creator and sage on the stage. While there was a Q&A forum available, the course design did not rely on them. A student could use them or not.

Typical online college courses today are often built in the social-constructivist mode, with instructors seeking to design and run courses that encourage many-to-many engagement through discussion threads and group projects. Does the addition of social features drive learning? It seems to be an article of faith among instructional designers today that it does. I’m not up on the research so I can’t say — but I can say that in online courses I’ve reviewed and taken, I don’t see evidence that social features have been designed in such a way that they make a difference in learning.

When are the different approaches useful?

I am thinking that whether a cognitive-behaviorist or constructivist or connectivist approach is best depends upon the preparation and goals of the learner. Maybe something like this:

I suspect that a student needs to gain basic grounding and fluency in a subject before constructivist approaches will be useful. An elementary schooler needs to learn to read and write and do arithmetic before you can do a group science project, for example. And it seems like a connectivist approach will be most effective once you already have some intermediate and contextual knowledge of a subject before trying to navigate out from it.

What do you think? When are cognitive-behaviorist vs. social constructivist vs. connectivist approaches to learning most useful? Do you think you need to have achieved a certain level of contextual and subject knowledge before connected learning is effective?