My paper on “Connected Learning in the Library as a Product of Hacking, Making, Social Diversity and Messiness” has just been accepted for publication in the Interactive Learning Environments journal. (free author’s manuscript on eprints)
Bilandzic, M., (2013) Connected learning in the library as a product of hacking, making, social diversity and messiness. Interactive Learning Environments.
Background: Hacking Meetups at the Local Library
In June 2011, I started a little meetup group named “Hack The Evening” (HTE), which would meet at The Edge at State Library of Queensland (SLQ) every Thursday night to connect, socialise, geek out, explore, experiment, exchange, learn, teach and support each other around various topics related to interactive and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technologies. I initiated HTE out of personal interest (I love to geek out on Arduinos, smart sensor networks, etc.), but also as an experiment to explore how libraries as informal learning environments can support interest-driven and social/connected forms of learning. In the following two years HTE increased in size, with currently around 20 regulars at the weekly meetups, and more than 100 participants and “lurkers” in the HTE Facebook group. What I learned in those those years, is that meetup groups such as HTE have a big potential to enrich public libraries as environments for social learning.
Theory: Learning as a Social Phenomenon
Learning experiences are most effective when they are interest-driven (intrinsically motivated through personal passion and interest), and socially embedded (supported by likeminded and more knowledgeable other people). Yet most contemporary formal learning environments (schools, universities, etc.) as well as informal learning environments (museums, zoos, libraries, etc.) miss to address one or even both aspects. Formal education systems are driven by imposed curricula rather than learners’ interests, and informal learning environments provide physical spaces and infrastructure for self-directed learning (books, exhibitions, archives, computers, online access, etc.), but usually lack a supportive socio-cultural learning environment for their users – a crucial element of learning.
Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe a New Culture of Learning – new grass-root approaches for individual learning through online interactions among people who connect to share experiences, teach and learn from each through tools and platforms such as YouTube, wikis and forums. However, how can traditional, physical learning spaces support such interest-driven and social learning experiences? Connected learning was recently coined as a term to describe this design goal for innovative learning environments in the 21st century.
Aims and Insights
The goal behind studying HTE was to explore how libraries can facilitate organic growth and nourish a connected learning environment within their local user community. Based on the experiences with and at HTE, a number of relevant insights and implications emerged as discussed in the paper.
Connected learning is facilitated by:
- a high diversity of people with different skills and backgrounds.
- social hangouts where participants can engage in self-directed activities and interactions rather than follow a pre-set agenda
Hack The Evening provides a platform where a high diversity of people with different skills and backgrounds get to ‘hang out’ together in meetup sessions with an undefined and uncoordinated agenda. Learning that participants experience as a result of this setting is intrinsically motivated, self- directed and social.
Libraries can foster connected learning:
- Increase Awareness of Social Learning Opportunities within the User Community (e.g. advertise user-driven meetups, learning activities or individual projects through posters, brochures, signs, email newsletters or ambient media)
- Facilitate an Open, Collaborative and Interactive Culture (e.g. hire or train librarians as social animators / connection catalysts to facilitate connections between library users and other library users, rather than only between library users and books)
- Provide Access to Alternative Learning Materials and Spaces (e.g. fund gadgets that invite a collaborative learning culture to play and experiment with, such as 3D printers, Arduinos, etc.; provide micro-scholarships for users to access more specialised learning environments such as Hackerspaces and Makerspaces)
- Support Informal Socialisation between Participants (e.g. provide food and drinks to facilitate informal hangouts, conversations and discussions)