Learning and re-learning

I am a bit of a frustrated learner these days.  There are so many great learning opportunities available in the areas that interest me and I just don’t have the time to take advantage of them.  I wish I could participate in all the amazing #ETMOOC sessions or read the articles available through MIT’s Learning Creative Learning course, but that is just not my reality.  This blog post is not meant to be a complaint however, instead I have been fascinated by how the themes of these courses are still having an impact on my thinking and learning despite my not really participating.  A couple stories to get things started:

  1. Have you ever felt like it’s impossible to have an original thought?  I have been thinking that lately.  After months of struggling with an idea, watching things happen in my classroom and school and reflecting, I finally think I have figured something out.  I might even blog about it.  Then I will be in the grocery store lineup reading something written my Marshall McLuhan or Seymour Papert 30 years ago that articulates what I have just figured out in much greater detail and eloquence.  When this happens I find myself thinking, “I just need to find the time to sit down and read all this stuff written by these great thinkers.  Then I could save myself a lot of effort”
  2. A friend of mine recently explained to me why it took her so long to do 5 math problems for a course she was taking.  “I could just plug numbers into the formula” she explained “but then I wouldn’t really understand it.”.  Instead she solved each problem by going back to first principles and working out the formulas herself.  I found myself thinking “Wow, she really understands how to learn and she’s not even a teacher”.

These stories have got me thinking about the difference between learning someTHING and really understanding it (more on that in a bit); for now I want to reflect on the MOOCs.  Despite not having time to do the readings for these courses I have been following the conversations on Google+ and have been aware of the themes.  I am fascinated by how the themes have helped me focus my thinking.  When the #ETMOOC theme was connected learning I really enjoyed exploring the Nature Path metaphor with a few other teachers; when it was Storytelling I found myself using thinking a lot about storytelling while revamping my gr 6-8 SCRATCH unit plans; when it was DIgital Literacy I found myself reflecting back on posts I had written much earlier on the topic.  The point is (I think) that it was really useful to have a broad framework to help guide my thinking and doing, even when I wasn’t awash in the information available to me in the course.

So where am I going with all this?  Well, certainly nowhere original, but maybe somewhere that moves my thinking a bit further forwards.  What I am finding is that after messing around on my own with some of these themes and topics, when I read something written by someone else that describes the understanding I am moving towards, I feel like I get it at a deeper level.  To really understand a THING it is necessary to first mess about with it and place it in a personal context in order to understand it.  It doesn’t matter that that THING was already discovered years ago, until I am ready to understand it it is really just a bunch of words.  But when I do understand it those undertandings can be connected, and a bigger picture can emerge.  This is what it looks like in my head:

Of course I am well aware that there are already lots of fancy terms like constructivism that describe this understanding, but I like that I feel closer to my own understanding of this process.  Of course, once I drew this graphic I started to think about what traditional curriculums packed with content look like.  Here is what I came up with:

Lots of THINGS to learn, and no room to develop a personal understanding or make connections.  Seems sort of pointless, doesn’t it.


  1. Rhonda Jessen

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you navigate through etmooc and your metaphor of “learning someTHING and really understanding it.” I am looking forward to new, and renewed leaning as we move on to Open Learning.

  2. Scott Hazeu


    I certainly identify with your feelings about both the time crunch and the challenge of coming up with an original thought. Before I’m too hard on myself, your post helped me realize that many of those feelings are simply part of learning–real learning that I own, deep learning.

    I really enjoyed your diagram of the interaction of ideas in your head. Sadly, the first thing that leapt to mind when I saw the second diagram was a classroom of desks. Not that I see students as things, but that sometimes the tools and structures of the system inadvertently shape the way we see the learning, learners, and learning spaces in our schools. I want my classroom to resemble the first diagram. I’m here (blogs, twitter, etmooc, etc.) to learn about more intentionally creating learning more like that first diagram (and you’ve helped me do just that).

    Thanks for pushing my thinking along. Always a pleasure to rub virtual shoulders with you.


  3. pmacoun

    @Rhonda Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment.

    @Scott I have to say I am enjoying our virtual conversations. You help me see things in slightly different way. You are right, the second diagram does look like rows of desks. It’s interesting how our physical learning environments seem to mirror the type of learning we are trying to facilitate.

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