When Learning Isn’t Vulnerability

I’ve sat on this post for several days now, because I empathize with the sense of fear that George Siemens described two weeks ago:

When I first started blogging, I had a sense of fear with every post (“did that sound stupid?”), loss of sleep soul-searching when a critical comment was posted, and envy when peers posted something brilliant (“wow, why didn’t I think of that?”).

I think all bloggers have probably felt this way, illustrating one of the reasons an editor-colleague can be so valuable. The act of blogging – or nearly any type of shared or public learning experience, for that matter – can bring with it a daunting sense of weakness. Sometimes these feelings of weakness may yield humility within the learner, which can be a good thing, while other times raw anger and defensiveness result. Alas, the price of “learner becoming.”

Nevertheless, at the heart of George Siemens‘ recent argument – echoed by Will RichardsonStephen Downes, and Audrey Watters – lies an idea with which I simply can’t agree.

Learning is vulnerability. When we learn, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we engage in learning, we communicate that we want to grow, to become better, to improve ourselves.

Have we consigned ourselves to a world where learning must be networked, must require community, and must embrace the vulnerability of students? I hope not. Even simple definitions describe learning as the “activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.” In today’s technologically capable society, there are many times when learning (i.e., studying, practicing, being taught, and experiencing) takes place without an audience and with minimal communication strain on the part of the learner.

Risk-free Learning Device
Risk-free Learning Device

When technology is used to access knowledge, with whom must today’s learner unavoidably communicate? I agree that the deepest learning takes place through empathetic human interaction, but unaccompanied and private learning nonetheless happen all the time.

How vulnerable do we really make ourselves while quietly checking Wikipedia on our phones? Is human to human communication required to span Google Scholar? How much frailty is demonstrated by the student eagerly engaged in a self-paced MOOC? With whom do we communicate our desire to grow when we spend alone time reading a book? Finally, when Will Richardson’s daughter used YouTube to learn to play the piano on her own, to whom did she disclose her deficiency?

No one.

Learning is no more vulnerability than eating might be. Consider instead that ignorance is vulnerability; as is the human body’s need for nourishment.  Learning and eating, therefore, become the processes followed to overcome these all-to-common weaknesses.

When Facebook introduced inline privacy control to its line of basic privacy settings in October 2012, they provided users with the ability to easily control audience. What keeps us from doing the same for our students, and how might this type of learner autonomy improve their impressions of school?

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7 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    27 January 2014 at 6:01pm
    When Learning Isn’t Vulnerability ...
  • @nick_chater
  • 28 January 2014 at 3:01pm
    When Learning Isn't Vulnerability | @ddraper http://t.co/zduC7m4Pos ...
  • @mcleod
  • 29 January 2014 at 7:01am
    […] Learning need not require vulnerability.  ...
  • When Learning Isn't Vulnerability - Drape's Tak...
  • 29 January 2014 at 11:01am
    nice one "failure to grow" "When Learning Isn’t Vulnerability" ...
  • @jelmerevers
  • 29 January 2014 at 1:01pm
    Via @jelmerevers: "When Learning Isn’t Vulnerability" Ignorance probably ...
  • @CoolsFemke
  • 30 January 2014 at 5:01am
    When #learning isn't vulnerability http://t.co/H0ptDMDlZL via @ddraper #lrnchat ...
  • @OpusLearning
  • 01 February 2014 at 8:02am
    Interesting pushback here from @ddraper on vulnerability ...
  • @shareski
  • Pingback: @nick_chater()

  • Interesting thoughts, Darren.

    For the record, I would argue that *needing* to eat is one of the most vulnerable things we do every single day! 😉 We show that we are vulnerable and cannot survive without nourishment. In that sense, I would say that we are very vulnerable in learning in that we need knowledge to knowledge to survive. Those who refuse to learn are lacking vital sustenance. They are missing out on nourishment their bodies truly need. And thus, as you said, are therefore ignorant.

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  • Interesting pushback, you’re good at this and I appreciate it. Without getting into the specifics of this argument, I find it really challenging to project many big ideas onto the notion of “learning”. Learning is…. or learning isn’t….. The truth I’m coming to realize is that it’s a lot of things and there are fewer absolutes. I think often my arguments and many of others are largely a push against traditional and embedded mindsets that are intended to open up more possibilities and yet often go too far in dismissing any former ideas.

    With this idea, I think for most of us, learning flourishes when we become vulnerable. So is vulnerability, the act of making your ideas or deficiencies public? Just want to be clear on the definition.

  • Pingback: @shareski()

  • Thanks, Dean and Jethro. I really appreciate your perspectives.

    I’m not sure how good I am at pushing back, but I’ve really been trying to improve. There seems to be a bit of an art to doing it well. In the past I would often react, unfiltered, in an attempt to quickly prove my ideas correct. I’ve since grown to see that learning is better when, instead of always trying to be right, we try harder at showing respect for others’ work while also sharing our perspective in a non-threatening way.

    Tricky stuff, but far more effective over time; because building relationships matters more than being right all the time ever will.