The Challenges of Choosing to Learn

I committed to the Thoughtvectors in Concept Space course last week and found myself spending every free minute (and even some not-free minutes) having fun learning and exploring. I blogged, I commented on blogs and I spent a lot of time creating an associative trail, all things I would not have done if it weren’t for the course.

Then, the weekend came. If I were a “real” student in the course, I would have spent the weekend completing the syllabus requirements including reading ahead for this week. As Gardner Campbell, one of the course masterminds, points out in his Letter to a learner, this course is intense because it is not easily compartmentalized and requires continuous attention. Just take a look at the syllabus. This is a course that has an intensive assignment every day. It demands more than some quick reading and writing or a few math problems submitted via Blackboard.

But I’m a part-time farmer and this weekend was a little crazier than usual. Saturday mornings are spent at the local farmer’s market ,and this week I was on my own because my husband was going to a poultry workshop. Before he left, he came in with the news that ten baby pigs had been born sometime in the middle of the night, adding to the five that had been born the week before. As I picked mustard greens, I heard loud squeals coming from the pen and found two of them crying because they had gotten out and now couldn’t figure out how to get back into the pen with their siblings.  (Believe me, there is real truth to the “squeal like a pig” simile!) I rescued them and quickly texted a friend to arrange baby sitting services while I was at the market.

Sunday was reserved for my flower garden. It’s about 1200 square feet and desperately needed work: dead heading, weeding, new planting. A labor of love for which I never have enough time. With a week of heat and humidity being forecast, I wanted to spend as much of the beautiful day digging in the dirt.

In between, I worked on my associative trail. I didn’t just want to take a screenshot of my history. I made a collage of browser tabs and had a plan for creating an interactive image map of my graphic organizer. I had ideas for tools but this wasn’t a typical organizer with a central point that branched out but more of a journey. After putting the whole thing into powerpoint, I realized it no longer offered the option to export as a webpage. I have an idea for how I’m going to do it but it needs another hour or two or three of work to get it done.

Which brings me to this blog post. Even with its focus on learning rather than grading, the course is a course and the real students will eventually get a grade, which provides an incentive for them to make the course a priority over other activities. Because I’m not working for a grade, I do not have that incentive. As I mentioned in my post last week, I like the freedom that brings. I can pick and choose what I want to do, pop in and out as I like, spending more time on the assignments that interest me and taking them someplace they weren’t necessarily meant to go while ignoring items that don’t necessarily fuel my imagination. If I don’t comment on ten other blogs, who is going to know or care? No professor is counting, I’m not going to get any gentle reminders, and I can’t be removed from the course. (I suppose they could take away my RSS feed from the course site but I don’t think that’s going to happen.) In fact, the only person who might be disappointed in my performance is me. And that is something of an overwhelming thought.

Am I happy with my work so far? YES! I can’t wait for you to see the trail I created. There are links from my distant and not-so-distant past that weave together personal experiences and areas of interest, all coming from reading and thinking about the Vannevar Bush article from last week and how it connects lots of threads for me.

My biggest challenge is keeping up the original enthusiasm, carving out time and making the course a priority in a way that makes sense for an “open” student. I find myself wondering if this is why the drop out rate for Coursera courses is so high: we think we want to learn something but realize that making a priority for learning is hard when we don’t have to do it.

One thought on “The Challenges of Choosing to Learn

  1. Giulia

    It’s true, this course does take a lot of time because it’s so interesting. My mind keeps wandering back to thought vectors and it brought be to your site via Gardner’s. What an exciting weekend you’ve had.
    There is definitely a tension between doing an assignment as amazingly as you want and just getting it done. As open learners we have the luxury of deciding the balance between those two.
    For me, I never complete Coursera courses because they don’t make me think or let me be as playful in the same way as these connectivist courses do. It also felt like my forum discussions (when used) were lost in the chaos, whereas it’s much easier to connect directly with people.
    As for your associative trail, I wonder if a series screenshots (or export to JPG) will do or perhaps uploading it to slideshare? In any case, I look forward to seeing it, in any form you manage to get it sharable, when you can find a moment.

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