Outsider learning

Today’s #digped discussion is about listening to learners in order to find out about what learning actually happens “in the wild”:

From Hybrid Pedagogy:

In what ways have digital students begun to break apart the idea of the course, to break apart even our long-held thoughts about how, when, and where learning happens? Do our notions of learning — even our most progressive ones — reflect learning that’s already happening informally?The goal of this #digped chat will be to question whether we are learning enough from learners — particularly the ones who populate the digital. Here are some questions to consider in advance of the discussion:

Where does learning happen outside of MOOCs and other online courses?

What does “learning in the wild” imply? How can naturally-occurring, informal learning translate to the online classroom or MOOC?

If, as Jesse has said, there lie opportunities for analysis “not in the thesis but the fissure”, how do we change the way we evaluate learning to accommodate learning that happens unexpectedly, outside the institution’s purview, and in ways that can’t always be measured?

This is a topic that is close to my heart – and this is a quick post to try and say (part of) something that has been rolling around my mind for months.

You see, I am currently unaffiliated to any academic institution, and I have no intention of changing this in the near future (“why” is a long enough topic for another post).

When MOOCs first appeared, I was supercharged with excitement. This has disappeared.

My issue is this: despite all the lip service paid to radical leanings within MOOCs, there remains a huge divide. This is not so much between “teachers” and “learners” – but rather “the academy” versus “everyone else on the planet”.

And, you would think, listening to all the rhetoric, that everyone outside of the academy is sat there, passively and cluelessly waiting for the next MOOC installment – that “open learning” happened in a quick revolution only months ago – and that “educators” hold the sole responsibility for directing this movement.

You might also think that learners, without the magic of MOOCs, would never pick up a book or engage in an (‘academic’) conversation, let alone create or direct the learning process.

I would like to draw attention to an ignored kind of learner.

This “outsider learner” is not acquiring skills in order to progress at work. They are not trying to achieve credits to enable to get on to a course. They are not using their “Personal Learning Network” as an exercise in career-self-promotion. But neither are they a post-doc or a tenured academic.

Instead, this learner learns in their leisure time, for fun. Or they learn because they already feel compelled to do it. They are drawn to libraries and other repositories of information. They set up reading groups because they are bored. They form collectives and messageboards and group blogs. They make lists on arg dot org. This learner often feels more at home drunkenly discussing theory in the pub than trying to explain themselves to academics.

My personal experience is this – I have been engaged in far more fulfilling, exciting and productive conversations far away from academia. My MA seminars sometimes reduced me to tears of frustration. In comparison, I’ve had reading group discussions that have made me feel completely alive and on the edge of something new – that most precious “Oh my god, exciting and new!” feeling that the best learning experiences give you.

Sometimes this has happened via MOOCs. But rarely, and always in Tweets or chats, and never on a Canvas forum underneath a question from “the tutor”. I don’t need a teacher to tell me how to discuss things. I just need other people with the same passion to talk to.

There is also a political point to this. Some people feel excluded from dominant discourse. Some do not want to contribute to the dominant discourse. Some of us are fed up of being consistently on the wrong end of power structures with the academy. Furthermore, many of us have already been doing just fine creating our own conversations and resource repositories – it would have just been quite exciting to do this on a larger scale (a “massive” scale), because it would help us reach people in new and different ways.

However, it now seems to me even more than before, that academics are often busy talking to themselves inside their own bubbles. As a final thought, consider this infographic for the FemTechNet “DOCC” – a radical new way to do a MOOC:


(From Feminist Online Spaces)

Notice anything?

You’re right – this network is still composed entirely of academic institutions. I’m really not sure where I fit in there.

  1. Hi Hybrid Pedagogy –
    The DOCC 2013 was constructed by scholars inside the academy but we welcome input/collaboration from those teaching from the “outside.” We also have opportunities for anyone interested in the topic to do the course in a self directed way. We wanted to create a digital community more than a course that could be delivered to lots of students.

    • Hi Elaine,

      Sorry for any misunderstanding – I’m not affiliated with Hybrid Pedagogy!

      I completely get where you are coming from, and I’m really excited by the DOCC model and the potential for forming a digital community.

      However, my concern is the lack of visibility of people from outside academia – both when “creating” MOOCs as well as discussing and critiquing them. I think is particularly interesting in the infographic – even though the DOCC has the potential to break through this model, again it is completely focused on universities.

      If someone did want to do the course in a ‘self-directed’ way, how do they do it? As in, I haven’t found a link haha!

      Anyway, thanks for getting in touch.

      • Hi reticulatrix,

        I see your point about people outside of academia. We have been putting a lot of thought into making the DOCC open to self-directed learners. However, these projects have required a significant of troubleshooting over the past month of so to get up and running. Here is what we have done so far:

        1) We have created a Google+ site called FemTechNet_SDL – specifically for self-directed learners
        2) The instructors/organizers are putting together a list of “office hours” where SDL’s can FTF, gchat, or otherwise message about the DOCC
        3) We are building an area into our FemTechNet commons site that will hold resources, i.e. bibliographies, videos, etc.

        I think your observation suggests that the DOCC organizers need to do a better job of promoting these resources. Thanks for the feedback.

      • That all sounds really exciting – I look forward to finding out more.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this toplogically and looking for an analogy alternative.
    I think the one I am happiest with is that of pirate radio / indymedia as alternatives to mainstream media.

    Universities are definitely hegemonic, and, via insufficient critique or assumptions of public good provision have continued unquestioned into a perceived benevolence. I wonder how much of the MOOC popularity is seen as outreach, and perhaps, explicitly in the definition of outreach is a border, or a structure-barrier prevented the proper dissemination you would expect from a public service. Contrast perhaps with the provision of health care via the NHS, or the provision of news via the BBC.

    If we use outsider as a term, and it sits awkwardly with as defining something as to what it is not, not what it is (and the celebration of that), then I think perhaps the DOCC, or any MOOC experience could be read as a pirate radio. As much as that the educational space is in theory limitless and can take on many forms, but a dominant central provider is the dominant voice (and that is definitely the University). Variations based on needs, or preferences are not catered to, or are catered to in time slots not suited to easy consumption (BBC showing deaf subtitling at 2 in the morning – “can’t they just record it”). The cost in both time and money of having an alternative platform – and usually the dominant voice will have a say in the licensing of that new platform. So there is a distinctly political statement in using a pirate voice to try and occupy the same frequencies and platforms as the main provider does. You might ask if the student fees protests had taken place on campuses if the response made by universities would have been different.

    So I wonder if pirate DJ like stations – mini WordPress sites perhaps – sharing good teaching (white label vinyl) would create spaces for understanding. I am left thinking Tumblr might be a better educational space than most unis are.

    • I absolutely love the pirate radio station example – especially because that model underlines that “outsider spaces” have creativity and identity that isn’t just defined in relation to the mainstream.

      When I was first considering these issues, I had in mind plenty of “outsider spaces”: zine libraries, women’s history archives, Tumblr feminism, ‘outsider art’, indymedia of various forms. These aren’t just Web 2.0 mediated events.

      What’s also interesting is their relationship to the dominant discourse and how that changes over time. A simple example might be the fact that Rinse FM is now licensed – or indeed that feminism or queer studies have found their way onto undergraduate courses.

  3. CogDog said:

    Try Digital Storytelling ds106 http://ds106.us where those lines of affiliation, student, teacher, participant are obscured to smudged out. In fact, we are running now an experimental “headless” course (using materials from previous iterations) for open participants. There is no teacher of record, or another way, everybody is a teacher.


    It is about as far from a newspaper headline MOOC as you can get

    • ds106 is really interesting – and it’s also interesting that it seems to have slipped from these conversations. You’re right, I should definitely give it a go.

      • ds106 is a MOOC-like thing from a whole other planet — a good planet that has fun things on it like roadside impromptu video “lectures” (the only kind I enjoy), gifs, and cartoons with cows. I’m also a big fan of platforms, like ds106, that put the creative work of contributors at the center of the course. (ds106 is less a course, though, and more courseish.) They’ve done this well from the start, even before they were officially “headless”.

  4. liminalitch said:


    I’m not a learner – I’m not looking for information to absorb, to improve my employability or whatever; I’m researching in order to put my own work / thoughts together, because that’s important – essential to me. Other people’s expertise is really valuable to me but even if they know way, way more than me, I don’t want to be instructed, or taught; I want to have a discussion, a discussion between peers. Imbalances of skill and knowledge shouldn’t entail non-peer-relations. Actually, I think that goes even for non-discussion-like cases where you have someone stood in front of some other people writing equations on a whiteboard for two hours (and now I think of it I do still learn that way, though from peers and outside any formal structure). Hierarchy isn’t about expertise, it’s about power; in education, it’s about making people learn a particular thing in a particular way. So it’s obviously used in contexts like school and university where there’s a certain amount of coercion involved, but let’s try and avoid it outside of those worlds at least. Hierarchy has always been a really counterproductive educational tool for me – certainly as a learner, anyway.

    Now interested in the ways in which one’s epistemology interacts with one’s attitude to pedagogy, hmm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: