Friday, May 4, 2007

Work and no play, Play and no work, or Work and Play

My dad said when we were younger, "Work hard and play hard!" Not only did he teach us to work hard--very hard, but he also understood we needed to play. He and my mom encouraged our involvement in lots of activities--sports, youth and government programs, speech contests, yearbook editors, etc. Looking back, I guess because we worked so very hard, we kids embraced these other activities with great enthusiasm. These activities gave us opportunities to meet new people, have fun and "play at real life".

In today's world, do we always have to separate work and play (learning and play)? I am fortunate that I have a job that is a lot of fun. I love where I work and with whom I work. I love working with Extension professionals! In my job, I have the freedom to learn new technologies and new practices because I choose to and because these new tools and techniques can be very applicable to my job and to Extension. It is difficult for me to think of work as work and to think of learning as work.

But I wonder as we create educational programs in Extension, are we using techniques that make learning fun? Do we need to? Do we use technology to leverage our educational programs and our abilities to connect with other experts and to our clientele?

Dan Maas, CIO of Littleton Public Schools (Colorado), has an excellent post on why it is important to make learning (and work) fun and to leverage our technologies in preparing kids for real life scenarios. He emphasizes that learning and being successful is easier if we think it is fun and more like playing. He says that the "best learning moments ...happened when we were playing at real life."

The more interesting, the more authentic, the more rewarding and the more comparable to real life our educational experiences can be, I'm betting the more success we'll realize.

While Dan Maas is emphasizing that playing at real life is effective in secondary education, can't we apply that same principle to educating adults? We now have technologies which can offer so much more; we have technologies that helps us connect to others in ways never before.

...real life today is a connected, informed and participatory life. Real life in the 21st Century means that traditional barriers of time, space and money are being completely redefined.

We have abilities to have many-to-many conversations, not just one to one conversations or one to many lectures (one teacher to many students).

Anyone can choose to "listen in" on these conversations, join in the conversations, and share your conversations to others, and continue the conversations in other forms or in other groups. These conversations are linked with other conversations and these "many-to-many" linkages, chaotic and haphazard, create the grandest opportunities to share knowledge, learn knowledge, develop skills, and create relationships.

Many of us in higher education are still trapped into thinking that distance learning technologies are extensions of the traditional classroom and are mechanisms for efficiencies, convenience, and cost savings. Social networking technologies allow for so much more.

These technologies give us great opportunities for building relationships. Making connections is the first step to building relationships. Through these relationships, we enhance learning for ourselves and for our "clientele". The learning becomes more like a web, looking nothing like teacher to student lecture. Through these interlinking relationships we can give our programs breadth and depth.

Human relationships are the most valuable currency for every career and lifestyle and no matter how much things change, this is a constant.

Larry Lippke points out that Extension should "accommodate collaboration" that these technologies provide.

We also need to consider that we may not be the sole and ultimate experts on our content, but that our customers may have experience that tempers our knowledge. These wiki and blog platforms accommodate collaboration with our customers in ways never before seen, and we need to foster those collaborations.

In higher education, how can we create both structured and unstructured linkages that serve both worlds--the flat online world and the structured educational world? I don't know an easy answer. To start, we can take Kevin Gamble's advice, learn by doing it--"be the ball"--get in the middle of the action.

Start participating (some have started) by using these technologies. While we have always looked to our organizations' to direct us, build the technologies, and show us how to use new technologies, in social networking, we don't necessarily need direction. Communities already exist. We need to join them.

Besides these technologies not only offer great opportunities, but they are also fun.

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