Uncertainty of Abundance and Choice

It has been one of those wild and crazy weeks. Work has been stressful and now I am taking two courses, one on e-learning instructional design for credit and toward a certificate, and the etMOOC. I thought for sure that my blogging would take a hit this week, as I also need Crazy Week Cat Memeto plan a presentation on teachers using twitter in the classroom.

Using twitter and other social media networks has become an intricate part of my every day life. If I’m not sharing then I’m learning, if I’m not sharing or learning, then I’m either reading off-line, spending time with my family, watching old episodes of Boy Meets World (trying to get teaching pointers from Mr. Feeny), or at work. Whew!

The main ideas that have dominated my thinking this past week has been the idea of learning styles and the idea of personalized learning. For some reason Sue Waters has been on my mind as well as how the main presenters for etMOOC have been either Canadian or Australian. I looked up the education rankings by country online and found that the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (English speaking countries) are all ahead of the U.S.


The controversy over learning styles continues. I have come to the personal conclusion that there are not different learning styles. ‘What this means for instructors, Mr. Pashler says, is that they should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the composition of learning styles in their classrooms. (Are 50 percent of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic learners?)

Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.” See article here. Deb Peterson wrote a nice piece for About.com on the controversy over learning styles. You can read her article here.

I do know that we learn through our senses and that a web based digital world changes the way that we think and learn. Involve more senses in real situations and learning is more apt to take place. Restak, a researcher in the UK has the following to say on the topic, “What does seem to be important is that learning activities should stimulate several parts of the brain simultaneously since this promotes the increased neural interconnectedness associated with the development of increased cognitive capacity. Repetition and practice also seem to be important since they bequeath thickening of the myelin insulation on the axons of the neurons and this favors future thinking speed and accuracy.” See article here.

Now it may seem like splitting hairs but all of the “multiple intelligences” that are quoted by Howard Gardner can be found with varying degrees within every individual. To me, I think that as teachers we should focus on making sure that we include as many senses as possible when teaching and assessing students and teach using various modalities.


I have become a very vocal advocate for personalized learning. Whether it is self-learning by reading books, blogs, and papers or watching YouTube videos I learn something. Dave Comier gave a presentation on rhizomatic learning that gave me pause to think deeply, I know, it did hurt. Dave states in his most recent blog post, “Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the Rhizomatic Learningcurriculum.”

Just by participating in the form of reading, blogging, watching, listening, curating, thinking, I am learning. What bothers me about rhizomatic learning is how to measure that learning, how to quantify that learning, how to have learning evaluated? I guess that this can be a personal choice also.

There are people willing to help others achieve their goals of personalized learning. One example is Peer 2 Peer University where courses are taught, badges can be earned, and learning credentialed or validated by peers. Wikiversity is another way to learn collaboratively using Open Education Resources (OERs) and Wikipedia. I do not know enough about this form to tell if it has true value or not. Another source of personalized learning is WikiQuals. This is true democratic personalized learning. Using affinity partners that can range from family members to peers, learning can go in any direction and validated through peer review and openness.

What can I say about Sue Waters? She is Australian, blogs a lot, and teaches teachers how to use blogging in the classroom. She is also pretty good with technology and its educational uses. You can follow Sue’s blogging exploits at http://suewaters.com/ trust me, you will want to follow this educational leader.

Cat Meme by http://tainith.dailykos.com/

Rhizomatic Learning via Flickr by giulia.forsythe


6 comments on “Uncertainty of Abundance and Choice

  1. Hi Timothy

    Thanks for the really kind words; I really appreciate it! One of the best part of my work is I have to know how the different technologies work and how we can use them effectively with their students or for their own personal learning. Understanding this helps us support our community better and helps us with feature development. Effectively it is a win-win.

    Perhaps something that isn’t so obvious in ETMOOC is http://suewaters.com/ isn’t my main blog. Normally I blog on The Edublogger ( http://theedublogger.com/ ). My Twitteraholic post might help with your presentation (if you haven’t discovered it yet)- http://theedublogger.com/2012/02/13/the-updated-twitteraholics-guide-to-tweets-hashtags-and-all-things-twitter/ I was a bit conflicted which blog to use for ETMOOC because I wasn’t sure how many posts I would need (or want) to write. It’s nice to be blogging on my personal blog for a change.

    The challenge of personal learning in schools is we do need to accept that we have to fit within the constraints of curriculum and grading while developing skills that help students gain personal learning skills. We need to look for opportunities of authentic learning where students achieve more learning by developing connections to what they are learning. By students sharing their learning they’re able to connect with others, whether it be content specific experts such as authors or scientists or students in other schools. who provide insights that aren’t achievable through reading books or reviewing information on the net.


    • Hi Sue. Thanks for the reply. I will definitely take a look at the blog and update your Edublogger link. I love the idea of connecting with content experts, scientists, authors, and students in other schools. I have been following Julie Lindsay’s and Vicki Davis’s Flat classroom project for a couple of months now. Very intrigued by the idea of globalizing education.

  2. Hi Timothy,
    Thanks for your post. After many years of preaching to others about the need to teach to different learning styles I am ready to take a closer look at how people learn and agree with you that as teachers we need to “focus on making sure that we include as many senses as possible when teaching and assessing students and teach using various modalities” Here is another article that first got me looking at learning styles differently..

    • Linda. Thank you so much for the comment. I really appreciate the link. It is nice to know that there are others out there contemplating the same ideas that I blogged about. I happen to work with two people who majored in psychology and they were also doubtful about learning styles but both brought up the idea of involving senses. This made me seriously begin to rethink my position also.

  3. Your post got me thinking about the learner-become-teacher dimensions of this that I first began considering as a graduate student in the 1980s. As a teacher I was working with students who would encounter “the uncertainty of abundance and choice”, therefore, I was the need to think about learning in terms of my role given the particular goals, audiences, purposes, tasks I had put before us – would it be guidance, support, modeling, meaning making, mentoring? AND there was the actuality of being uncertain about what would come of the various ways in which students would choose – or not – to work with abundance and choice based on the context of the course and the contexts they brought into the course.

    The first time I had a chance to complete a “learning styles” tool, I answered each of the questions from three different “preferences” I’d recognized in myself as a learner – that did end up with us plotting three very different charts from the “scoring” of responses to questions. That pretty much confirmed my longtime view that people likely did have learning preferences, that those preferences likely shifted according to context (audience & purpose for task, co-learners, who was requiring the learning & why), and that as learners we grew our preferences (or maybe grew beyond preferences as learning and interactions broadened, deepened, converged, diversified, closed down misconceptions – stuff like that).

    Even before the web, then, I sensed that as I learner I shifted my practices to “deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice” when I was in an “authentic learning” situation at school or work or home or community.

    “Learning styles” makes me think in terms of “managing learners.” While reading through the ideas you’ve posted here along with links to resources both new and familiar to me, I find myself thinking instead about “managing to learn,” is, indeed, messy because of the abundance of choices to make in the social contexts of learning and learners.

    What if our cultural question about learning grew less from wondering how to “manage learners” and more from consider how it is that humans “manage to learn”?

  4. Ilene Dawn. I had an awesome reply going and then my iPad inadvertently crashed
    8-( My initial thought is one of God given curiosity and philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Arête of Cyrene, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Of course you also have the untold billions of people who through curiosity, discovery, explorations, and failure learned much without formal education.

    I personally think that learning, in its simplest form, is curiosity, intentional discovery, unintentional discovery, exploration, and the passing on of learned experiences. A teacher cannot make someone learn anything, but a teacher can present the proper conditions to tap into a learners natural curiosity. I know that in my teaching I need to be more cognizant of this curiosity and try to create an environment that is conducive for learners to pursue that which they are most curious about.

    Education needs to be more about learning how to learn, how to solve problems, inventing, and sharing than the current model of prescribed curriculums. Yes, learning is definitely rhizomatic, but many of the roots get chopped off in the name of formal education, curriculum, and standards.

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