Insulat-Ed

As the scope and quality of learning that can happen outside of institutional groups continues to increase, the educational hegemony of traditional schools continues to decrease. In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,  Clay Shirky writes, “Now that there is competition to traditional institutional forms for getting things done, those institutions will continue to exist, but their purchase on modern life will weaken as novel alternatives for group action arise.”

I’ve been reading Shirky’s book, thinking about how some of his general ideas on institutions apply to schools. In the following excerpt, I’ve replaced some key words with my own:

A scribe [school], someone [an institution] who has given his life over [whose mission is] to literacy [education] as a cardinal virtue, would be conflicted about the meaning of movable type [free-forming educational networks]. After all, if books [information/teachers/experts] are good, then surely more books [information/teachers/experts] are better. But at the same time the very scarcity of literacy [information/teachers/experts] was what gave scribal [school/institutional] effort its primacy, and the scribal [school/institutional] way of life was based on this scarcity. Now the scribe’s [institution's/school's] skills [information/teachers/expertise] were [are] eminently replaceable, and his [its] function–making copies of books [educating]–was [is] better accomplished by ignoring tradition than by embracing it.” (p. 67)

We are now seeing two basic paradigms being adopted by educational institutions for dealing with the perceived and real threats to their influence and viability.

In an effort to stave off obsolescence, using an operational model developed when information/expertise and group-forming were expensive or impossible, many schools are attempting (often under the banner of security) to insulate their members from the outside network. This camp is building barriers and enacting policy aimed at shielding the institution from disruptive change. This can be seen in the creation of network filters; the suppression of free-form, need-driven networks, limiting information access through the use of rules/regulation/policies, and… general inaction. (Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away.) Many other institutions are unresponsive due to their unawareness of the potential for both positive and disruptive change. The culture of these institutions does not promote networked learning nor does it perceive any threat to its current educational paradigm. I believe most institutions today fall into this group.


The traditional paradigm is insular in many ways: It insulates itself from the outside world; it separates institutional members from one another; it silos subjects from each other.

Traditional Learning  Paradigm

Another camp is opening up the institution–from the inside out–allowing students and staff to access outside information and join outside networks as needed–and from the the outside in–allowing those outside of the institution to benefit from the institution’s offerings. MIT, Tufts and Stanford, among others, are starting to put their courseware online for anyone to use for free. Opening up the institution may seem like a counter-intuitive way of protecting it, but in an era where tremendous value is being created by informal and self-organized groups, sharing becomes the simplest and most powerful way of connecting with external learning opportunities. Why limit students to one teacher when a large number of them exist outside the institution? Why limit students to a truncated classroom conversation when a much larger one is taking place all over the world? Why not give students real-world opportunities to learn how to manage and benefit from networked sources?  Institutions that are opening up are betting that the benefits obtained by sharing their resources will outweigh the expenses incurred in their creation. These institutions understand that larger and richer sources of knowledge and wisdom are to be found outside their walls. They understand that allowing students to access these sources, sharing their own, and helping students learn how to manage and understand all of it, will add value to what it is that they do as institutions. They appreciate that the costs of trying to match the quality and quantity of resources/expertise found on the network would be prohibitive. The most practial solution is to become a participatory member of the network. In the end, providing access to these resources and teaching students how to benefit from them not only serves the students, but also keeps the institution from becoming irrelevant, although admittedly, institutional influence will most likely be diminished as more learners self-organize.

At its core, the paradigm below is about connecting and taking advantage of the educational power of large, heterogenous groups.
Networked Learning Paradigm

code: jtarbell   learn more

The paradigm below is the simplest one for most schools to adopt. Many are trying to do so, but understandably, due to institutional inertia, struggling.
Blended Learning Paradigm


The diagram below describes what’s happening in many schools right now.

Clay Shirky writes, “…in some cases the change that threatens the profession benefits society, as did the spread of the printing press; even in these situations the professionals can be relied on to care more about self-defense than about progress. What was once a service has become a bottleneck.” p. 69
Bottleneck

Comparison Chart

Previous Ed4Wb post on this topic

Other related reads (external links):

The Human Network

The Rise of the Old Academy from the Ashes of the University

Will Richardson at Edutopia

Posted on December 10, 2008 at 7:55 pm by admin · Permalink
In: Alternative Ed, Cooperation/Competition · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

39 Responses

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  1. Written by Will Richardson
    on December 12, 2008 at 11:54 am
    Permalink

    Amazing post, Bill. I’m assuming that you read the last couple by Mark Pesce here and here that speak to these ideas. Your illustrations have really sparked some thinking in my brain, as have the relevant questions you are asking.

  2. Written by Weblogg-ed » Networked Learning: Why Not?
    on December 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm
    Permalink

    [...] really good blog posts that are laying out some definite re-vision of what schools can look like. This one, by Bill Farren, fits nicely with those Mark Pesce posts that I’ve been drifting in and out of here and here. [...]

  3. Written by Daily Diigo Links 12/13/2008 « Chalkdust101
    on December 12, 2008 at 7:34 pm
    Permalink

    [...] ed4wb » Blog Archive » Insulat-Ed [...]

  4. Written by Dave Waltman
    on December 12, 2008 at 11:20 pm
    Permalink

    These visuals surely give educators something to think about. Will the one undeniable skill for a teacher to possess be the ability to create a network? One thing that I wonder is whether all the people that could be in the network will be motivated to participate? Will there be value for experts to participate on the same level as students? Experts would value networking with other experts…how do break into their conversation?

  5. Written by Networked Learning - elearnspace
    on December 13, 2008 at 12:38 am
    Permalink

    [...] a post expressing ideas similar to Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video, ed4wb contrasts education as traditionally conceived and as it might develop in the future. Several useful diagrams emphasize [...]

  6. Written by Tensegrities » Blog Archive » Models for learning
    on December 13, 2008 at 9:12 am
    Permalink

    [...] educators starting to talk very seriously about retrieving older — more relational — models of learning and teaching (even if they tend to describe them in very new terms as “networked” [...]

  7. Written by Robert Hughes Jr
    on December 13, 2008 at 9:34 am
    Permalink

    I am not sure that “traditional” classrooms are as “closed” as what the author proposes. As teachers we have had books for a long time and good teachers have always brought in lots of outside resources (movies, pictures, current events, community members, etc.) to their classrooms. Today they have a new source of material (the web) in which they can bring information and material, but that doesn’t mean the classroom was ever a “closed” knowledge space like the diagram above.

    The problem with framing the issue as a “network” vs. “closed” system is that we may be ignoring the real issue which is that teachers needs reliable systems of resources that are easily accessible. It is still easier find a useful book for use in your classroom than it is to find an equally useful website when you compare things like credibility, reliability, right level of difficulty, range of activities for your classroom, etc. Yes, you can find this on the web, but it still takes more work.

  8. Written by Allison Rossett
    on December 13, 2008 at 11:14 am
    Permalink

    Very compelling piece. Thx for it.

    Institutions that are funded by the state and/or with long historical traditions and “brand” are perhaps least able to alter their visions of themselves. They think it still works. The students still apply. Most get rejected. They retain control and can add rules, policies, and whatnot.

    The hope is in individual experts/profs who bust through walls and encourage their students to do the same. Many professors have affiliated more with the content and task domains than with their institutions. New technologies and habits advance that opportunity.

    I’ve been watching myself this semester as I struggle with the new forms. I asked: how might I assure that my students connect and engage beyond our four walls. How can I assure that those connections are substantive, that they go beyond social, and that we leave something behind. Take a look at our maiden voyage: http://www.pinotnet.ning.com Two groups of stduents, 14 online, 14 on campus initiated and seeded the groups. Now more than 200 people from around the world are reading, talking and thinking about these topics. What do you think?

    No it will not change the shape of my institution, but it certainly opened my eyes. How easy it would be for me to welcome students from other campuses, practitioners from other countries, researchers who now have insight into what we are wondering about.

    What’s not easy is who gets the student credit units, monetization, quality control….. Gnarly issues for sure, but worth our attention given the benefits.

  9. Written by ThisGlobe.com » Blog Archive » Networked Learning
    on December 13, 2008 at 8:05 pm
    Permalink

    [...] a post expressing ideas similar to Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video, ed4wb contrasts education as traditionally conceived and as it might develop in the future. Several useful diagrams emphasize [...]

  10. Written by Bill Farren
    on December 14, 2008 at 10:15 am
    Permalink

    @Dave. Thanks for your questions. I think they are important ones. I believe that one of the most important skills teachers will (currently) need is to be able to help students take advantage of all the social/networked learning tools that are emerging. I know from my own personal experience, that they’re tremendously valuable.
    I don’t think that everyone that could be in a network needs to participate. Only those that are interested enough to, will. And really, those are the people that will be the most helpful. Experts do like to share their expertise. Just look at any forum where people are asking for help. It’s amazing how helpful people really are. We do need however, to help students learn how to navigate these new waters so that they are likely to become engaged with experts willing to help. I think part of that equation has to be in how the network is set up and what tools it uses (comment rating, for example). The more social capital is created in the network, the more likely people are to want to help.

  11. Written by Bill Farren
    on December 14, 2008 at 10:43 am
    Permalink

    @Robert H. Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t really see it as an issue of information coming in from an online book or a hard-cover from the library. I see it as an issue of allowing and training educators in ways to tap into the power of networked learning–which is much more than just getting information off a networked source. Networked learning has the ability to amplify the kind of information/ideas one is seeking. Instead of just the learner finding something, the people in learner’s network help push info to the learner (Delicious for: , or look at someone’s Delicious bookmarks or Diigo annotations, for example). Networks are great at helping filter out useless info as well. Ranking systems point to high-quality sources (both info. and people).
    Encouraging networked learning often puts people into contact with a more varied group of people than what is found in a classroom. Research shows that “the highest percentage of good ideas came from people whose contacts were outside their own department.” (Shirky p. 230) (from The Social Origins of Good Ideas, by Ronald Burt).
    I disagree that it is hard to find good resources online. I do it, and I know a lot of others do it all the time. What takes some skill is figuring how to become efficient at it (networks help a lot here). One can be more productive when there are 100s of others thinking about the same stuff, often helping each other out. People that are willing to comment and engage others, often do so because they are disagreeing. This is a good thing.

  12. Written by Networked Learning « ThisGlobe.com
    on December 14, 2008 at 7:45 pm
    Permalink

    [...] a post expressing ideas similar to Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video, ed4wb contrasts education as traditionally conceived and as it might develop in the future. Several useful diagrams emphasize [...]

  13. Written by Feeling connected | Classroom At-Large
    on December 14, 2008 at 10:45 pm
    Permalink

    [...] This article on ed4wb, which I’m going to have to read 3 or 4 more times to really feel like I get it. The graphics are fantastic — great visual depictions of learning heirarchies and how they’re changing. Just looking at the images got me thinking. [...]

  14. Written by Bill Farren
    on December 15, 2008 at 9:11 am
    Permalink

    Allison: Hopped over to PINOT. Looks very interesting. Need to spend time there and learn more but the idea of non-training solutions has me thinking. My experience has been that people that expect to be trained by others, too often adopt a passive stance that doesn’t always serve them well in a dynamic world. I’ve noticed that those that set up a PLN and go out and learn on their own are the ones that are getting things done, and leading others in many interesting directions. These are the people that I follow. The key I think is an attitude, (developed through experience?) that says “I can learn whatever I want because there are amazing resources and amazing people that are also interested in similar ideas.” Today’s tools allow us to find and interact with those people.
    Of course, there will always be a place for training. After all, showing people how to become more self-sufficient and able to benefit from networks, requires some sort of training (at least initially). Looking forward to learning more. Thanks for your comments.

  15. Written by wfarren
    on December 15, 2008 at 10:05 am
    Permalink

    @Will Thanks for your comments and thanks for blogging about this over at Weblogg-ed. Your Edutopia article certainly made me think–as well as links and resources found on your blog. That’s the beauty of this type of learning. It happens.

  16. Written by Sarah
    on December 15, 2008 at 10:46 am
    Permalink

    Bill,
    You post is, as always, brilliant. Often, when I read what you’ve written, I get the feeling “that’s what I’ve been thinking, but couldn’t articulate!” You have a way with words, videos and diagrams that pushes me to be more intentional in my words and thoughtful in my sharing with colleagues. Thank you. I’m in the middle of Shirky’s book myself. Have you seen his video “where do people find the time?”

    I would respectfully disagree with Robert about the ease of finding credible, reliable, appropriate resources that are “alive” on the web. The transition to digital information, via the community of learners I follow and learn from, has resulted in a far more powerful classroom for my students than trips to the library ever were. I couldn’t bring in nearly the resources I use now. And I’m a lifelong fan of libraries, even today. This is at least partly because that community has made me a better teacher than I was before.

    Thank you again for your insight and the time I know it takes you to share your wisdom.
    Sarah

  17. Written by Much more about conectivism | UOC UNESCO Chair
    on December 17, 2008 at 7:04 am
    Permalink

    [...] of the ideas expressed by Wendy Drexler on The Networked Student video, Bill Farren explains in Insulat-ed how the educational model has changed from a straight unidireccional structure to a new frame where [...]

  18. Written by Bill Farren
    on December 17, 2008 at 9:31 am
    Permalink

    Hi Sarah. Thanks for your kind words and for pointing me to Shirky’s video. (That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You teaching me by pointing me to something I had not seen; I (maybe) teaching you with something I threw up on the net, (or at least exposing you to another point of view). The trackbacks and comments here help ME learn about what I’m currently interested in.)

    Cheers.

  19. Written by Diigo Update (weekly) «
    on December 20, 2008 at 7:33 pm
    Permalink

    [...] ed4wb » Blog Archive » Insulat-Ed [...]

  20. [...] I Målsatts blogg finns ett inslag jag nyligen skrev och som hänvisar till Bill Farren på ed4wb.org som har en mycket liknande syn som den jag har och som dessutom lyckats illustrera det hela [...]

  21. [...] a post expressing ideas similar to Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video, ed4wb contrasts education as traditionally conceived and as it might develop in the [...]

  22. [...] think Insulat-Ed, posted on ed4web (Education for Well-Being), is an excellent description of the structural changes [...]

  23. Written by New Voice, For Me at Least « Chalkdust101
    on December 31, 2008 at 4:28 pm
    Permalink

    [...] In doing so, I came across Brad Ovenell-Carter, who teaches in British Columbia.  His remix of Will Farren’s graphics from his “Insulat-Ed” post is fantastic.  Below is a copy of the message I [...]

  24. Written by Brad Ovenell-Carter
    on December 31, 2008 at 5:51 pm
    Permalink

    Will/Bill Farren,

    My link will likely show up in a trackback, but I wanted to say thanks directly for the inspiration here; great diagrams. I made a small remix of your networked learning paradigm.

  25. [...] interests them. Others have spoken of the networked learner, and of learning environments that are not isolated from the rest of the world, but rather expand through a bottom-up approach. While I really like the potential for learning in [...]

  26. Written by Michael J
    on April 25, 2009 at 8:37 pm
    Permalink

    Brilliant! I blog about print in general and digital printing in particular. You’ve put into images, what I have been trying to capture in words for many years.

  27. Written by ed4wb » Blog Archive » Let Your Ideas Socialize
    on June 4, 2009 at 1:39 am
    Permalink

    [...] a previous post, I wrote about institutional reactions to networked learning and posted some diagrams trying to [...]

  28. Written by ed4wb » Blog Archive » The New Bottom-up Authority
    on June 4, 2009 at 1:41 am
    Permalink

    [...] authority. It seems like they have much to offer traditional learning environments.Related: Insulat-EdLet Your Ideas [...]

  29. [...] continue to restrict and ignore access to rich learning sources outside of their domain.In a game I like to play, I change some of the words (or phrases, in this case) so as relate them directly to education. [...]

  30. [...] “Insulat-Ed“ and From “Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments” by Michael Wesch advocate opening the power structures and traditional institutional boundaries of education.  While “Insulat-Ed” advocates a Networked Learning Paradigm or a Blended Learning Paradigm in place of a Traditional Learning Paradigm, Wesch focuses more on experiential learning and including student ways of thinking into the classroom.  In Wesch’s YouTube Video, he visually demonstrates through his students how the traditional classroom structure is no longer conducive to learning in their academic experiences. [...]

  31. Written by Presenting to Principals « Kassblog
    on February 26, 2010 at 1:02 am
    Permalink

    [...] who wants to change a school, never mind fully integrate technology. Wanting to fundamentally change the model for schooling is a prerequisite to mastering an entirely set of new technology competencies. As long as one is [...]

  32. Written by Jason
    on April 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for this. This is probably the best depiction of various pedagogic methodologies, great comparison as well. I assume the onus is more towards more distributed network centric methodologies.

  33. Written by technologiez
    on June 25, 2010 at 11:33 am
    Permalink

    Fantastic post! I’ve been teaching at a university now for 2.5 years after 20 years in the “Corporate World”. The more I learn about academia, the more I see the challenges — and possibilities — for the future. This post is the perfect framework for trying to drive change. Your recommendations are heretical but absolutely correct. Thank you for helping me to crystallize my thoughts.

  34. Written by Info
    on October 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm
    Permalink

    Wonderful article! I’m glad I across your site. You’ve uses effective diagrams and explained things very well. You made me realize such thing I never thought of before. I think I should try to be open with this idea. Technology has been evolving so fast and I have a lot of keeping up to do. Next thing I know is there are courses being offered online like, online MBA and even doctoral studies. I think using the web would be very effective for students. I hope more people become aware of this. We should try to accept these changes and use it effectively. I hope I’ll see more interesting articles from you.

  35. Written by Jim Richardson
    on October 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm
    Permalink

    Wonderful article! I’m glad I across your site. You’ve uses effective diagrams and explained things very well. You made me realize such thing I never thought of before. I think I should try to be open with this idea. Technology has been evolving so fast and I have a lot of keeping up to do. Next thing I know is there are courses being offered online like, online MBA and even doctoral studies. I think using the web would be very effective for students. I hope more people become aware of this. We should try to accept these changes and use it effectively. I hope I’ll see more interesting articles from you.

  36. [...] of the ideas expressed by Wendy Drexler on The Networked Student video, Bill Farren explains in Insulat-ed how the educational model has changed from a straight unidireccional structure to a new frame where [...]

  37. [...] ce magnifique billet de François Guité qui, lui-même, reprend celui de George Siemens et cet autre de Bill Farren. Ce dernier contient un autre segment du livre de Clay Shirky: «Now that there is competition to [...]

  38. Written by Nice Learning photos » virtual world
    on April 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm
    Permalink

    [...] Traditional Learning Paradigm Image by Participatory Learning learn more: http://www.ed4wb.org/?p=152 [...]

  39. [...] very institutions attempting to prepare teachers? Can an institutional model be successful when a blended, network model is supplanting traditional organizational structures? Should we not explore ideas, such as the one Howard Rheingold, in his post Democratizing Learning [...]

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