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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Writing, Learning, Knowing - Help Needed

I'm preparing some future presentations and articles. One thing I've really struggled with in past is how to get across the power of writing a blog as a tool that forces you to learning, especially to synthesize knowledge. In the past, I've used the analogy of the challenge during school of writing and how it forces you to really understand something. I've also talked about seeing my kids writing and how it shows important gaps. But, somehow this doesn't really capture this effect.

Does anyone have a suggestion on how to capture that power?

Why does Karyn and Barry tell us - Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog - "I’ve learned more via blogging over the past year than I learned in the preceding several years!"?

Those of us who blog have experienced this, how can I translate that into a description that is meaningful for someone who is considering whether it makes sense to spend the time and effort to blog?



Karl Kapp said...


One technique that I use is to describe a concept or idea to learners and then ask the learners to "teach" that to another learner. Most of the time the learners think it is silly since they just "learned" the information.

However, once they get into it, they learn what they don't know and thought they did and it helps to crystalize their understanding or exposes gaps.

Maybe have your audience actually, write something during the session (10 or 15 minutes max) so they can learn what can be gained through the process or writing (most people think writing is an end or a product but it is really a process).

After they have written something, ask them what they learned by writing that piece? I am sure they will learn something during that process and then you can broaden to the process of blogging.

Just a thot!

Tom Haskins said...

Tony: My initial thought is that the power in blogging depends on the synthesizing kind of learning you mention. When I'm holding conflicting ideas in mind, or wondering what question to even be asking -- I get much more value out of reading blogs and writing my own. I think it takes my insatiable curiosity and love of continual growth -- to thrive on blogging. People who are dealing with lots of specs, user manuals, policy documents, etc may never show an interest in blogs because their learning is analytic, not synthetic.

Anonymous said...

For me, the concept of bloggins is as much about everyone else's blogs as much as my own.

When I read something new on someone else's blog - I learn from that. I learn yet more when I post questions or comments and the writer or other readers respond.

I post a formative idea of my own on my blog and in the process of writing, my thoughts coagulate take shape. People stop by to comment on that, challenging my preconceptions, adding their own views and we engage in a conversation. This moves me forward even further.

The same conversation might be going on in several places at once, and Dave Snowden's concept of fragmeneted narrative kicks in as my aggregator and technorati searches pick them up.

It never stops, and it's completely under my control. I'm in the driver's seat of my own learning journey. I can go where I want by whatever route I want and to whatever depth. I can go there just once. I can revisit many times. I can go there, pitch my tent and camp out for a bit. My choice.

Stephen Downes said...

Well it's a bit early yet, but eventually you'll simply need to point to the fact that the leading authority in every discipline is someone who blogs (or does the equivalent in their own domain).

kailem adams said...

Think one of the benefits of writing a blog in this context is, it helps a person to develop his ability to learn a lesson, make a choice, reflect on values, solve problems, and/or etc. The manifestation could be applying what that person has been learned into practical use.

Here I used "benefits" instead of "power" to offer my understanding that knowledge has their own values over time. We don't have power over it because we cannot control it. At some point, these knowledge become out-of-date and so we need to refresh it continually if we want to use and get the values from it.

To capture power, IMHO, a person must believe on something, such as: Meaning, Vision, Mission, Values, Goals, Strategies, Objectives, and/or purpose to engage and serve blog challenges. This will enable, expose, and/or pressure that person to learn for himself what lessons can be learned from other blogs and etc. Really these blogs and etc. can provide that person information for the purposes of inducing more knowledge to put into effect his belief. Think it's a feedback loop that made that person to see, understand, and know the importance of any gap that that person may find. The gap could be information, insights, new direction, or etc.

Power is belief. It's the driver that keeps a person going, while belief is Life - it's a beauty.

jay said...

My blogging is akin to walking around with a camera in my pocket. With the camera, I'm continually scanning the scene for interesting shots. This keeps me alert and appreciative. When I don't have the camera, I don't see as much.

My blogging is usually spontaneous. I just hop into whatever I've been thinking, usually bringing two or three ideas together and adding a unifying image. Sometimes I just dork around with word play.

Knowing that I'm going to write something is like having the camera with me. It keeps me curious. When I see something new, I immediately question it. Is this true? Is this a blog item?

The writing itself is as Tom Haskins describes: synthesis.

Learning from blogging happens afterward, too, when you dig back through old posts, looking for something; I end up reflecting on what I find and sometimes marveling at my innocence only a few years before.

I enjoy answering comments but don't get enough of them to amount to much.

Blogging is like Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences: some people are born to it; others are not. So we shouldn't foist it off on others because some of us get so much out of it.

Blogging is like sex. Until you've tried it, you won't get it.

Wendy said...

I find it's not just synthesizing information that's so powerful but also the knowledge that others are going to read what you write. Particularly people in your field you respect and admire. That part of blogging makes me pay more attention to what I write and how I present myself (despite occasional evidence to the contrary).

Blogging has also encouraged me to try new things that I otherwise would just read about, nod my head, and go about my business. I would have never tried Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, etc without the encouragement of fellow bloggers and a need for blogging material :' )

Tony Karrer said...

This is truly fantastic input.

Love the analogies and ideas. I'm going to try a few out in written and spoken forms and see how they feel to me.

Couple of more specific thoughts -

Karl - love the idea of writing something. Always have to balance that vs. time. Our same discussion again, eh?

Tom - I agree on synthesizing. I agree that people who do not really do any kind of tacit work, research oriented, problem solving and who aren't interested in it on a personal level will not get as much value. But that's an ever diminishing portion of the world.

Karyn - very well said. Like the process angle very much (especially how it builds).

Stephen - good point - I'm a bit worried that may be the opposite of what we want to tell them since there's often an expert vs. us mentality.

Bong - I'm going to have to think about the differentiation you are making on "power" vs. "benefit" ... had not considered that. Thus, quite a valuable bit of input. Thanks for the comment.

Jay - the analogy of the camera is fantastic! Love it! So is the sex metaphor. Wonderful stuff! Thanks.

Wendy - I agree that knowing that others will read it puts extra emphasis behind it. I can add that to Jay's metaphor - pretend your pictures will be published. And likely can add it to the process/build from Karyn.

Wow! This is awesome!

Jody Baty said...

Good blogging == good learning. But the question is what is good blogging? For me, the best blogging occurs when posts are 'extracted' from real-world work. I'm borrowing this idea from David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails. He maintains that the reason Rails is so popular is because it was extracted from a real-world application ( The extraction process causes one to reflect on the work done, synthesize it, and usually iterate to a more effective solution. This is what happened during the creation of Rails, and it is what should happens during good blogging. The iterative process of going from the problem, reflecting in the blog, incorporating the ideas of others, and then going back to the problem to solve it more effectively is how 'blog learning' happens for me.

Tom Haskins said...

Tony: One way to hook your audiences with all these ideas is to turn them around so they are about each person watching you.

For example: Who knows more about the work you do, you or a higher up? If you're somewhat of an expert, did you show up on the first day of work as a know-it-all, or have you learned some along the way? If you're still growing as an expert in your job, how are you getting new ideas, seeing problems in a different light or changing your point of view? Are you asked to do the same thing day after day, or do you get thrown some unfamiliar challenges? When you're figuring out how to face something that's unfamiliar to you, where do you turn for help? Have you ever asked for help, got no response and realized you never offered any help in the first place? Have you ever started helping others out and found you got the help you needed when you asked? However you answered those questions shows that you are already an expert on blogging, perhaps without realizing it.

BTW: Good job rewarding attention :-)

john castledine said...

Building on coments above - I dont think we can go too wrong by linking blogging to Tichy's 'Teachable Point of View' scholarship

Tony - GOOD NEWS: most of those in your audiences will have experience of being a teacher in some shape or form (be it to their children, mentoring work-colleagues, explaining hobbies to others etc). Web 2.0 technologies simply moves the 'classroom' setting and adds opportunties for those who offer up structured thoughts to others to gain feedback from their endeavours.

BAD NEWS: For this to translate into learning for the teacher, it requires the mindset of being open to challenge and reflection (al la Kolb's learning cycle) ... rather than seeing the Web as a soap-box [ie the 'Health-warning' is - dont expect blogging to be a learning journey unless you are prepared approach it in this manner]

Anonymous said...

The benefits of blogging, in my opinion, are two fold. The first fold is individual - the me factor - and involve me taking some action, some initiative to engage in the subject, problem, or musing at hand. That engagement, the energy applied to reaching out and capturing thoughts... There's some very transformational stuff that happens to my perspective when I release it to the world. Micro-enlightenments that benefit me.

This segues nicely to the second fold. The hive, the collective, leveraging the force multiplier that is the connected sphere. If evolving the initial micro-enlightenment causes progression and refinement of ideas for me when acting in contribution mode... Think of the speed at which ideas evolve in group reflection. In many (nearly all) ways this asynchronous method of 'group thinking' is superior to synchronous methods.

Blogging is both deep and wide, it crosses affinity groups and connects folks who would not normally be connected.

Blogging is fertile ground for micro-enlightenment and constant growth of ideas. It's also a force multiplier for turn-based exploration of information and ideas.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to John Castledine's suggestions, please, please can we NOT try to fit in with the limiting concepts of Kolb's learning cycle! Can we rather acknowledge George Siemens's contention that learning is messy and does not conform to one model or another?

The first time I saw Kolb's model, I reckoned that my learning experience (if it can be related to the model at all, more often goes counterclockwise). I suspect people like Stephen Downes are probably more likely to start at the bottom of the diagram. Also, many of us make haphazard leaps from one stage to another, rather than following a neat cycle. I appreciate the language that Kolb gave us, and it is useful to be able to identify cognitive processes, but I have yet to see convincing evidence that they can be sequenced and packaged quite so neatly.

Tracy Parish said...

Wow what great comments and more to learn and understand. I think you posted query and responses that have been generated Tony, are a great example of what blogging can accomplish. Like-minded individuals can come together learn from one another, brainstorm together, agree/disagree with one another, develop new ideas, and even new concepts.

Three responses that hit for me were Jay's idea that it is much like using a camera. As I see a great idea I can capture it into my own ideal to share in a new light or to reference myself later. I also really appreciate Karyn Rosmeis' point as well that belonging for me goes hand-in-hand with reading other's blogs and learning from them. Third was Jody Baty and this ties into Karen's is that posting about real life experiences regarding what you are learning, what you are struggling with is a great way to share learning. You are able to share your pitfalls with others and as you are doing with this post, learn from others as well from their successes.

john castledine said...

Thank you Karyn for illustrating my point better than I could alone !

Im my view Bloggers need to be open to challenge and debate (advocacy needs to be balanced with inquiry). I'm facinated by the comments triggered from referencing Kolb rather than put off further involvement in this thread (but I'd guess we all know those who would respond differently whether on-line or face-to-face).

As to whether reflection is important, my view is that this is one mechanism to help the brain form neural pathways that remain beyond short-term memory (repeated practice/exposure being another way to help 'wire the brain' to retain a learning).

I'd urge caution with reading too much into any model - and Kolb is no exception. I hope I didnt give the impression that I saw it as a universal truth.

PS - David Rock's Quiet Leadership book is a good read if interested further on linking learning with brain function.

Anonymous said...

Why not relate it to Bloom's taxonomy? To blog requires more than just the knowledge of how to write, but also what to write that makes it interesting and worthwhile reading...similiar to what Tom mentioned about synthesis... you really have to understand your topic and make it engaging and that requires a higher level of thinking to put it all together.

Loretta Donovan said...

School writing is a trigger for refining thoughts, but they are "school knowledge". These thoughts are weighed based on the assumption that there is a quality product; a right answer derived from a body of knowledge. It may be artfully written, but the ideas are not a true invention. Where blogging presents a unique opportunity is the chance for reflection-in-action (the theory of Donald Schoen) to occur, for tacit knowledge on seemingly unrelated ideas to come together, and for the collective community of bloggers and commenters to help us refine our thinking.

Loretta Donovan

Gaurav said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

One other analogy -

The military has been working on sensor fusion and range extension for quite awhile. And using technology they are honing this to a realtime skill. This is truly cool, getting inputs from multiple sources (air, land, sea, radar, visual spotting, cameras, satellites) to paint a clearer and more complete picture of the target area.

Knowledge fusion is one way to think of blogging. We all have a sight picture (beliefs, knowledge, observations, experience). Sometimes they overlap, strengthening the picture, sometimes they are far apart. Either representation enriches the picture.

Anonymous said...

Two words:

Collective Inspiration -

john castledine said...

Blogging = Knowledge Fusion

Wow - great comment !!!