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Transformation: Stephen Downes and Will Richardson

If I listen to the wind I will hear the voices of my life
- Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One [DVD]

I have been noticing an increasing number of posts from the heart in the blogosphere. Perhaps it is the entrance of a new year retrieves a deep inner sense of reflection in people, a sense of reflection that inspires an individual to question their journey in life. These moments, to my thinking, are the most powerful moments in learning. I recently posted an entry inspired by John Pederson's dramatic change in life. Yesterday I read a wonderful entry by Stephen Downes that linked me to yet another fascinating entry by Will Richardson. Both Stephen and Will describe, in personal terms, a sense of reinvention that is occurring in their lives. Since I am of the opinion that moments like these are the gateway to learning itself, I will attempt to connect to their insights...

The Point Of No Return

Each of us in life will experience various points of no return. That is, there are moments when we realize that what was can no longer be. A point of no return is irreversible and cannot be undone. Tragedy is one way in which we might, unfortunately, experience the effects of no return. However, we can also experience these points of no return in our minds and hearts. In other words, we can have a thought or a feeling that serves as a catalyst for a new way of being in the world.

The image of standing at the crossroads captures this notion - with one modification. Once we cross the intersection, the route behind us is erased and permanently unavailable to us.

I can think of moments like these in my own life. In 1997 I decided that I had to make a leap of faith in order to overcome my own inner discontent in my career as an educator. That leap of faith meant leaving education and quite literally putting myself out into the world to see what might happen. Of course, I had some plans in place, but in a very literal and practical sense it was a completely new world all of a sudden. I knew there was no going back, so going in any other direction was the only choice left.

A Voice of Life

You know how you feel that you're on the verge of something important, but just can't wrap your mind around it? That's how I feel. Of course, I may just be deluding myself - I'm very good at that, and have deluded myself about a lot of things last year and during the course of my life. And I doubt that anyone will ever actually pay me to do the sort of things I want to do - we're all so wrapped up these days in funding competitions, commercialization, paperwork, and all that. And maybe there isn't a magic rainbow-land where every day of my life will feel meaningful and engaged and complete. And maybe I shouldn't be typing this, and maybe you shouldn't be reading it. But forget all that. This year isn't last year, and I will be charting new directions to points unknown. Maybe I'll founder, maybe not. But it's now, I think, or never - and I couldn't live with never.
- Stephen Downes

I would say that yes indeed Stephen you should be typing this, and the fact that I have read it receives another energetic yes! Your words are reaching into many people's lives and travels on the wind as a voice of life. You are seeking value in life. These are words of authentic optimism. This is, in the deepest sense of the word, learning. And if this line of personal expression isn't an connective RSS feed, then I don't know what is.

Another Voice of Life

It all still feels glacial, this unlearning, reinvention stage that we're in. I still wish there were more voices engaging in the conversation. And I'm not sure that 2006 or 2007 or even 2008 will bring us to the point where the system itself will be undergoing a similar transformation. But there's no doubt there is an energy around all of this right now, an urgency even. I'm feeling it in my own life, not just in the education sense but also in a more global sense. What difference do I really want to make? What contribution?
- Will Richardson

Will, I too wish there were more voices engaging in the conversation. The phrase, I'm feeling it in my own life captures all of our attention. In the deepest sense of the word this is, for me, the heart of learning.

The Dance of the Wind

As I reflect upon the wonderful insights of both Stephen and Will I sense a freefalling and urgent sense of connection with:

The list could go on and on. If we are to explore the question How do we learn the things we value most? them we are first and foremost exploring the real-life events, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviour of people. In this way we elevate learning to experiences that are uniquely human, something more than just abstractions, concepts, theories, ideas, facts, data, knowledge, skills, attitudes, technology, and so on. Notice too that in their comments both Stephen and Will use the word learning to capture the process they are feeling at work in their lives. I see that Jeremy's curiousity has also been sparked. Describing these experiences via education or training terminology makes no sense.

There is so much to know. So much to connect to. So much to learn. And that's the sickness of the Read/Write Web, isn't it? When you start guzzling the Kool-Aid and really wrap your brain around it (delusions and all) everything else starts to become, well, I dunno...tedious. Irrelevant. Inconsequential. It's like there's this huge buffet of energy and ideas and people and content at your fingertips but someone's telling you to keep eating the grilled cheese in the cafeteria. (Oh's the guy who pays your salary.) But the thing is, I don't think I have the time anymore to keep eating that, to not be learning and connecting and contributing as much as I possibly can. Not anymore. It's become too much a part of my practice, of who I am.
- Will Richardson

Eventually the concern about there being so much to know, to connect to and to learn leads us directly to a more important question - what do we need to know? When this question is framed against our personal journey in life it takes on an inspiring sense of allurement. It also takes on an urgent sense of connectivism.

One of the things I learned the hard way as an educator that as I contributed more and more to education I became less and less of myself. That is not in any way to imply that giving as much as possible to the education of students is the problem. Nor is it to imply that quitting is the only solution, although it can in certain circumstances be the only meaningful one. Our contribution to others needs to help build our individual selves as much as it does help to build others. There needs to be a compassionate alliance between the two, otherwise something will suffer in the process. When giving to others also equates to sacrificing oneself then we will become discontent and eventually ill. John Holt captured this tension in describing the astonishing delusion in education. Stephen's comments referred to the delusions we can all fall prey to.

Perhaps the word transformation is a better word than reinvention to capture the underlying growth taking place here. The idea of invention implies that a human being is exclusively directing the process. To a degree that is of course true. However, as both Stephen and Will mentioned in their posts, there is an energy and feeling at play here too. Voices in the wind.

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Hi Pearl - I'd be interested in knowing more about your change pattern. Have you written about it anywhere?

Fabulous links to pursue. Change is constant, even attempting to stay the same is a change. Personally I feel every 5-7 years is the amplitude of my change pattern.

Winning the Knowledge Transfer Race
by Michael J. English and William H. Baker
McGraw Hill, 2005
The competitive advantages of knowledge sharing.

looks interesting preclick.

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