collective learning and charting

Posted by on Oct 1, 2011 in Higher Education, Professional Learning | 0 comments

How do individuals use collective knowledge for learning?

 “The most profound impact of the Internet… is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning”. “Attention has moved from access to information towards access to other people”. “Web2.0 blurs the boundaries between the producers and consumers of content”. (Seely Brown, 2008)

John Seely Brown, in his review of the potential impact of Technology on learning, Minds on Fire (, predicted the emergence of open, participatory learning ecosystems. These ecosystems seem ideal environments for learning. They are not bounded, they accommodate a variety of perspectives and allow learners freedom to source, use and reinterpret knowledge in ways that make sense to them. They capitalise on the collective knowledge. But how do learners use the collective knowledge for learning?

Learning involves making sense of the available knowledge and reinterpreting it in a way that fits with the learner’s knowledge framework – described by Saljo (1979) as learning by “seeking meaning”.  Meaning making involves making connections –connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting knowledge fragments through knowledge creation.

While learning through social knowledge creation, individuals connect with relevant knowledge resources and with other people who share a similar learning goal (Littlejohn, Margaryan & Milligan, 2009). ‘Clusters’ of learners within a network travel a learning pathway together, navigating and making sense of the available knowledge resources. People learn together through connecting and making sense of knowledge fragments within a large pool of collective knowledge (Siemens, 2005).  As they learn people connect across the networks to bring together the knowledge and expertise they need (Siemens, 2004). George Siemens describes this process in his presentation on Connections, Clouds, Things and Analytics (

Learning is characterised by processes of discovery, sensemaking, synthesis and sharing of (previously fragmented) knowledge resources. Since each individual learner encounters a learning situation with a unique combination of knowledge, values and culture, they create unique, multiple learning pathways.  Using social technologues learners ideas emerge within a learning ecology ( see

Traditionally, learning has been viewed as either cognitive (individualistic) or social (participatory). A good description of this dichotomy is given in  Sfard’s paper on the   role of self in learning through acquisition and in learning through participation (  When individual learners learn through connecting with the collective knowledge, it generates a new paradigm for learning in which the individual and ‘the collective’ are indivisible. When people learn through social knowledge, they collaboratively develop new knowledge artefacts and products. They  learn by both drawing on and, at the same time, contributing to   collective knowledge. So, ‘connecting’ is only one of a series of actions learners have to take to make sense of the collective knowledge.

How do learners  make sense of  the collective knowledge?

What discreet actions  (other than connection) make up the different parts of sensemaking processes? To answer this question we (Colin Milligan, Anoush Margaryan  and I) have been researching how people use collective knowledge to help them learn at work (Margaryan, Milligan, Littlejohn, Hendrix and Graeb-Koenneker, 2009; Margaryan, Littlejohn and Milligan, 2009).

We looked at the learning behaviour of experts and novices in different disciplines in a multinational company. We found that making connections is a fundamental part of learning and sensemaking processes. Learners connect with relevant knowledge resources, with other people, and with the ‘cumulative actions’ of others – for example recommendations, tag clouds or connections. Through these connections people continually refine their view of the collective knowledge.

Another essential element of learning and sensemaking processes is consuming – or using – knowledge. Each individual has to use knowledge to be able to reinterpret it, taking into account their current knowledge.

A by-product of using knowledge is the creation of new knowledge artifacts. These objects could be finalised resources (eg articles, podcasts, etc), work in progress artifacts (eg blogposts, tweets, etc) or ‘actions’ and ‘choices’ that help other people (eg choices, tags, etc). These new knowledge resources are sometimes (though not always) contributed back to the collective.

In other words, the four broad actions people carry out while learning and using collective knowledge are connecting,  consuming, connecting and contributing knowledge.

These four behaviours represent a sensemaking process that are the basic steps in collective learning. They are a set of intertwined activities rather than discrete linear steps. We have termed this sensemaking process ‘charting’.

Charting is a  sensemaking processes comprising  generic actions of  consuming, connecting, creating and contributing knowledge that learners carry out  during collective learning. Charting connects learners to others with similar goals, creating networks of people who may support each other during learning. It can help individual learners in defining, sequencing and reflecting upon their personal learning goals.

Charting can be implemented as a set of web-based tools to support each learner in dynamically mapping and managing their own view of the collective knowledge. The learner can configure the components of the collective to suit his/her personal needs at any given time. The individual connects with relevant fragments of  knowledge to support his or her learning and feeds the outcomes of his or her learning back to the collective, for others to learn from, consume and build on.

Although charting is individually-driven, it is not an individualistic sensemaking process, since the learner  draws from the collective and contributes back, through deliberate actions and through machine analytics that aggregate individual behaviours into the collective.

Here is a discussion on charting

Littlejohn, A., Milligan, C. and Margaryan, A. (2011) Charting Collective Knowledge: Supporting Self-regulated Learning in the Workplace, Journal of Workplace Leaning

Littlejohn, A., Margaryan, A. and Milligan, C (2009) Charting Collective Knowledge: Supporting Self-regulated Learning in the Workplace, Proceedings of  the 9th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2009) July 15-17, 2009, Riga, Latvia

Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., Littlejohn, A., Hendrix, D. and   Graeb-Koenneker, S. (2009) Self regulated learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace,  Proceedings of Organisational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities Conference, April 2009, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2009). Self-regulated learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace: Differences and similarities between experts and novices. In Proceedings of the 2009 Researching Work and Learning (RWL) Conference, Roskilde, Denmark.

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