People like to be recognized for their contribution. In a large social network, a big class or a community, folks who work hard contributing a lot don’t necessarily do it for the recognition — they do it to share and help. But anonymity can be lonely, like being alone in a crowd or doing a good job at work and having nobody notice.
Students in large classes often feel like this. When I attended UCLA for two strange quarters many years ago, I sat in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. I was completely anonymous. The brilliant professor on stage couldn’t have seen my hand even if I’d felt encouraged to raise it, which I wasn’t. The discussion section was where I could talk and ask questions. My teaching assistant got to know me, not my prof. She gave me feedback, so I knew that I was contributing appropriately.
Entering a large online class, social network, or online professional community feels like that large lecture hall, except there’s no stage. Instead, it’s like an ancient Greek agora, the big open space where Athenian citizens gathered to make political decisions. With so many people, only those with the best speaking skills got the attention and were able to make their point (thus the high profits for Sophists, much to the disgust of Socrates). The others could only listen, and weren’t necessarily encouraged to raise their hand.
Independent learning, even with the affordances offered by online communities and classes, can feel the same way. Autonomy is great. It enables learners to create their own Personal Learning Environments and be self-directed. Many people have the desire for autonomy — some studies have correlated it with happiness and as a preventative for depression. But does that mean they want to be alone and unrecognized?
If the drive toward social online connections tells us anything, it tells us that people want to be both autonomous and recognized. We want our own profiles, our own apps, but to be part of a network of friends or colleagues. Contributions must be more than acknowledged; they must be appreciated. It is very lonely to post hundreds of tweets or updates, and have no one respond. In online classes, one may post the required number of times in a forum, but have no one reply while others are engaged in conversation.
I heard Leigh Blackhall referenced yesterday in a presentation by Gardner Campbell, assigned for DS106 Digital Storytelling by Jim Groom, then hours later read Leigh’s What Am I Doing? post. I had been following Leigh because of his un-PhD idea (I am also a frustrated non-PhD person), but he sees lack of response on his education posts.
Leigh didn’t know I was there. And perhaps it’s like teaching, and I don’t know who I’m influencing with my work. And maybe all the people who learn autonomously and in the open also feel a bit lonely, because they can’t know the impact they’re having, and one would think that with ones work available all over the world, there’d be more than a comment or two. Is there thus an inherent loneliness that goes along with autonomous learning, even (or especially) when it’s open?
Photo by Padraic Woods