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<nettime> learning and networks
John Hopkins on 30 Oct 2000 23:52:04 -0000


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<nettime> learning and networks


Following is an article to be published in the upcoming issue of 
x-change from Riga's re-lab...
________________________________________________________

"learning and networks"
by John Hopkins

"What our age needs is communicative intellect.  For intellect to be 
communicative, it must be active, practical, engaged.  In a culture 
of the simulacrum, the site of communicative engagement is electronic 
media. In the mediatrix, praxis precedes theory, which always arrives 
too late.  The communicative intellect forgets the theory of 
communicative praxis in order to create a practice of communication."
-- Taylor and Saarinen

"For communication to have meaning it must have a life. It must 
transcend "you and me" and become "us". If I truly communicate, I see 
in you a life that is not me and partake of it. And you see and 
partake of me. In a small way we then grow out of our old selves and 
become something new. To have this kind of sharing I cannot enter 
into a  conversation clutching myself. I must enter it with loose 
boundaries, I must give myself to the relationship, and be willing to 
be what grows out of it..."
-- Hugh Prather

"People will speak,  They will not speak in order to convince, or to 
drown the noise of silence.  They will speak because it will be easy 
to do so, and because life will surge from their mouths together with 
the words.  Everything will be filled with life.  There will no 
longer be room for anything dead or unintelligible."
-- Jean-Marie LeClezio


This brief essay, addressing concepts of learning within networks, is 
a follow-up to the introduction of the neoscenes occupation project** 
that appeared in the last issue of acoustic.space in 1999. 

It is encouraging to note a growing awareness within the ECB, BIN, 
NICE and other cultural networks regarding the critical importance of 
education.  There is much work yet to be done, however.  The present 
focus of attention within cultural organizations seems to be on 
fund-raising efforts and the associated (often short-term) practical 
challenges to survival.  Of course, these are very important tasks 
for assembling viable systems, and, to be sure, issues of funding and 
political presence are critical to the existence of physically 
localized organizations -- this brief essay is not meant to be a 
critique of the realities of existence!  But at the same time, if 
cultural networks focus single-mindedly on fiscal and structural 
issues, there is a real danger that their long-term vitality may be 
jeopardized.

The open engagement of the local and remote communities in organic 
and transformative learning is a key for the long-term viability of a 
network.  The stimulation of positive conditions for personal and 
collective growth should be a primary concern for network 
participants.  Modernist education models are not at all adequate or 
even desirable when mapped into the flat social structure of a 
network.  It is, in fact, the rise of global networks that offer us 
the opportunity to transform the entire contemporary nature of 
education and its relationship with learning. 

Based on anecdotal and first-hand evidence gathered in educational 
systems across the developed world, it appears that academic 
education is becoming more and more irrelevant despite its dominant 
institutional position within local and national social structures.  
A core factor for this disengagement is the reliance of educational 
systems on the format (and associated ideology) of the printed book 
and associated patterns of mediated rote "learning."

Observe a child in his/her natural routine of living, and you will 
see the operation of a primary process of human learning.  Children 
learn intuitively by observing and imitating actions or acting 
spontaneously in connection to their immediate environment.  They do 
not learn by being told what to do or by reading what the doing is 
like.  The negative refrain "do as I say, not as I do" guiltily 
echoes in many a parent's head when confronted by the true reality of 
the learning process.

This aspect of individual development only highlights the weakness of 
text-based instruction -- a system that often relies on regurgitation 
of previously condensed and simplified information as supplied by 
textbooks.  The rise of modern industrial society and the rise of a 
mass education system follow parallel evolutionary paths that are 
more or less detached from the day-to-day needs and experiences of 
the individual. To illustrate the trajectory, one need only consider 
the field of engineering.  As one pillar supporting the agenda of 
global industrial development, engineering holds as its grail the 
efficient use of time and materials.  The modernist concept of 
education focuses on a similar goal of efficiency in the use of the 
knowledge, information, and the student - "learning" to be allotted 
in measured portions (curricula), not too much, not too little -- so 
that the student becomes skilled enough to produce within the needs 
of the production matrix, but not too knowledgeable to become aware 
of the explicit imbalances of the overall system.  Many teachers are 
conscious of this built-in paradox, but are powerless to implement 
systemic changes that would be required to "fix" the current state of 
things.  The massive social transformation from an Industrial to 
Information Society is proceeding in such a way that most educational 
institutions are not able to re-tool themselves in any but surficial 
ways (for example,  the distance learning fiasco).

What are the solutions?  How can education, and the broader concept 
of learning be redefined and expanded so that it embraces vital 
cultural and social "do-ing" as a source of energy?  How can 
energized alternatives be implemented? Even taken on a surficial and 
pragmatic level, this challenge is crucial to face.  For example, if 
we consider the development of an informed population having a 
empowering level of media literacy, the learning experience must 
focus on experiences that lie almost wholly outside of the realm of 
traditional text-based education.  This implies the creation of an 
altogether new paradigm, not a simple methodological shift.

To a skilled and sensitive teacher, this is an perhaps an obvious 
sentiment to be acted upon in the traditional classroom whenever 
possible.  The question is, where are the skilled teachers who 
understand the implications of the contemporary information society?  
I think they are be found among the many active practitioners within 
our networks!  What then are the best strategies for extending the 
fruits of their wisdom that are collectively represented within 
cultural networks?

The first step is to establish a healthy network.  This is a dynamic, 
time-consuming, lively, and more or less intuitive process that 
relies of a multiplicity of sustained dialogues between individual 
nodes.  A strong network made up of local cultural/community 
initiatives becomes the locus for significant creative activities. As 
this space or situation becomes vitally active, it automatically 
becomes the site of learning.  It would be wrong, however, to assume 
that any networked situation is an optimized opportunity for 
learning.  There is always the option to raise the intensity level of 
collaborative learning through careful facilitation and focusing of 
attention.  This is where our experienced practitioners should enter 
the scene, at the moment when the opportunities for sharing knowledge 
arise.  This process of dynamic "full disclosure" of personal 
experience is a powerful flux of energy that initiates and sustains 
dialogue like no other single act.  This energy directly feeds back 
into the network to keep it healthy.

It is important to acknowledge that there are already significant 
learning activities happening in network spaces, and this is not a 
call to codify or otherwise regulate those situations.  It is only a 
call to activate the self-awareness that sharing energies within 
these complex situations is fundamental to the propagation of 
wisdom.  And in a world where fashions and paradigms change with the 
electronic winds of media, a little long-term wisdom can do a lot to 
strengthen and extend the community structures we are seeking to 
build through these networks.

A particular strength of creative learning situations that operate 
within distributed networks is that they have the possibility of 
escaping at least some of the oppressive effects imposed by local 
hierarchies.  Most local controlling hierarchies (for example, an 
academy administration, or a bureaucratic cultural funding body) have 
little appreciation or even basic knowledge of the development of 
networked environments. They may even have an active phobia of any 
technological implementations, naively directed at the digital 
object.  This fear is justified in the sense that open network 
platforms have and will continue to contain complex evolutionary 
sites of social interaction which threaten the status quo.  The 
negative and homophobic expression of these fears appears to be 
strengthening in many "open societies."  It is not a coincidence that 
traditional models of education rely on fear to accomplish their 
goals!  At the same moment as these negative forces are mobilizing, 
we have an incredible opportunity to activate local and distributed 
communities to create situations where real learning evolves.  The 
structures of fear and ignorance across the social landscape can be 
slowly transformed into enlightened and inspiring community.

I will close this essay with a challenge directed to the cultural 
networks that are engaged in the struggle to use technology as a 
creative platform for social, cultural, and individual change: that 
in the coming months they formulate new ways that they can share the 
collective knowledge and wisdom they have gained.  With a thoughtful 
open-platform of dialogue and action in this area, the long-term 
vitality of these networks and their presence as a significant 
feature of the cultural landscape will be guaranteed.

Thanks to all of you who are so thoughtfully engaged out there on the 
network, it has been my pleasure to discuss some of these issues with 
you over the past year!

John Hopkins, Helsinki 30.09.2000
_________________________________________________________

http://neoscenes.net
information: <hopkins {AT} iex.net>

**neoscenes occupation at http://neoscenes.net/nso is creating an 
autonomous network of culturally active people with a dynamic agenda.

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