Navigation, the main form of literacy for the 21st century

Navigation, the main form of literacy for the 21st century
The new literacy, beyond text and image, is one of information navigation. The real literacy of tomorrow entails the ability to be your own personal reference librarian-to know how to navigate through confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable doing so. „Navigation“ may well be the main form of literacy for the 21st century.

A new definition of Infotainment
We are constantly discovering new things as we browse through the emergent digital „libraries.“ Indeed, Web surfing fuses learning and entertainment, creating „infotainment.“

Bricolage and Judgement
But discovery-based learning, even when combined with our notion of navigation, is not so great a change, until we add a third, more subtle shift, one that pertains to forms of reasoning. Classically, reasoning has been concerned with the deductive and abstract. But our observation of kids working with digital media suggests bricolage to us more than abstract logic. Bricolage, a concept studied by Claude Levi-Strauss more than a generation ago, relates to the concrete. It has to do with abilities to find something-an object, tool, document, a piece of code-and to use it to build something you deem important. Judgment is inherently critical to becoming an effective digital bricoleur.

Learning becomes a part of action and knowledge creation
Believe me, hand a manual or suggest a course to 15 year olds and they think you are a dinosaur. They want to turn the thing on, get in there, muck around, and see what works. Today’s kids get on the Web and link, lurk, and watch how other people are doing things, then try it themselves. This tendency toward „action“ brings us back into the same loop in which navigation, discovery, and judgment all come into play in situ. When, for example, have we lurked enough to try something ourselves? Once we fold action into the other dimensions, we necessarily shift our focus toward learning in situ with and from each other. Learning becomes situated in action; it becomes as much social as cognitive, it is concrete rather than abstract, and it becomes intertwined with judgment and exploration. As such, the Web becomes not only an informational and social resource but a learning medium where understandings are socially constructed and shared. In that medium, learning becomes a part of action and knowledge creation.

Enculturation lies at the heart of learning
Understanding how intelligence is distributed across a broader matrix becomes increasingly critical if we want to leverage „learning to learn,“ because learning to learn happens most naturally when you and a participant are situated in a community of practice. Returning to Bruner’s notion of learning to be, recall that it always involves processes of enculturation. Enculturation lies at the heart of learning. It also lies at the heart of knowing. Knowing has as much to do with picking up the genres of a particular profession as it does with learning its facts and concepts.

Tech Rep Story I: Troubleshooting = construction of a narrative
What the anthropologists learned surprised us. When a tech rep got stuck by a machine, he or she didn’t look at the manual or review the training; he or she called another tech rep. […] Troubleshooting for these people, then, really meant construction of a narrative, one that finally explained the symptoms and test data and got the machine up and running again. Abstract, logical reasoning wasn’t the way they went about it; stories were. […] But the anthropologists had more to tell us. What happened to these stories? When the tech reps got back to the home office, awaiting the next call, they’d sit around and play cribbage, drink coffee, and swap war stories. Amazing amounts of learning were happening in the telling and hearing of these stories. In the telling, a story got refined, added to, argued about, and stored away for use.

Tech Rep Story II: Creating intellectual and social capital
To transform their opinions and experiences into „warranted“ beliefs, hence actionable, contributors had to submit their ideas for peer review, a process facilitated by the Web. The peers would quickly vet and refine the story, and connect it to others. In addition, the author attaches his or her name to the resulting story or tip, thus creating both intellectual capital and social capital, the latter because tech reps who create really great stories become local heroes and hence more central members of their community of practice.

Building Knowledge Assets I: Social construction of meaning
Partway through the course, the students were no longer physically able to come to class. What Jim did was simply videotape the classes and send them the tapes.
The twist, though, is that once the engineers received the video they’d replay it in their own small study group, but in a special way. Every three minutes or so they’d stop the tape and talk about what they’d just seen, ask each other if there were any questions or ambiguities, and resolve them on the spot. Forward they would go, a few minutes at a time, with lots of talk and double-checking, until they were through the tape and everybody understood the whole lesson. What they were doing, in terms we used earlier, was socially constructing their own meaning of the material.
The results were that students taking the course this way outperformed the ones actually taking the classes live.

Building Knowledge Assets II: Capture the additional signals
This last point intrigues us: can you capture the additional signals generated by the audience-the notes, approvals, or disagreements recorded as the lecture progressed and use these signals as structural indices to the video stream? The goal is to make this a richer knowledge asset than just the video alone, so that browsing, reflection, and focused conversations are more likely to happen. If you have a diverse set of individuals taking notes and they are willing to identify themselves, you start to create an ecology of annotations-diverse, overlapping, richly opinionated.

This reminds me of IRC, blogs, trackbacks at OSCOM 3

Part consumer, part producer
A key understanding is that on the Web there seldom is such a thing as just a producer or just a consumer; on the Web, each of us is part consumer and part producer. We read and we write, we absorb and we critique, we listen and we tell stories, we help and we seek help. This is life on the Web. The boundaries be­tween consuming and producing are fluid, which is the secret to many of the business models of Web-based commerce.

Technology to support relationships between individuals
Let me end with a brief reflection on an interesting shift that I believe is happening: a shift between using technology to support the individual to using technology to support relationships between individuals. With that shift, we will discover new tools and social protocols for helping us help each other, which is the very essence of social learning.

See also:
Storytelling, Passport to the 21st Century


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