The Heutagogy of Place

The Republic of Learning

Republic of Learning Overview; It is my belief that we are naturally curious and carry within us both the desire to learn and many capabilities that enable us to learn. As a species we’ve long passed on our learning experiences mimetically, not genetically, and have had several, flawed but useful, attempts at codifying the learning process, without getting it right yet. These include Plato’s Academy, Songlines, Sufi Poetry, the Liberal Arts, Native American cosmologies, Madrassa’s, Universities, Shamans, Inns, School, Mechanics Institutes, Polytechnics, folk clubs and the Republic of Letters to mention a few. These were all temporarily useful but perhaps, from later perspectives, somewhat eccentric in conception as they just embodied the emergent wisdom of their time whilst offering practical and workable solutions to the problems of *their* time in particular. Nonetheless everything we have done before provides us with some raw material for further reflection and from which we might usefully learn. In the main we tend to be lazy and allow whatever seems to work to remain in place, especially when they reinforce our existing prejudices.
I’d like to attempt to codify a fresh learning process, my own “temporarily useful eccentricity” based on my own slowly emerging wisdom from engaging with learning in various ways ever since my Mum made me sit in her library for a couple of hours every day when I was in a British primary school in Germany. I call it the Republic of Learning.

Heutagogy and Place
This blog is about rethinking learning and pedagogy using an approach concerned with self-determined learning, or heutagogy. We’ve documented many elements of that and further evolved the concept with new learning design ideas like the PAH Continuum, reflections on how we learn like “double-loop learning,” addressing practical issues on heutagogy resources for institutions, and adding a fresh thematic discussion around heutagogy each year since 2013 on World Heutagogy Day; 23rd September. This year we looked more closely at what is meant by “learner-centred learning.” Which could be a new starting point for learning design. However, overall, we have mostly looked at how heutagogy can ameliorate the faults of the education institutions that we already have. What has been missing so far, I think, is how we might design “for heutagogy” and what that might look like as a learning place. Bernard with his work on heutagogy resources and Vijaya Bhanu Kate with her work on the practice of primary school teachers have begun to address this issue to some extent.

Self-determined learning places
What we have argued for from the perspective of the individual thus far is that everyone can be a “self-determined learner
What I want to initiate with the Republic of Learning is the idea of self-determined learning places.
I’ve recently been involved in a European Erasmus Plus project The Origin of Spaces, looking at how next-generation work-spaces might be designed, what qualities they might need, and how we can help anticipate a better CoWorking future that is ecologically-balanced and serves it’s community. This wasn’t a project about abstract, or idealised, concepts, it was best on the best practice of five existing places. The Darwin eco-systeme in Bordeaux, LX Factory in Lisboa, ZAWP in Bilbao, ROJC in Pula with the London partner, Lewisham, learning from them and instigating new local projects like the award-winning Place:Ladywell.

Place Design and the Origin of Spaces
I learnt a lot about “place design” as we built a Toolbox to capture and share our best practice with others, but it also made me reflect on two broader issues. Firstly the long and evolving history of “Third Places” (often coffee shops) which over 1000 years, perhaps longer in the Middle East, have been instrumental in bringing about institutional change (for lawyers, banks, insurance and much more) as they were thinking places based on conversations. As a Fellow of the RSA I am well aware that we emerged from a coffee shop 260 years ago and have just redesigned the RSA House to have more of a coffee shop atmosphere with Rawthmells.
Secondly how these third places help shape the city so that its “City-zens” might have a better “social-infrastructure” through which to live their lives. Currently we are plagued by the dead-end of so-called “Smart Cities” (which is about the remote management of the citizenry from City Hall) with its corporate focus on selling technical equipment, and the rising towers student housing (which is about establishing degrees as an exportable product) neither of which are developing a fresh social infrastructure for our times.
Self-determined places of working; What the #oosEU project showed me, as I had known in the 20th century, is that innovative social design is a bottom-up process. Each of our 4 European partners responded individually, and uniquely, to pressing local social problems. Bordeaux with the closure of the working industrial left-bank (the non-UNESCO part of the city), Lisboa with the closure of a fabulous print works in working-class Alcantara, Bilbao, with the city plan to turn Zorrazaurte into a rich-persons marina (the same problem we had faced in Deptford Creek) and Pula with its desire to rebuild Civil Society after a Civil War (as we might face post-Brexit in Britain). Each project had created self-identified solutions to local community problems and sharing their (social) learning was a key part of their self-defined identity.

Erasmus and the Republic of Letters
Working on an Erasmus Plus project for the EU leads, of course, to Erasmus. A German scholar who, arguably, initiated the Republic of Letters in the 16th century, using the memorable phrase in 1522 that “I am a Citizen of the Republic of Letters.” Serious scholars in his time, before science, were natural philosophers with no particular place to go to share their “uncharted” learning; so they wrote to each other. Effectively they were writing new works from which they learnt and shared their learning with like-minded thinkers. These letters were more like “commonplace books” and would typically including conversational responses in reply to letters received, fresh ideas and observations, rubbings, perhaps from carvings in churches, pressed plants (both with commentary) drawings and designs, perhaps maps, poems as well as the bon mots of others. These letters represented a snapshot of the thinking of the author and others worthy of commentary and they were part of a shared endeavour to better understand the world, especially nature. A second phase of evolution of the Republic of Letters were neighbourhoods, such as Lime Street in London and the still existing Royal Mile in Prague, where natural philosophers, often alchemists, lived adjacently and often hung signs revealing their interests which can still be seen in Prague (Royal Mile) and even in the City of London (Lime Street) today.

Learning in the Republic of Letters
If you visited a place which was part of the Republic of Letters four hundred years ago, you could review the Letters as discussion threads, like an online discussion thread today. From your own reading you could draw your own conclusions and then walk away to share your thoughts and fresh perspectives in conversation with others. No exam or formal assessment required only the ability that you could hold your end up in discussion with others; and your interest.

The collapse of the Republic of Letters
In the UK the Republic of Letters flourished under the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell. However the return of Charles II to the throne meant a severe curtailment on free thought and the first scientific society, the “chartered” Royal Society was hatched as a plan in 1660 (in a coffee shop) to ensure that all the developments in free thinking by alchemists during the Commonwealth would not be lost. What was lost in the creation of the Royal Society and its endorsement of a distorted peer-review model of learning, was the open, rhizomatic, self-determined model of learning that had fuelled the Republic of Letters. At the time it was a way of smuggling contemporary thinking past a repressive King, but it introduced a “great man” model of thinking where it became important to identify the one and only originator of an idea rather than recognising its genesis in collaboration and discussion. A process still perverting school-leaving examinations around the world today.
In France Diderot and d’Alembert decide to save the original discursive thinking of the Republic of Letters by creating the Encyclopedie where one individual was asked to define existing knowledge on a subject. This was different to the Republic of Letters where people were shown a series of commonplace books and allowed to make up their own minds. Both the Royal Society and the Encyclopedie are praise-worthy projects concerned with saving the breadth of thought of the original Republic of Learning, but both were simplistic travesties of the trust in the learner it represented, created to address the dogmatic limitations of the monarchy in 17th century UK and 18th Century France. Sadly our education systems have not moved on from this forelock touching denial to self-determined learning, but we can do so now.

The 21st Century Republic of Learning
So how might we use the inspiration of the Republic of Letters to open up self-determined learning in the 21st Century? Firstly recognising the process of self-determined learning, or heutagogy, is a fine start. Secondly, as I’ve been working on with the WikiQuals project, develop a rigorous process of self-determined accreditation. Thirdly create places that support self-determined learning. Fourthly let’s call that the Republic of Learning.
Key Criteria;
This is a start and I intend to evolve these criteria in discussion with others who are interested in transforming education. However these criteria will be based on the concept of self-identification in which we choose to identify ourselves, rather than be identified by others; as learners, as places and in the forms by which we choose to represent our learning. Three big issues outlined in more detail in 12 criteria as follows;
1. Everybody wants to learn
2. People’s learning choices might look eccentric but will be meaningful to them as they embody agency
3. Learning is an emergent process best realised through self-determination.
4. We all benefit by letting individuals determine their own learning paths.
5. As a species our knowledge is the sum of individual learning choices
6. We haven’t yet codified an emergent learning process, so no places exist that allow for emergence
7. We need to create self-determined places of learning
8. Each place of learning should create its own charter describing the learning process it supports and what (facilities) it will make available. A place to hold conversations is enough.

9. Everyone can choose to represent their learning however they wish;
11. History of my Learning in 10 objects (an example on xtlearn.net)
12. Self-accredited learning, such as WikiQuals, or other self-determined forms of expression

These ideas will be further developed and shared on the Republic of Learning blog


Institutions or…Building a Learning Infrastructure

Yesterday I talked of how creative insights into how we might teach emerge from “bumping into learners expectations,” and of how some wonderful people had created new tools, or new models of learning, as they had worked their way closer to learners expectations (within the limits of their institutions). In our experience learning is an emergent process, so if you pay attention to learners, and to what they are saying to you, then what you need to do to support their learning will become clear. If you consistently pay attention to learners and the learning needs that they articulate, then you can build a learning infrastructure that supports the learning of others.

In the original Academy, Plato’s in Greece 2,500 years ago, learning was a series of conversations. It wasn’t given to you for just turning up, it was something you made through active participation. In medieval guilds, still found in the City of London, “mastery” in a craft was demonstrated through a process of “show and tell” – this is what I do, this is how I do it.

More recently the first British e-learning guru, Diana Laurillard, discussed how we should be building a “conversational framework for learning” and Gilly Salmon talked of e-mentoring as being a key element of e-learning. My friends in Romania, the Alternativa Universitate, who have their own learning model, or learning journey, organise learning around peer-to-peer mentoring, which is, perhaps, how Romanians share understanding.

So we are forever becoming really close to building enduring “learning infrastructures” but only when we can create alternative spaces in which we can follow the learning, rather than the more traditional follow the money (Paris, Bologna, London I’m looking at you).  Nigel and I have talked about using new participatory digital tools to help create organisational Architectures of Participation. Perhaps we should have described this process as creating “learning Architectures of Participation. We discussed some of the elements of this in Before and After Institutions where we are, perhaps, really describing how we might be Co-creating Learning Institutions with the learners (who turn up and participate). We’ve already described how we might be Co-Creating Open Scholarship so there may be some clues in there.

Since 2010 I’ve been trying to solve the practical problems as to how we might enable learners to create their own contexts for learning. I’ve done this, with the help of many others, by trying to build “Ambient Learning Cities,” starting in Manchester, where we have been trying to “transform the learning environment” by creating learning “beyond the classroom.” The first thing we learned was that nobody wants you to transform anything, even if they are offered €3m (City of Manchester) or £88k (MOSI). We were constantly bumping into institutional prejudices, instead of learners expectations, and discovered their rigid constraints (we have everything we need thank you), rather than participatory engagement. This is great for forcing you into solving new problems, which we did. We replaced textbooks with “digital Cabinets of Curiosities” and high-stakes assessment with Aggregate then Curate, our social media participation model of learning.

The second thing that we learned is that the classroom is a metaphor for learning. Continue Reading »

Teaching & learner-centred learning

In A History of Teaching in 10 Lectures I discussed the quality of accidentally discovering truths about teaching by bumping into the expectations of learners.
This process of bumping into the expectations of learners ended up, for me, in developing a technique I called educational brokering. Captured well in this interview with David Jennings on creating “learner-generated contexts.

Other teachers developed other techniques, and I referred to Bernie Dodge of San Diego who invented WebQuests, or rather co-created WebQuests, with an SDSU class. Back in 1994 and lacking material (or perhaps being unprepared) Bernie decided to run a class as a debate discussing the question “is browsing learning?” He had noticed that people using the, then newly invented, web spent a lot of time “just browsing, thanks.” He thought his class would be split 50/50 and his unprepared 50 minutes would pass easily by in the gentle to-and-fro of debate. Instead EVERYONE said “browsing IS learning, thanks” and so they spent the next 48 minutes inventing WebQuests in order to capture browsing as learning. Or described as Heutagogy, 48 minutes were spent in the co-creation of a self-determined learning tool.

More explicit applied Heutagogy was displayed by the wonderful Thom Cochrane who took the PAH Continuum, which he discovered by just browsing, thanks, and Continue Reading »

Coventry University 19th September 2018

1. That’s what you are paid for!!!
After many years of teaching in the USA and the U.K. I got really good at teaching. I designed my courses, having got approval for the syllabus and curriculum, wrote the handbook, printed off the handouts, prepared the overheads and tried to replace the lecture with workshops, games and discussions. A few weeks into the first time I implemented this approach one of my students asked when I was going to lecture them. I smugly pointed out the genius of my alt.ed approach to which he replied
“You have to lecture us, that’s what you are paid for!”
(Or, put another way, discussion is not seen as “work” and they wanted to see me work “hard” for my money)
Lesson 1 is…?

2. Oxford University, the Lectern…
Of course when I got really good at lecturing, actually really good at e-learning, I was then asked to research it. We first developed the “Community Development Model of Learning” and I was asked to talk about it at Oxford University’s “Shock of the Old” in the new Said Business School in a state of the art lecture theatre. As we were all e-learning gurus they apologised for putting us in a “lecture” “theatre” but explained that they had invented the lecture when they were founded in 1093. They only had 30 books, all hand written, all locked away in the Library. They were unlocked, carried painfully from the library, rested on a “lectern” and then were read out to the assembly. So the original lecture came about because handwritten books were too expensive and each “pupil” was just making a personal copy for themselves to read and understand later; not in the “lecture.” So copying was the original form of education…
Lesson 2 is…?

3. Behind the desk or in front of the desk… (“Teaching” or content-delivery)
Once I had earned some confidence in the classroom I realised I needed to stand in front of the desk rather than behind it. Behind the desk, and the lectern, I was just the distant deliverer of content, in the 1,000 year old Oxford University style, a fake expert because I owned THE text book (just a book of text!). In front of the desk I was open to questioning, an approachable facilitator of learning. Q&A stimulates learning, if your students pop down to the orchard and chat (e-chat is not cheat).
Lesson 3 is…?

4. Misunderstanding the Academy (let students create the taxonomy)
Despite the Renaissance #fakenews about Platos Academy it had a completely non-academic model of learning. It was in 3 parts. Building, Orchard and Gymnasium (German style). Here was no syllabus or pedagogy. You talked to Socrates in the building, who moaned that the emergence of books would ruin memory, chatted to your mates in the garden (read Platos Republic for lots of bits from this part) then exercised to refresh your body and brain. Learning was whatever was left over after that three-part process. Pedagogically curated Education emerged in the exceptionally mechanical 19th century when, first, the Museum Act provided a justification for taxonomies and, second, the Education Act encouraged local authorities to open schools; oh dear
Lesson 4 Is…?

5. Community of Scholars (or community of teachers)
My very first class, scheduled for 50 minutes, lasted just 10 minutes. I rushed through the material delivering all the content I had prepared, asked if there were any questions and fled the room. Straight into the staff room where I poured out my problems to my colleagues. They patiently explained that you had enough material to fill the time IF you included students and went through the material on a step by step basis checking If they had understood what you had said and what problems they had in understanding what you were saying. And add some Q&A which eventually…
Lesson 5 is…?

Continue Reading »

Heutagogy and the Digital Future of Education

Presentation at DTCE Manchester University

This is an overview of my work on digital projects since 1995 and how it might inform us about the future.

If you want to ask questions or have some of the points expanded please post questions below;

Fred Garnett 24 May 2018

April 2018 Bucharest, Romania
This week I ran a workshop with Corina Anghelscu at Universitate Alternativea in Bucharest. She invited UA members to submit questions for me to discuss and, because most questions were on Creativity & Learning we built the workshop around the World Heutagogy Day 2016 workshop resource Creativity in Learning which I curated. The Curated Conversation format is an expression of Heutagogy, I think, and we posed the organising question “Is Heutagogy the Pedagogy of Creativity?” And this resource is based on the replies, along with some photos contributed by Tony Hall to illustrate the themes.
Questions from Universitate Alternativea

1. What is creativity?

2. What are the characteristics of the creative process

3. How to bring social learning into Learning design

4. How to trigger creativity, innovation and self-decisions for learners?

5. How to develop digital tools?

1.  What is creativity?

Big question, which we discussed well. It’s doing something original, for yourself. People often say “we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel” My answer is,  Continue Reading »

World Heutagogy Day Agenda

Tuesday 26th September 2017

The Monastery Manchester

Timings 10.00 – 17.00 BST 

10.00 – Introduction to World Heutagogy Day & its history (Fred)

10.30 – Introduction to iSphere Navigation (David)

11.00 – Curated Conversation on Heutagogy & Healthcare (Live)

12.00 – Local recommendations published online (updated slides)

15.00 – online Tweetup & Storify discussion of Heutagogy & Healthcare #whday17

16.00 – International recommendations published online

17.00 Close