Bookmark: Living In A World Of Motion

There were three notable chapters in my book this week, and I placed a bookmark on the page with the paragraph that wove them all together in a lovely way.

Chapter One: Last night I returned from an accreditation team training, and the theme of most of our discussion in the meeting (as well as the discussion on the airport shuttle bus) was “change in higher education.”  We watched this video to provoke our thinking:

Chapter Two: I have been collaborating with a new wonderful set of colleagues — Lisa Blaschke, Stewart Hase, and Chris Kenyon — to design and launch an international Community of Practice focusing on advancing the theory and practice of heutagogy. And if there’s one thing heutagogy is about, it’s about learning and change. (An aside: we’ve not launched yet, but when we do, here’s our Twitter handle: @HeutagogyCoP)

Chapter Three: I am teaching our PLA Seminar: From Experience to Learning this term. I’ve connected with wonderful, amazingly smart and caring adult learners, many of whom are starting to write about their own learning experiences and challenges with change in their PLA essays. (Have I mentioned that I really love teaching this course? I wish I could do so more often!)

book3dBookmark: I just finished devouring Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

These three chapters of my week converged when I read this paragraph from the book’s chapter titled, “Embracing Change:”

Change motivates and challenges. It makes clear when things are obsolete or have outlined their usefulness. Bot most of all, change forces us to learn differently. If the twentieth century was about creating a sense of stability to buttress again change and then trying to adapt to it, then the twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it. Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a new set of possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion.

The book reflects a lot about learning in online community-based gaming – which I know next-to-nothing about. But now I think I’d better learn. (GULP! I never thought I’d say that!)

(Unless, of course, Pinterest provides the same experience, by any chance? Because I’m getting really good at learning with Pinterest!)

Convergence Zone: Heutagogy

I was a pop-in-and-out participant in last week’s MOOC MOOC, during which time I wrote this reflection about MOOCs, Prior Learning Assessment, and College-Level Learning. I read several tweets and posts from folks participating along the way that shaped and changed my thinking, and I gleaned a few interesting ideas and a whole lot of thoughtful questions about MOOCs, and even more thoughtful questions about teaching, learning, assessment, higher education, prior learning and assessment, pedagogy, technology, accreditation, adult learning, and the intersections of all of these topics.

Thanks to fabonthemoon on Flickr for making this image available for use!

This busy intersection is where I spend a lot of my time professionally and theoretically – smack dab in the middle of several noisy streets, trying to determine what way I might want to travel next before I get hit by oncoming traffic. It’s really not as terrifying as it might sound; in fact, the metaphor, for me, represents the complexity of higher education in a good way: its systems, its people, its opportunities and challenges. Traffic is moving here, and quickly, but then again, slowly. (It is higher education, after all.) 

One post that caught my attention was written by Dave Cormier titled Rhizomatic Learning and MOOCs – Assessment. Here’s a key point he made that’s been rattling in my nog since I read it:


What we are learning is contextualized by each individual differently, according to their experiences, their understanding and purposes,


The things that are learned are not definite, but flexible and complex


Assessing what someone ‘knows’ is an act of enforcement of a given point of view, not a(n apolotical) [sic] helpful guideline to learning

I want assessment to be a helpful guideline to learning (as reflected, for example, in my concerns with learning analytics). Period. With or without MOOCs, my personal vision of assessment’s main value is as a key part of an individual’s and group’s learning processes and cycles (assessment as an act of learning — for and as learning — versus of someone’s learning by someone else). I also think there is great value in assessment as and for learning for organizations. Otherwise, how would we know how we’re doing and how to improve?

Yet here’s where it gets messy:

When someone (presumably a person we call a “student”) wants to have their learning “certified” in some way and wants the currency of higher education — credits and degrees and whatnot — attached to that learning to “verify” that they have it, then these ideals of learning/assessment get messy and murky. (The same might be said of organizations: verification for higher educational organizations is just called “accountability” and is often conflated with “assessment” and “accreditation.”) For a student, passing a course somehow represents that he or she has learned something from it; adding up these courses to a degree presumes that he or she is qualified in particular ways. Somehow we have to “validate” all of this, for all sorts of reasons.

Prior Learning Assessment has been a way for students — typically adults with several years of life and professional experience under their belts — to have their learning “validated,” to earn credit for their prior college-level learning that they have obtained through non-college learning opportunities. By critically reflecting on their learning experiences, making meaning from these experiences, and connecting and integrating their own knowledge with that of the “academic experts,” students can demonstrate that they’ve met course learning outcomes through different sources other than the course. (GASP!) But perhaps the most meaningful aspect of PLA, in addition to acknowledging that people can learn all sorts of things in all sorts of ways from all sorts of sources, is that the process helps develop reflective thinking, awareness, problem-solving, and mindfulness about learning. In other words:

PLA helps learners be better learners!

So if PLA were to become a way to assess MOOC-based learning (which it could be) — if it were to be “re-branded,” as one person in my PLA LinkedIn group discussion forum suggested, to focus less on assessing prior, experiential learning for adults and to focus more on assessing college-level learning for all, then by all means, it could legitimately serve an assessment-of-MOOC-learning function (and frankly, it likely will).

But I keep coming back to what might be lost by using PLA in this way, for this purpose, and it comes down to my fear of losing the other 2 aspects of PLA: assessment for and as learning. Furthermore, I fear that there would be additional aspects to PLA that might be sacrificed or forgotten about. Here’s my quick and dirty laundry list:

  • The focus on the adult-as-learner specifically
  • Development of the critically reflective process required for turning experience into learning
  • The transformative (life-changing) outcomes of PLA as a learning process
  • The kind of thinking and problem-solving skills that folks develop when engage in PLA
  • The great sense of accomplishment that students feel and confidence that students gain when their learning is awarded college credit.

(See this PLA Bibliography for literature that reflects all of the above theoretically and in practice.)

I really don’t know much about MOOCs, or about rhizomatic learning, but I do know a few things about learning to learn, and I know a lot about PLA. I really would want to retain the kind of PLA that supports this metacognitive development in addition to validating someone’s experiential learning.

Now, this busy intersection is beginning to reveal a convergence zone for me: a focus on learning to learn, on developing capability as a learner — regardless of the topic or content area, the role or methods of assessment, who is teaching, or how or where one gains learning. This zone is called heutagogy, and I am working on creating a curation of resources and a community of practitioners to think together about its usefulness in this 21st century learning and higher educational landscape. I openly invite participation and perspectives: stayed tuned for more about Heutagogy In Action.


Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from:

Bhoyrub, J., Hurley, J., Neilson, G.R., Ramsay, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Heutagogy: An alternative practice based learning approachNurse Education in Practice19(6), 322-326.

Canning, N. &  Callan, S. (2010). Heutagogy: Spirals of reflection to empower learners in higher education. Reflective Practice, 11(1), pp. 71–82.

Canning, N. (2010). Playing with heutagogy: Exploring strategies to empower mature learners in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34(1), pp. 59–71.

Chapnick, S. & Meloy, J. (2005).  Renaissance eLearning: creating dramatic and unconventional learning experiences. Essential resources for training and HR professionals. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA. (See “From Andragogy to Heutagogy,” pp. 36–39.)

Hase, S, and Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase, RMIT

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2007). Heutagogy: a child of complexity theory. Complicity: an International Journal of Complexity and Education, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 111-118. “Heutagogy: A Child of Complexity Theory”

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2001). Moving from Andragogy to Heutagogy in Vocational Education. Retrieved from: 

Compliance Or Learning: What’s Accreditation For?

It must be accreditation season. This spring I served on two regional accreditation teams (one for WASC, one for NWCCU) as a peer reviewer. Wait – did you say peer reviewer???


Hear that students of mine? Peer Review! Yep – just like we do in our class, this process asks us reviewers to use criteria (“standards”) to assess how well we think an institution is doing based on their self-assessment report (called a “self-study”), interviews with lots and lots of people (including students), and direct evidence (such as meeting minutes, syllabi, catalogs, etc.) And you all thought I came up with peer review as a way to lighten my paper-reading load. NOPE – it’s about learning with and from others.


First, let me share with you a few fun facts about serving on an accreditation team. For one thing, you get to travel to beautiful and exotic places. For my first visit, this was my office:

For the second, this:

(Ok, ok. I took those pictures while on accreditation visits, but I really didn’t get to hang out and work right there, in the midst of that beauty. Well, except for the top one. I really did write half the report looking at that view. But of course, that’s not always the case. To be fair, I’ve heard colleagues talk about writing accreditation reports from truck stops and Denny’s restaurants.)

Serving on a peer review team is a fabulous learning experience. I learned not only from the institutions I visited, but also from my teammates. I have new ideas and strategies to bring back to my institution, and a new set of colleagues in my network. When serving on a team, you get to know other folks from other institutions who are serving with you, and because you may be tackling tough problems together in a condensed period of time (often working together into the wee hours of the night), you tend to get to know each other pretty well. In both cases this spring, I developed neat collaborative relationships with the team members, and many of us still keep in touch.

The peer review part of accreditation can present learning opportunities for an institution’s students too. A student at one institution covered the accreditation visit by writing two stories for her campus newspaper to help her fellow students know what was happening. The first was a “hey, they’re coming” story, and the second was a “hey, I had lunch with them” story. Read them here:

University makes progress with accreditation renewal

Food for thought: Accreditation luncheon

Finally, if institutions are amenable to constructive feedback (as we all should be) and if they see the process as one of genuine self-reflection and assessment in order to keep doing what works and change what doesn’t, they learn and improve too. To be clear: the reports are not easy to write or put together; looking in the mirror and calling attention to your flaws isn’t exactly a party (though you also get to call attention to your beauty marks, and identifying those can be rewarding). My own institution is a great example of the learning and improvements that can come from the process.  We have made huge improvements in how we educate and serve students since our last accreditation visit as a result of our self-assessment and feedback from peers about our practices. And it’s all good because it’s all learning.

All in all, accreditation sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s tangled into real and legitimate issues of compliance, accountability, and in some cases fear. A recent column in The Chronicle of Higher Education makes a compelling point for why faculty should get involved accordingly:

But it’s time for college and university faculty to start paying attention to this seemingly dry issue. Further, it’s time they joined the effort by administrators and accreditors to resist the government’s increasing intrusion into accreditation. That intrusion endangers both academic freedom and the unique American system of separation of the academy from the state.

Ultimately, if we really want to improve higher education, and if we want opportunities for learning and developing networks with others, participating in a regional accreditation process can be a great way to do so. If anything, through our participation and engagement, we can help accreditation be focused on learning and improvement for everyone, including regional accrediting agencies themselves.

That’s Messed Up (#2)

Another for my “That’s Messed Up” collection (sadly it’s beginning to be a collection):

Lillian Conway (I have no idea who she is) had the great nerve to email me this SPECIAL OFFER – TODAY ONLY. (Clearly, she doesn’t know me or my ideas about this kind of stuff, either.)

Special News for you!
Do you want a pleasant future, grow in  money, and the respect of all?
Today only:
We can assist with Diplomas from prestigious universities based on your present knowledge and professional experience.
Get a Degree in 4 weeks with our program!
~Our program will help EVERYONE with professional experience
get a 100% verified Degree:
– Just think about it… – You can realize YOUR Dreams!
– Live a better life by earning or upgrading your degree.
This is a splendid chance to make a right move and receive your due
benefits… if you are qualified but are lacking that piece of paper. Get one from us in a short time.
If you want to get better – you must Call us 24 hours to start improving your life!
Please leave us a message with your phone number with country code if outside USA and name and we’ll call you back as soon as possible.

It is your chance…
Make the right move.
Do Not Reply to this Email.

Granted, it showed up in my Spam box. Appropriately. But still … That’s Messed Up!

And by the way, who signs their email “Sincerely, Do Not Reply to this Email” ?????????

That’s Messed Up, too!

Like A Bad Teacher

Thanks to Stephen Poff on Flickr for making this image available!

Thanks to Stephen Poff on Flickr for making this image available!

My institution is struggling in our understanding of a component of a recommendation we need to act on for our regional accreditation. A committee that I co-chair has talked about this component ad nauseum (or at least that’s what it seems like to me), and we still don’t have a clear sense of what it is we need to do about it.  It’s like we’re trying to be responsive — to conceptualize it, to enact it, to make it meaningful to us —  but the language of the “assignment” (the policy) and the feedback from the “teacher” (the commission) isn’t clear or consistent or, dare I say, specific.

So — we are, alas, left on our own, struggling in the dark, wondering: “Um, ok … what do we do?”

Finally, one of my colleagues said: “It’s like we have a really bad teacher. We have something we need to do — something we will be graded on — but the assignment directions are completely vague, the expectations more so, and the feedback we keep getting isn’t specific or even helpful.”

It’s humbling, I think, for us as instructors — as educators! — to experience something in this way, and I like this analogy a lot. It is like a bad teacher, and it’s not even like we’re trying to please the teacher. No! We’re just trying to focus on improving our own efforts in this particular area because we believe that something good can come from it.

This brings me to Larry Daloz’s idea of balancing support and challenge for growth (presented in his wonderful book Mentor). If there is too much support, we get confirmation. Too much challenge? We get retreat. Too little of each? Stagnation. The ideal is high support and high challenge — balanced — so that we get growth. GROWTH!

What would support us in this dilemma is clear language about the assignment, clear expectations about success, and a clear description of what success looks like. Good teaching/learning/assessment practices grounded in support — THAT would help us. We have the challenge, and we’re up for it, and now we need the support.

As educators, I think we need to remember this feeling viscerally each time we design an assignment, clarify expectations, and provide feedback to our learners.  Is there a good balance of support and challenge to help our learners not just succeed, but GROW?

We decided that our next step is to be self-directed in this learning and growth process and ask the commission for a recommendation of a university that is doing this thing particularly well, so that we can at least look at a model of what “good” looks like. Hopefully, with this action, we can clarify the expectations and define improvement for ourselves. Hopefully, we will ultimately realize our own growth accordingly.

Because right now? Yeah, it’s like we have a bad teacher … and we can’t drop the course.