Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

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Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby Eliza » Sun Jan 10, 2021 12:32 am

I wasn't sure whether to post this in the General Language Discussion Forum or in the forum about Technical Support and Features Request, but I think it goes beyond just this forum.

So something I've realized (and struggled with) in the past year or so is the sheer amount of things I want to learn and how to handle the according resources. This includes evidently languages, but also other areas of interest (i.e. sociology, computer science, fitness/nutrition). I daydream about just opening my computer and there is a platform/portal with tailored/customized input which just tells me what to do next in order to achieve my goals. Eliminating the temptation, if you will? Just a curated website with for example a link to a coursera course, Ankiweb, a youtube video in my target language, and my online sports course.

During my researches about software solutions like that I came across several software packages which have sort of taken up the idea, a popular solution being Mahara. A demo can be found here: https://demo.mahara.org/ The general name is "Personal Learning Environment" if you want to google it.

I haven't set up a web server yet to try this out with my own stuff, mostly because I wanted to ask you guys if you have any experience with that kind of software ;)

Since Mahara (and possibly other solutions as well) allow for connections/exchange between users, I was also wondering if it wouldn't be interesting to add such a PLE to our existent forum? I for one feel that a lot of interesting content is buried in 100-page-long language logs and resource threads, and even with the Wiki I am under the impression that we lose some interesting ideas and approaches. I know that it takes up quite a lot of energy and money to keep the forum running, which is why I hesitate to propose something which adds to the maintenance work of the forum, but I wanted at least to discuss it.
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby Xenops » Sun Jan 10, 2021 3:59 pm

I'd imagine some the challenges present with using Mahara are similar to that of a chatroom, and I thought Eido's post was quite good: https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=11875 It's probably a question of "who wants to be a mod?" Perhaps this could be solved by being very selective in choosing people for your group, and having a small number of people.
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby IronMike » Sun Feb 21, 2021 7:51 am

Ha! I have no comment on the PLE part, but I am in the same boat. My wife says I'm fickle, because I'm constantly changing hobbies (although I've tempered that over the last decade or so). But I used to imagine a modern day renaissance man (in the neutral sense of the word 'man') and I divided up my interests into broad subjects like science, languages, health/fitness, art, literature, those sorts of things. Thus I read everything I can get my hands on about raptors and corvids (science); Bruegel, the nude, modern nudes, a la John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage (art); swimming and LCHF diet (health/fitness); Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Brit lit between the wars (lit), and of course languages. Instead of trying to program my day around these interests, I just let the wind take me where it does. Except for languages: I still like to do at least 30 min a day, no matter what.
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Sun Feb 21, 2021 8:35 am

IronMike wrote:My wife says I'm fickle, because I'm constantly changing hobbies (although I've tempered that over the last decade or so).(...)


To me it seems like you're a scanner, in the Barbara Sher sense:
https://www.getmotivation.com/motivatio ... r-scanner/

Her book Refuse to choose has been mentioned a number of times here.
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby IronMike » Sun Feb 21, 2021 12:45 pm

jeff_lindqvist wrote:
IronMike wrote:My wife says I'm fickle, because I'm constantly changing hobbies (although I've tempered that over the last decade or so).(...)


To me it seems like you're a scanner, in the Barbara Sher sense:
https://www.getmotivation.com/motivatio ... r-scanner/

Her book Refuse to choose has been mentioned a number of times here.

Holy crap. Head of the nail, meet Jeff's hammer. You just helped me decide my next Audible book. Thank you so much!
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Sun Feb 21, 2021 4:51 pm

IronMike wrote:Holy crap. Head of the nail, meet Jeff's hammer. You just helped me decide my next Audible book. Thank you so much!


No problem. I just started reading it (for the second time). :)
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Re: Organizing Learning Differently - A Personal Learning Environment

Postby Raconteur » Wed Feb 24, 2021 1:42 am

I see that the opening thread is from more than a month ago, but I would like to rekindle the discussion on the original topic. In short, Eliza, I find your concept both interesting and personally relevant.
Eliza wrote:So something I've realized (and struggled with) in the past year or so is the (1) sheer amount of things I want to learn and how to handle the according resources. This includes evidently languages, but also other areas of interest (i.e. sociology, computer science, fitness/nutrition). I daydream about just opening my computer and there is a (2) platform/portal with tailored/customized input which just tells me what to do next in order to achieve my goals. (3) Eliminating the temptation, if you will? Just a curated website with for example a link to a coursera course, Ankiweb, a youtube video in my target language, and my online sports course.
First thing first, before we can consider solutions, I believe we need to better define the opportunities/problems and the corresponding outcomes/benefits we desire. I annotated your post, underlining some potential areas.

These are the areas I identified (correct me if I’m wrong):
  1. Problem → Disarray. Substantial number of evolving and changing ideas and interests, along with the corresponding pile of resources, resulting in feelings such as: lack of control, lack of direction, not seeing progress, confusion regarding next steps.
    Desired Outcome
    → System providing greater clarity and sense of control.
  2. Opportunity → Increasing Efficiency, in terms of progress/improvement (when applicable); using available time for greatest possible impact.
    Desired Outcome →
    System deciding what to work on next
  3. Problem → Temptation. Using time sub-optimally, based on lacking knowledge of next best steps, and the very human nature of going where the “wind takes you” as IronMike aptly said.*
    Desired Outcome →
    System that helps us fight temptation and stick to some development goals over others, potentially resulting in faster and more consistent growth in some key areas.

I can imagine that some reading this must be rolling their eyes already. If it sounds like an incredibly dry and machine-like way to talk about learning and personal development... that's because it sort of is. Some people like to think of their learning in terms of systems and progress, others prefer to go about it more naturally. I don't really think one way is better than the other, although I feel that in contemporary Western culture it is often subtly implied that the natural (staying up many nights, being propelled by some inner desire to consume all of Russian literature, for example) is more desirable and authentic than developing a motivational system. In any case, there are people like Alexander Argüelles**, who could happily spend all day studying languages. And then there are people like me, who need a habit tracker and a 365 challenge just to (maybe) stick to language learning.
Eliza wrote:During my researches about software solutions like that I came across several software packages which have sort of taken up the idea, a popular solution being Mahara. A demo can be found here: https://demo.mahara.org/ The general name is "Personal Learning Environment" if you want to google it.

I haven't set up a web server yet to try this out with my own stuff, mostly because I wanted to ask you guys if you have any experience with that kind of software ;)
I don’t have experience with this software, and based on the Demo, I can’t really say that I see much of a point to it. Maybe I just don’t understand it. To me it seems like an outdated, limited platform that HS or college kids would be forced to use (akin to something like Moodle).

From my perspective, Mahara would mostly work towards serving Outcome #1 above. That being said, there are other tools that could do a better job. One piece of software that immediately comes to mind is Notion – it’s incredibly powerful and adaptable. It can be used privately or collaboratively (everything from small groups to public access). But really, the specific app isn’t the most important factor here. It could be Notion, or it could be something like Obsidian. Frankly, even a folder structure on your desktop, with a bunch of .txt files would do. Or, dare I say, a paper notebook. What’s more important than the tool is how you organize it and maintain it. It’s tempting to miss the forest for the trees and focus on the "perfect app" search rather than developing a good system (I certainly went down that path before).

The second component of Outcome #1, going beyond the writing/planning stage, is developing a digital (and physical) workspace built for purpose and clarity. If you have a spare computer/tablet, you can make it your “learning” device and put all of your resources front and center, while blocking access to distractions. If you do not have an extra device, much of the same can be accomplished with creating a separate OS account to log into while learning.

Outcome #2 is the most tricky, and I do not have any ideas about a self-contained system that could provide you with the best “next step” to work on. Of course, you could design your own plan for tackling some project (learn guitar, for example, scheduling precise lesson steps based on a plan from a highly recommended book, and do so alongside other interests and goals you have). However, this strategy often proves far too rigid. It doesn’t offer enough flexibility in terms of your personal strengths and weaknesses, your setbacks, your current motivation leven, and it doesn’t account for life getting in the way. Rigid systems are the best way to get discouraged and burn out (“I should be able to play this exercise already, and really should move on to the next one” – this is bad).

Probably, for best results, you would have to work with a number of mentors/trainers/coaches/teachers invested in your success and continually adjusting the development plan based on your performance and the situation you currently find yourself in. It can be paid or unpaid help, but it has to be someone interested in developing a plan with you, not just offering direct instruction on some specific skill. (NOTE: when seeking paid help, try to avoid obvious scams, self-proclaimed gurus, expensive limited-time-offer seminars, YouTuber mentors, etc.)

The good news is that, unless you are really aiming for the very top in terms of performance, efficiency isn’t that important. For most situations, consistently taking some steps in the right direction is far more important than taking the best step. Example, I try to study Italian every single day. I am sure a top language acquisition expert could help me develop a plan to study more efficiently. I would learn Italian faster-better-stronger. However, for now, just studying every day is enough to satisfy my needs (even if my pace is slow).

Outcome #3 is the most actionable, in my opinion. The key concept I would consider here is accountability. I’ve once heard of an executive who pays for a personal assistant to check-in with her every evening and ask about various personal goals and objectives. According to this person (sorry, forgot the source), the very human factor of admitting to someone that she slacked all day - or ate that cupcake she was not supposed to eat - is what kept her on track and nailing all of her personal goals.

A small study group (or a mastermind group) can help in a similar fashion. Heck, even a large forum like this one can help. I know if I don’t study Italian today, I will have to post that to my log (and my silly homo sapien brain fears the scorn of the tribe enough to make sure I get in line and study).

Another app I use is HabitShare - it’s a habit tracker that you can use with others (friends, family). When I slack and fail to meet the goals I committed myself to, I know that they will know! Certainly it's silly, but this much is true: I was never able to use a habit tracker successfully for more than a couple of weeks before. Yet, I’ve been using HabitShare for over a year now. Another option is Habitica, but I prefer something simple. Habitica is so involving, it soon becomes more about managing Habitica itself rather than focusing on your original goals, if that makes any sense.

So in summary:
  • Dump and organize all of your plans/goals/interests in a private Notion
  • Set up a digital (and physical) space conducive to focused pursuit of your goals
  • Find a small group of likeminded people (4 is enough) to meet with on a weekly basis, aka mastermind group
  • Announce short-term SMART goals and long-term objectives to the group, check-in on these commitments during each meeting - give and receive feedback.
  • OPTIONAL: use HabitShare and/or a collaborative Notion to make daily progress (or lack thereof) always visible to your group
  • OPTIONAL: in order to develop the interest/skill that is your top priority, invest in a credible professional, one-to-one sessions
  • NOT OPTIONAL: be honest, with yourself and your group, without honesty the whole system collapses

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*To be clear, I am not claiming that there's anything wrong with IronMike's approach to learning/following interests. Whatever makes you happy, that's how you should go about it!
**I don't believe Argüelles needs to seek motivation to study languages, but during his most intensive years he kept rather meticulous, systematic records anyway.
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