On Serindipitous Learning Experiences

“To everything there is a a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” – The Byrds

Since I started drinking from the information abundance firehose about 4 years ago, I have had this concept in my mind of serendipitous learning experiences.  My friend Verena Roberts @verenaz and I have discussed this in some depth. I have carefully observed the ebb and flow of my own learning patterns as I engage in my PLN – and primarily in Twitter. I have become more and more convinced of the need for learning readiness – not in the way that we define it in Schools of Education – but rather in a more holistic and somewhat mysterious way.  I see it as a serindipitous condition that results from the right information, learning experience, and opportunity coming together at exactly the right time. 

I have become convinced of serindipitous learning as a condition that exists within us as a result of individual factors, in combination with a constant flood of information initially filtered broadly, and finally filtered more specifically to meet just in time goals.

I interact with the resources and sometimes with people behind the resources to form an idea. Then something clicks. I can almost hear it in my head. I can’t put it any more academically than that. Once that click happens, I can plan steps to meet my goals. Usually these steps involve the members of the PLN who helped form the idea.

Cycle of Serindipitous Learning

(click to enlarge)

Screenshot 2015-05-01 19.51.52

Before twitter I would do concentrated web searches, a whole lot of reading, maybe I would watch a few videos, and after a lot of work I’d get a click. But this happened after a lot of effort. I “did” a lot of things to earn that click.

Serindipitous learning experiences, by contrast, seem very easy and much more productive.

Example:  Gamifi-ED was created based on an overheard conversation between Verena, @jessifer, and others in which I favorited a tweet, and Verena reached out to include me in her brainstorm of the moment. We emailed the next day, decided what we needed, and the right people to include, contacted @costerhout and @coolcatteacher to see if they were game. They were.

@costerhout was in one of my classes so chances are he may have felt he had no choice  – he jokes that he got involved by taking his family on vacation when we were planning so when he got home he was in neck deep.

And things went on from there. The result was a 4 month inquiry into serious games which led me to pursue one path and Verena and Vicki their own separate ones, but it was a foundation for each of us which served its purpose of leading to more specific individual goals.

I have tried to explain this “serindipitous learning” concept to some of my colleagues who aren’t twitter literati and they don’t seem to get it. But those who are on Twitter seem to understand it almost intuitively.  Those who have experienced the PLN on Twitter see how quickly ideas can evolve and projects can happen. So they do agree – there is something there. Something is happening. Learning is changing.

I’ve always been a believer that we can’t learn anything until we are ready for it. Students, I believe, aren’t ready for knowledge until they can form the question that will lead to it. That is, I suppose, just basic Rousseau. But I think the information flow on twitter helps us form our questions more quickly and then subsequently in concert with other resources, discover the answer we need almost immediately. As I taught using inquiry learning pre-internet (1993) I was often challenged about how long it took to  for the students  to synthesize concepts and form questions. Maybe in an immersion environment like twitter it just doesn’t take that long anymore.

I felt the “click” today when I was following my Tweetdeck for a while and thinking about makerspaces. Over a period of a few hours here and there reading this and that I now have a proposal for a way to create a makerspace for students at a local middle school. I have materials, a location, and players in mind for the project. All of that from a few hours of playing in the information pool.

If there is such a thing as serindipitous learning enabled through information abundance, what does this mean for teaching and learning where information comes from one knowledge source and all others are banned? What does it mean for “teaching” one specific topic at a specific time during the day when everyone is expected to be perfectly ready for it? What does it mean for objectives that we might have prerequisite knowledge to learn, but that we haven’t created a framework for effectively understanding? What does it mean for educators who can’t or won’t engage in drinking from the fire hydrant a few hours a day or week?

What about the gap – not only the technology gap but the knowledge gap – between teachers on twitter and teachers who aren’t? And how is it TWITTER that is creating this sort of a strange synergy between people, information and vision that can result in the exact right solution at the exact right time?

I have more questions than answers. But this is a concept I want to keep exploring. I’d love your thoughts.

P.S. I know that the introductory quote comes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 🙂


3 responses to On Serindipitous Learning Experiences

  1. Debbaff says:

    really great post – thanks so much for sharing this. I was just doing something on my course when the phrase serindipitous learning popped into my head and I was trying to explain what I meant – my google search led me to you ! I thought I would say hello and let you know !
    Thank you 🙂

    • akedtech says:

      I am so glad you enjoyed it! I think the fact that so many of us get that idea in our head “serindipitous learning” – and that it’s most closely related to twitter – is interesting! I think there is definitely something there! I enjoyed reading your blog!

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  1. […] In terms of the networking aspect, my practice has changed significantly since I discovered social media. I found that when I first had a twitter account ( 2010) I didn’t really ‘ get it’ and although I actively wandered around the twittersphere trying to work out what was going on and following people who I was interested in, the fact that I didn’t actively tweet anything meant that I really didn’t understand the way it could be used. It was another leap of faith for me when I made my first tweet, similar to that of blogging but seemingly on a much more instantaneous and visible scale.  I found though that once I started actively engaging with twitter this really helped me to connect with people in a way I had not found possible before. I am still a light twitter user compared to some of the people in my network but I can really see the benefits of being on the ‘twitter scene’ as I find that it interconnects with some of the other areas I am active in such as Google+ and Facebook and quite a lot of blogs that I follow incorporate twitter feeds as does my own.   I also take part in the odd tweet chat now and again which again has proved helpful in so many ways and I have learnt a lot and made some really good connections ( good example for me of serendipitous informal learning – if you want to learn more about serendipitous learning I found this great post by Lee Graham here) […]