OLC spaces - do they work for the people involved?

Hello everyone,

I am a recent joiner of the OLC and really buy into the idea. It is something that I was thinking about myself for a while and something that would be valuable in my work and networks. To have spaces that do what is/was intended with the open learning commons would be great.

Since I joined I noticed that the network is not very active right now and I have been wondering why that is. There seems to have been a little more momentum once upon a time but it seems that the commoning in the OLC spaces has slowed a little. Based on some mattermost conversations there seem to be others that have observed a similar tendency.

I started speaking to @Robert_Best about some overlapping interests and he told me a little more about the different spaces (this is the list I am working from: https://openlearning.cc/base/).

I am asking myself the question: do the digital spaces set up for OLC work for the people involved?
IF they DO: what are the main inhibitors to OLC becoming a community of more active contributors?
IF they DON’T: why is the current tech setup not encouraging more active community contribution?

This thread is intended to raise tool issues. Please feel free to start other topics/threads if you think the community vibrancy status has nothing to do with the tools.

I will be sharing this topic in the mattermost space and ask for contributions there.

Again, I am keen to see this working, not keen on leading but very keen to have spaces for active discussions that I can invite people from my networks into for joint exploration and commoning.

Your thoughts are much appreciated.

I has started posted here at discuss.openlearning.cc , but am super-busy (January to April) in teaching a course at OCADU. So I all of my effort has been directed towards putting content onto presentation slides, giving lectures that I’ve recorded, and then syncing up audio and slides to create web video. (The show up on the Coevolving Innovations blog, since I have a long history of self-hosting my content.

Others in the Systems Changes Learning Circle have been engaging … but not so much online. We have a regular schedule of meeting in person, at least every 3 weeks, so discuss.openlearning.cc isn’t necessarily the place that knowledge gets transferred. At Systems Thinking Ontario, recent sessions have been walking (actually crawling) through slide content, because it’s so dense.

For the Learning Circle, we actually try to keep e-mail down to a minimum, so we’re using Mattermost in both public and private channels. That being said, if we’re meeting in person frequently in Toronto, we don’t need so much online communication. When I’m working through ideas and content, if there’s something that would apply to people at a distance (i.e. I do post to the Systems Changes channel now and then), I will do that.

Speaking for myself, I don’t have any tool issues right now. One thing that I would suggest is that we not presume a tool issue, and add new technologies onto what we’ve already got. Within our group, we have a pulsetaker – one member of the team who isn’t as fluid with technologies as many of us are – so every time we introduce another technology, we have to pause from working on content.

The OLC is a means to an end, not the end in itself. I do invite people to join, but I also appreciate that not everyone communicates online as readily as I do. This comes from my prior career experience at IBM, where for 20 years I was a remote worker, and didn’t have a permanent desk in an office. Still, when the wiki and blog technologies were first piloted inside IBM, I was there. (If you want to read about how tools get adopted at enterprise scale, I’ve got case studies in a book about that).

This reads like @daviding is saying, if you have physical meetings, also maintaining virtual ones are less needed (because duplicating effort/cost, and if the expense of physical meetings is spent anyway, why bother much about virtual?).

Other than that, virtual spaces are infinite, and there can easily be an infinite number of them. Easy to create another one under any arbitrary name, which can take/hold basically anything (theoretically, only one virtual space would be ever needed if there were proper federation, but why not group them into separate silos/spaces, each with their defined custom boundaries?).

I agree that I’m not currently suffering from any tool issues. I think next steps to reinvigorate OLC would look like more activity on the social end of things relating to being good hosts/stewards, and inviting people to participate in the spaces we create. The OLC website is a little out of date and inaccurate now, but it would only take a few small edits to fix that. That would likely be impactful for making things more inviting, without a huge amount of effort.

Actually, touching also on what @skreutzer said. I feel like the liveliness is less about the tools, and more about the social network… as each subset of that network, or individual, will likely have their own set of tools that they use… and the network weavers then become more the hubs instead of the tech-tools. And the protocols they speak and use to leave signals to each other also become more central and would ideally work over any choice of tool.

@skreutzer I see openlearning.cc as a complement to face-to-face meetings, not a substitute.

There’s a question as to which content is best discussed in (i) a public open space (particularly one where content is persisted); (ii) a semi-private space (amongst a small set of known individuals where some forgiveness in ambiguity is understood); and (iii) a private conversation (that could be speculative, where one does not want to be quoted, and could be working out ideas.

The third could be described as following the Chatham House Rule. This is impossible in an online environment where individuals are tracked. (The alternative of a dark web conversation amongst mostly anonymous parties is extremely slow to lead to trust).

My use of social technologies is aligned with “Intimacy Gradient and Other Lessons from Architecture” | Christopher Allen | 2004. My preference is to be as open as practical – I spent 3 years writing a whole book on that! – but the reason that I formed the System Changes Learning Circle as local in Toronto is that it’s taken more than a year of meeting every third Monday to not only get some understanding of ideas that we would like to nurture, as well as tangents that throw off peripheral participants into wrong presumptions.

So, while there’s an ongoing stream of lectures and essays on my professional blog, readers-listeners-lurkers should appreciate that research moves. I haven’t exactly repudiated the major publication associated with the presidency of the ISSS in 2011-2012, but I’ve extended the framework, and adjusted some of the philosophy behind it.

So, why bother about virtual? The major point behind the ISSS 2012 theme was “Rethinking Systems Thinking”, in that people getting into systems thinking have been reading content that is mostly frozen in the 1980s. That’s pre-Internet, and pre-globalization. There has been continuing research in the systems sciences up to today, yet few people know about that.

The value of artifacts (online, or published in hardcopy) is that they reflect where thinking is/was at that point in time. It’s better to incrementally create content online that could be shared and discussed with other, than to wait 5 or 10 (or even 20 years), and then attempt to publish it all at once.

So, the question for me isn’t how to move discussions online, but to have an appropriate trail of knowledge development that others might follow. There are many (probably most of the world) that would be satisfied with the (relatively) static definitions available on Wikipedia, but science is a domain in which knowledge moves.


@Robert_Best I do, and I also understand that it’s a rare, specific problem of mine most people don’t have. I mean, it’s just very tedious and primitive to read and write this way, not to mention any form of augmentation.

Social networking, isn’t that a tool + methodological issue right there, to learn/discover who’s who and who’s doing what, where, why and in which way, to boost the chances of reasonable interaction?

@daviding And I don’t (it’s not even substitution), because I’m not in Toronto… Also don’t see why ambiguity or speculation wouldn’t be just fine in an open space as well.

But don’t get me wrong :slight_smile: I’m not advocating to move any discussion online at all.


What is this supposed to mean, concretely? How would it manifest, practically?

Apologies for replying, don’t know if this is still on-topic or helpful for @philippgr.

Let me use a concrete example.

(1) There are lecture slides produced for lectures on “Why (Intervene in) Systems Changes? Errors, Attention and Traps through an Ecological Understanding” on January 29 and 31.

I could argue that they’re really non-ambiguous, because practically every content slide has a reference at the bottom that sources the original content.

(2) There are audio recordings of two lectures, in front of two difference classes (Jan. 29 for full-time students, Jan. 31 for part-time students). Those students have an advantage that (i) I’m speaking to them in real time, unscripted; and (ii) they can stop me at any time to ask questions of clarification.

I’m not reading the content off the slides. That content is for reference after the fact. The students are responding to my spoken interpretation of the writings (mostly) of others. Now, I could be interpreting those works in a way different from the way that the original authors meant … but some of those references could be 20 years old, so are they still relevant?

(3) I’ve created web video matching up the slides with the audio recordings. This doesn’t reproduce the in-person experience, because viewers can’t actually watch my moving around the room, or pointing to the screen. This is, however, a richer experience than just the slides, or just the audio.

(4) The maps drawn in 2019 that led up to January 2020 lecture are online. I have not made the audio recordings of those events generally available, because the listener won’t be able to judge the ambiguities are, either from point of view of the listener, or from me.

So, all of this content is available on the open Internet. I would argue that it all doesn’t belong on the Open Learning Commons, where ideas should be better worked out. If anybody wants to engage me on the content, I’m willing to do that here on discuss.openlearning.cc … but it’s a choice of spending an hour (i) working through speculative content with colleagues in person, or (ii) typing in content online, the former wins.

In presenting a long working paper at PLoP 2014, I was advised by in order to move pattern language content forward at depth, I would have to get a smaller group of people together to work more intensively. I’m making better progress towards that, with the small group in Toronto, but we still have written any generative patterns, yet.

Ah, I see, sure: it’s a question of efficiency/cost. For me, not having been able to attend your January lecture, participating in (i) wouldn’t have been an option, and without (ii) happening, nothing happened, seen from an outside perspective :slight_smile: I’m just joking… So I assume in the case of physical attendance not being an option, working through speculative content with colleagues online would be equally fine, no? Except that you don’t need to do that because there’s already the easier, cheaper, more convenient, better option of personal meetings in your case. And indeed, a more polished result might get published later anyway (or not). Just wondering if you want to say that a virtual space like this is inherently unfit for doing such work remotely.

In the Open Learning Commons (with extensions into the Digital Life Collective) , there are multiple virtual spaces. They each have their own strengths and limits.

At discuss.openlearning.cc (Discourse), there’s an opportunity to dialogue, and exchange questions and answers. For converging on a single “answer”, this isn’t so great. Conversation has context, that needs to get whittled down or universalized to become general.

At wiki.openlearning.cc (Federated Wiki), there’s a strong foundation for a community of writers to be slowly refining a body of work in parallel. However, the idea of federating content takes some mind-shaping, because the technology is relatively new.

At notepad.diglife.coop (CodiMD), the feature of drafting content collectively is the strength. The fact that everyone writes in Markdown may actually encourage less formality. Some don’t like that content and discussion get threaded inline, but that may actually encourage convergence (i.e. resolve the differences in sidenotes).

At wekan.diglife.coop (Wekan), coordinating across multiple threads may be easier when viewed as Kanban cards, rather than detailed lists. Keeping track on a Kanban board isn’t hard, but may be more ceremony than people want.

So, I think that there’s a range of tools from which to select. Not everyone nor every endeavour needs every tool, but they are there. I’m encouraging members of the Systems Changes Learning Circle (and there’s really only a handful of us) to be using these tools as opposed to the “no-charge” commercial tools, because I’m into the open source way. (That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pay for open source products; it’s saying that we should have the option to NOT be locked into a single vendor without alternatives).

1 Like
Creative Commons Licence Contributions to the Open Learning Commons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Please honor the spirit of collective open learning by citing the author(s) in the context of a dialogue and/or linking back to the original source.