Self-Directed Learning in Online Connected Learning Environments

November 22, 2013

PROJECTS: Leveling Up



Many people would not think of professional wrestling fans and knitters as having a lot in common but the two communities share many underlying principles and cultural norms. The Hogwarts at Ravelry knitting group and the Wrestling Boards professional wrestling fan community are connected learning environments. The communities are peer-supported, interest-powered, and academically-oriented. The connected learning experiences of Hogwarts at Ravelry and Wrestling Boards support production-centered activities, a shared purpose among those participating, and are openly networked. One thing we have noticed in these communities is the way in which members describe their learning experiences and how they position or identify their learning process in relation to their communities. The communities are rich in resources, support, inspiration, and motivation for members to advance their interests, and many members point to the communities as being the reason for them learning new skills. Interestingly, though, many members discuss the actual learning process as something they sought out on their own. For these members, the learning may be community-supported and motivated, but it is also self-directed.

In the Wrestling Boards community, peer-support facilitates the community of learning. The community is seen as a source of motivation for learning and at the same time many participants identify themselves as the catalyst of the learning. A member of the community who calls himself The Noob describes one of the ways he learns about the WWE, through playing the WWE video games. The WWE games are fighting-style games that can be played either in single or multiplayer modes. The Noob says he likes playing as a WWE superstar in the game. “[I] learn [through playing] a bit more about [the superstar] like their moveset, skills, abilities etc and it helps [me] learn about the other superstars as well.” The Noob also talks about how his search for wrestling information and finding the Wrestling Boards has helped him learn about himself. He said he used the internet for all his WWE research and that he actively sought wrestling information on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the Wrestling Boards. “[Participating in Wrestling Boards] brought my confidence up a little to be honest, at first I was like ‘do people feel I am stupid for liking WWE etc’ but when I found out about Wrestling Boards, knowing there were loads of people my age, I boosted my confidence in liking WWE if you understand what I mean.” He describes the community as helping him– but he is doing the work; he boosted his confidence in his interest by seeking out a community with the same interests.

This sentiment of self-directed learning was shared by the founder and main administrator of Wrestling Boards. Crayo is nineteen and from the UK. He describes himself as a “huge fan of professional wrestling.” He feels a lot of pride of ownership in his forum. He is so involved with his forum that he live posts while watching the matches. A big part of wrestling fandom is staying up on the news and storylines. Crayo said to learn about news “from ‘dirt sheets’ or anything else, I use Twitter. I then post the news on my forum and discuss it with the members.” So he seeks out information himself and then brings it back to support his community. Crayo talks about his management of the community in a very active way,

“Well I own it, so I run it. I discuss almost everything with the members, I help the members if they need it, I educate the ‘marks’ about the business and how professional wrestling works, as it’s near-impossible to participate in the IWC if you don’t know about the business, as everyone around you is more in the know.”

And he describes how his administration, active leadership, and management of the site has influenced him:

“It’s helped me vastly with online experience and being a webmaster. It’s helped me deal with mass amounts of people and has helped me communicate online much easier. My participation in Wrestling Boards has hopefully made the site the best it can be at this time, but I always look to improve it.”

For Crayo, he actively defines himself in what he has learned through his role in the community.
For Hogwarts at Ravelry, the community centers around the shared interests of Harry Potter and fibercrafting (including knitting, crochet, weaving, and spinning). While many members point to their parents or grandparents as having introduced them or taught them the craft, others described their initial fibercrafting learning experiences as being something that they sought out and picked up on their own.

Thanh, a 20-year-old knitter who has difficulty finding local teachers or supports for fibercrafting in Vietnam, used online resources to learn to knit. “Google introduced me to From there I just went to Youtube for anything I don’t understand. verypinkknit has some amazing clips about difficult techniques made simple.” Briana, a 25-year-old pattern author and seller, had learned to crochet from camp leaders as a child, but describes re-learning to crochet as an adult as something she “taught herself:” “And I had done crochet, like I learned it at youth groups when I was young. But I didn’t remember anything. So… I went online and taught myself so I can start selling crochet stuff, too.” Earth, a 21-year-old knitter, says “I learned actually from Knitting for Dummies, but I was inspired to learn from a post [on a knitting website].”

Many members of Hogwarts at Ravelry have pointed out that the patterns and communities on Ravelry often provide inspiration, motivation, and support to learn new techniques or try new things, and this propels members to independently seek out resources to learn to do those techniques or make those patterns. KnittingPrincipal, the leader of the group, told me about a scarf she made as part of a knit-along where each part of the scarf used a different technique. The group provided the support and inspiration to continue with the scarf, but it was up to KnittingPrincipal to teach herself how to do the techniques: “[The pattern author] provided links to the ones that she thought might be difficult for people, but I definitely looked up youtube videos for some of the stuff – I’ve found that if I can find a video on youtube by verypinkknits, I have a much better chance of catching on to the technique than using other videos there.”

Meren, a 21-year-old crocheter and knitter, described one Harry Potter-inspired assignment about gillyweed as prompting her to learn a new stitch – the bobble stitch. In her description of learning to do the bobble stitch, Meren points out the interesting dynamic of learning that is prompted by the community, figured out on her own, but supplemented with specific troubleshooting advice from a more knowledgeable fibercrafter. Meren says, “The assignment was about gillyweed, and one of the options was to craft bobbles, so I started a bobbled pillow using a pattern from the book Stitch ’n Bitch Nation. I figured out the bobbles myself, but I’d asked my mom for help when I noticed that I was short a stitch in one of my rows.”

As we can see in this post, the learning experiences of members in these communities are dynamic processes of community support, inspiration, and resources, but they are also full of moments of individual inquiry and self-directed, unstructured learning. In discussing these moments of self-directed learning, members use discourses of “I taught myself” and “I figured it out” as a way to mark and position themselves in relation to the community and their learning. For these members, the communities may inspire or motivate learning and even provide resources, but they describe the actual acquisition of new skills or techniques as being self-directed. These members’ discourses and positioning invite questions and reflections on learner identities, the importance of “ownership” over their learning, and the traditional discourses of schooling and education to which such discourses may be a response. The connected learning environments of the Wrestling Boards and Hogwarts at Ravelry facilitate learning within an interest and also empower learners to claim their learning as their own. Connected learning creates an atmosphere where self-directed learning can flourish.


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