Learning in Loops and Spirals

Learning happens in loops and spirals. The images of a mobius style loop and the fibonnacci spiral come to mind as I reflect on what personal and systems learning looks like within social and networked communities. This past week, my own experiences in learning occurred in both a looped and spiralling fashion. These images are a ‘generative metaphor’ (Schon) created from my reflection in, on, and of my learning.


Mobius Loop

Learning can happen at any point along a loop – it doesn’t matter where you begin or where you decide to get off. The learning experience is never the same since placement, perspective and people will change when you begin a new learning loop. You can follow the loop around a topic, context, or exploration for as long as you wish – some people make the learning loop last a lifetime. I stepped into the Hybrid Pedagogy loop this past week and will continue learning along critical literacy pathways, with many others, as I experience the #moocmooc exploration. My learning viewpoint was captured in this Storify – On Twitter dialogues & campfire classrooms @#moocmooc.

image of snail shell

Nature Pattern

Learning within a spiral has a definite starting point that sparks the learning event. It is the center-point from which the learning will incrementally expand outward. The learning experiences grow and enrich for individuals and groups as the topics, content, or exploration gains momentum. This happened for me with a #noworksheetweek experience, as shared by one teacher (A.Dunsinger), that expanded to other topics, experiences and educators. The spiral of learning continued outward from a shared exploration in one learning context, as captured in this Storify – Living and Learning.

So I’ll take this back to Donald Schon and his reminder to reflect on learning in open spaces because “learning isn’t simply something that is individual. Learning can also be social”.  This was modelled throughout my looped and spiralling learning experiences – both were conducted in very open, public forums where anyone and everyone could share, discuss, disagree, or explore further. Social media provides for looping and spiralling of ideas with, from and beside others along a learning topic.

Schon focuses on the diffusion of innovation as a way for learning systems to change. His suggestion that innovation, change and “the movement of learning is as much from periphery to periphery, or from periphery to centre, as from centre to periphery”. Learning systems can change with the diffusion of social media engagement. Within the loops of conversations in a twitter chat (#moocmooc), there are no hierarchies and the structure is loosely shaped to allow for easy entry/exit points. The topics, participants, and flow of conversation likewise had no ‘expert’ leading the way or formal structure. Ideas flow and topics slip and loop around each other. When systems engage in this type of open, social, shared and public conversation, change in the movement of learning will occur from periphery to centre and back to periphery. Leaders, teachers and learners engage in a looping of their learning with each other.

Great learning and teaching often happens at the grassroots far from the decision-making, policy setting, power centres of education. From examples such as the #noworksheetweek exploration, systems and leaders can openly learn when the experiences of teachers and students spiral outward from the classroom. Current education systems that are innovating and changing are those willing to engage in a public, shared movement of learning that focuses on what sparks learning in the classroom.  The spark of one idea, once shared and explored, can spiral outward where others can engage in the concepts, issues, questions or practices.

Generative reflection

Schon suggests “practitioners build up a collection of images, ideas, examples and actions that they can draw upon.” My reflections generated the images of the mobius-style loop and the fibonnacci spiral for my learning actions. These are presented for others to explore. Engaging in generative metaphors “allow for different ways of framing a situation” to create insight so learning can continue to loop and spiral.

  • What are your generative metaphors?
  • Where does learning loop or spiral for you?
  • How will your learning change the system when you share your loops and spirals in public, social ways?


gfpeck. (Jan. 9, 2011). Single sided. [image] retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/98X3nk

Mosdell, S. (Feb. 27, 2011). Nature pattern. [image] retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/9nscgw

Smith, M. K. (2001, 2011). ‘Donald Schön: learning, reflection and change’, the encyclopedia of informal education.[www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm. Retrieved: Jan. 23, 2015].

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