Is Knowing When to Cocoon a 21st Century Skill?

photo courtesy - TheGiantVermin on flickr

Connecting, collaborating, creating, and critical thinking are the 21st century ‘C’ words we hear a lot about these days.  I’m wondering if we need to add cocoon to that list — is it as important a part of transformation as our connectedness?

I guess it’s not a surprise that the longer I delve into understanding learning, and try to find those opportunities to go deeper,  the more complicated it gets.  That’s a good sign – I’m sure.  Last week was a chance to join my colleagues in the PLP ConnectU Community in Australia as they delve deeper into their journey as a connected, networked, learning community interested in deepening their practice with respect to PBL and developing a PLN.

My mentor and critical friend,  Peter Skillen and I both attended the excellent sessions led by  Will Richardson with a focus on networks and communities.   Will mentioned this new landscape of networked learning where we have the potential to be learning 24/7.    Peter and I have had many chats lately about the effectiveness of our PLN and our need to put some checks in place to make sure that, as he puts it, we are ‘zooming out’ in order to see the big picture.

Largely because of this post by George Siemens which I found through Stephen Downes’ blog and because Peter has been pointing me to some other folks who are thinking more critically about connectedness  (and in particular social media),  I’m attempting that zoom out.  Although there has been some push-back about social media, it continues to be a big part of my learning these days and I think some time spent thinking more metacognitively about balance and purpose is where I’m at.   Couple that with the thinking my PLP group has been doing around promoting creativity in the classroom and some questions arise for me:

  • what is the purpose of my network vs my online communities?
  • how am I controlling the flow of information that is coming at me, or is it controlling me?
  • I’m gravitating towards more collaborative work that involves a different kind of connection than something like twitter – what should I be recommending to others just starting down this path?
  • is my PLN diverse enough?
  • am I spending my time where it most benefits my learning?
  • do I set aside enough solitary time?

I’m finding that a big part of learning in this new space where information flows so freely is to know when to cocoon, take some alone time, do some reflecting or solitary thinking and then emerge once again to join in the conversations!

What about you…how do you try to keep a balance?  Or do you?

courtesy of Creativity+TimothyKHamilton


  1. Spontaneity may be the hardest thing to plan for, So occasionally you just have to schedule an unplugged interlude. Sometimes to consolidate and reflect, and sometimes to just relax and NOT think about what you have been learning. Your unconscious brain can get along very well without you while you go for a walk, do some gardening, listen to music, or whatever.

    It’s supposed to be fun. When you find yourself overworking the problem, remember that.


    • Yes, unplugged interludes are a good idea! It’s amazing when you get that cross-pollination that your unconscious mind seems to allow to float to the surface…I know what you mean by letting it sit a bit. 🙂

      Thanks for your advice about keeping things fun! It is fun for me most of the time, especially when I get really focused on reading blogs or wandering around where my PLN leads me…it can be such a state of flow that I’m not really aware of the time passing! I love that!


  2. Hey Brenda,
    Great post. ‘Cocooning’ is a great metaphor (and so alliterate as well)! 🙂

    First of all, thank you so much for your kind references. I know that being a ‘critical’ friend is a good thing. I also know that it comes with some angst at times. I thank you for tolerating my strongly stated opinions, my occasional orneriness, and my passion (when it isn’t serving me well). I will also thank you for making practical many of the things that I only dream about. You have a way of putting your thoughts into words in a way that is accessible to a large number of people. I admire this and can learn from it.

    But, I digress. LOL

    I would love to hear more of your ideas about ‘balance and purpose’ that you mention. In my posts on this topic (inspired by toi!), I really only dealt with the cognitive aspects. Let’s have a discussion about other aspects of self. I think that’s where you’re going with ‘balance and purpose’ – to the ‘mind, body, soul’ kind of space.

    Your move. 🙂


  3. Hi Brenda, I just responded on Peters blog about this subject. It is a difficult thing to know how to pull back and reflect and when to just keep on flowing with the madness of information overload. I think it is a ver personalised thing and something that takes great self awareness. It’s also something that we need to teach our students – the thinking process behind reflection, and provide them the space to do it.
    I find smoking a cigar helps me – this isn’t advice I can obviously pass on to my students.


    • I think you’re right Kynan, now more than ever we need to teach the kids, or at least model that reflection and pull back, just as we model our thinking out loud about how to jump in and get learning. I had a great conversation with my son recently, who said ‘Safari is just too close sometimes during lectures at university’. We talked about having those goals ahead of time and understanding your purpose – important goals for a long time but perhaps even more now.

      I choose red wine over the cigar…can’t recommend that either! 🙂


  4. Brenda, you captured exactly what has been swirling around in my head the past few weeks! I have found long walks on the beach to be very therapeutic…as has some time away from the laptop. I feel the need to organize my time differently when I return from vacation–and this reflective period has helped me focus on why that is so important.


  5. I know you were buried alive, but I wish you could have sat in on the Dancing in the datasphere prezi I did, we got into a quiet mind, deliberative mindset in that discussion. Perception widened, and I think (hope) that everyone in the room had a moment where they started to actually see the paradigm shift we’re in the middle of as something other than shiny, in your face, and over stimulating.

    There were moments of quiet reflection at Ecoo, though the loudness and excitement of the revolution often made them hard to notice.

    Alanna mentioned that the focus still seems to be on tricks and tools rather than a meaningful development of digitally augmented pedagogy. Apps don’t teach children any more than text books ever did. I hope more people are willing to address the philosophical underside of the revolution, rather than just wanting to storm the palace with ipads…


  6. It’s nice to know that you get overwhelmed too sometimes, Brenda. Maybe that’s why you find knitting so awesome. I don’t know if I achieve balance. I guess my strategy is that I constantly re-prioritize and I’m dropping things that are somehow wasting my time. I also volunteer with events that have NOTHING to do with school or technology and that helps me to keep grounded.

    At ECOO, I picked only sessions that had to do with the big picture, not tips and tricks. I avoided the vendors. Here’s my blog link:


  7. […] Cormier I’m beginning to learn more about the intricacies of networks, communities, and learning. Brenda Sherry also influenced my thinking recently when I came across her post about the balance needed among […]


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