Free range learners

Jay's fondness for "free range learning" appears to have been waylaid back into the barnyard by the polarized feedback he received in Las Vegas. Stephen is appropriately alarmed by the loss this implies for all us chickens. Perhaps I can show the way back to our home on the range.

The range is free of additives put into chicken feed. Thus free range chickens are free of coercion, co-optation, confinement and controlled movement.

Every happy chicken knows that continuums are better than positional stances. Chicken Little made his own misery by taking the positional stance of a true believer to insist the "sky is falling". Thinking that free range learning is a question of balance, blending and mashing appears wise. Yet Jay's offering of chicken mash is raising a ruckus and a balance between the henhouse and free range movement seems to be highly objectionable.

There is a different problem with farmers who are "pulling a fast one" on us chickens. They take chickens out of the henhouse and show them the barn, saying this is the free range. It's bigger and has more room to maneuver. But it's not free movement or free of the chicken feed with the additives. Less confinement is not free ranging. A free range is really something on its own. It cannot be provided partially or incrementally.

Compared to the henhouse, feed trough or barn, the free range is a paradigm shift. It's not a better henhouse or improved chicken feed. No amount of enhancements to the barnyard will result in a free range. Yet paradigm shifts move forward without looking back. Early cell phone providers had signal strength and interoperability issues to resolve. They did not need to disparage pay phones and landlines to get cell phone use accepted.

The technology speaks for itself when a paradigm shifts. The value was evident without pushy sales pitches when CD's replaced tape players, iPods/iTunes replaced CD's and TIVO replaced VCR's. Discontinuous innovations can let the continuous, incremental changes in the obsolete paradigm fall by the wayside. The new paradigm successfully pulls free ranging users into early adoption.

Farmers think chickens won't eat if they are not fed. That's delusional. Chickens feed themselves on the free range. Builders of barns, feed troughs and chicken coops think the free range has to be built too. They've never seen formal structures spring up like a meadow, stand of trees, blogosphere, wiki or social networking site. How could a free range for chickens come about emergently, naturally and ecologically?

Free range chickens do more than eat. They take time to digest and cluck about it all. It's a lot like learners who have teachable moments open to new content, unteachable moments open to personal reflection and conversational moments open to new questions. (Thanks for "Teaching Defiance" Harold!) The problem is with the chicken feed from the farmers, not chicken food on the free range.

Free range chickens take on the patterns of wild gamers (pheasant, grouse, guinea hens). The free range is more than where the deer and antelope play. Often is heard a discouraging word. There are griefers and gankers to contend with in their metaverse (wolves, coyotes, foxes). There are both levelers and raiders among the chickens (flocks and roosters). Free range chickens are sufficiently empowered and self reliant to fend for themselves in this vast network of challenges, opportunities and possibilities.

Free rangers: Carry On!


  1. Thanks, Tom, you really put this into perspective. I was kinda thinkin' 'bout coyotes myself when I discussed this with Christian

    I have to agree with you; we are all hard-wired to be learners, and don't need to be grain-fed. Many of us seem to have forgotten that.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I am tempted to roll out some chicken jokes, but I will try to exercise some self-control.

    Waylaid? (That's a chicken analogy, right?) Not hardly. Years ago I adopted a mechanism for dealing with confusing situations: "What am I supposed to learn from this?"

    I learned that two-thirds of the people who attended our session aren't ready to experiment with alternative forms of learning. That's okay. Many others are quite receptive.

    As for Stephen's remarks, they pertain primarily to my Learning Slider metaphor. Stephen and I will probably have an on-line conversation to explore his issues out in the open. I understand some of where he's coming from (not that I agree), but I'm still trying to grok parts of his comment.

    Tom, perhaps you should join Stephen's and my conversation.

  3. Thanks for the comment Harold.

    Jay: Two thirds not ready to experiment! That's scarry! Don't let the turkeys get you down. Maybe they'll fly to the coup or cross the road once the early adopters shows how it's done and fun.

    Waylaid? No way I thought of that in advance. Serendipity rules in the realm of the right brain. I've moved "Chicken Ranch" up on my Netflix queue to satisfy my sudden hunger for chicken puns.

    Grokking Stephen's viewpoint out in the open would benefit lots of us. By all means post something to your blog and I'll jump in to the comments.

  4. Early adopters?
    I am not sure about that. Informal learning, from the free range perspective, has nothing to do with an incremental innovation that can be adopted by those already in the field. The two thirds are sceptical because however you dress it, informal learning is about cutting out the middle man, and those two thirds know that that is exactly what they are.
    This is a profound sea change, that for many of those two thirds probably sounds like job loss. They wont be early or late adopters.

  5. All I can add to the comments above is that I do believe that you have watched Chicken Run one too many times!!!

  6. Came across your blog, wandering around other blogs. I thought it was a fellow chicken farmer. Read your post, know chickens, but I do not believe you own them. I raise free range chickens. They do go out and forage and set up the pecking order, and the fox does make its appearance cow and then. But I feed at night, some scratch grain and mash, to lure them into the coop for night protection. They could go to the tress to roost, but it gets way to cold here for them to be out all night. I will feed them more in the winter because the snow cover can be quite deep, otherwise, they do a pretty good job on the grassed areas and my flower beds! Interesting Blog!

  7. Hi ChickenGal
    Thanks for the added facets on how free range chickens stay well fed. The title of this post is so misleading, I think I'll change it to free range learners. It may still show up on Google searches by chicken farmers, but the title will offer a clue about the use of the chickens as a metaphor.

  8. If you want another perspective, try researching guinea hens/fowl. They follow each other and they are worse than sheep.... I could see their behavior in humans too! They are a blast to watch, and their habits are similar, yet different than chickens. They are great egg layers, but horrible parents. Instead of going in the coop for shelter, they roost in the trees, regardless of the weather. Anyway, I am sharing your blog with my DIL. She teaches kindergarten and she would appreciate your insightfulness.