That is the topic I am currently working on with Elmine Wijnia and Valeri Souchkov (an expert in the TRIZ methodology).
Elmine and I had been discussing if it would be possible to predict viable social software tools and niches based on the affordances people actually need to be able to consciously learn things. This as a result of our paper for the BlogTalk Reloaded conference where we suggested using community critical success factors, and the work of George Siemens (Connectivism) as design principles for tools.

Illustration from George Siemens book Knowing Knowledge

Opening up this discussion with Valeri Souchkov helped focus on the singlemost important question that surfaced in our exchanges: how do you get to own your own learning path?

This is a bigger question than we started out with, but it is the ultimate conclusion of trying to approach things not in a tech-driven, or functionality focussed way, but by focussing on an individual and on being empowered to reach your own goals.

Starting from the question How to be owner of my own learning path?, we distinguish a couple of prerequisites:
1) Knowing what to learn
2) Knowing when to learn it
3) Knowing how to learn it
4) Knowing when you’ve learned it
5) Being in an environment that allows you to own your own learning path

Building on this quickly branches of in all kinds of directions.
Those branches allow a more detailed look at things like:

Monitoring, evaluating, shaping and balancing your environment as fit for learning. Which connects to my earlier work on social networks as filters, as well as the second BlogWalk on self-directed learning.
Detecting the need, and right time to learn things against the background of continual changes in the world, and in light of your goals.

Shaping your learning steps with interventions that fit your goals, environment and context, and being able to establish when you’ve learned something and can move on to the next learning goal.

Each of these ‘fields’ need to be supported with their own group of skills and tool box.
And this is where I start to see the contours of what existing tools should look like in different contexts of usage, and what type of tools are missing. When it comes to environment think of visualization e.g., and when it comes to monitoring change, look at pattern hunting.
Because it helps integrate and connect different pieces of your efforts and actions (e.g. it already helps Elmine see how her consulting and research work fits together in a new light.), it helps you think about the type of affordances you need and from which type of tools to get them.

That is an entirely different approach than the one that went ’round the blogosphere in the past week on the building blocks of social software. That was more about describing tools, but not starting with the intended usage of those tools.

This is all still a bit vague, and in part deliberately so.
We hope to take this to Reboot at the end of next month, as a conversation with an introductory presentation. So we will keep building on it.
I hope that it will give us a means to proactively define the tools I need, to determine better what type of feedback to give toolbuilders (like I’ve been doing at different BarCamps) and perhaps spot a niche or two for start-ups.

Sticky notes from exploring one branch of our model