Tag Archives: connectivism

PLNs versus PLEs and Goals of Participating

Reviewing the resources from the first week of PLENK10 has been an interesting and more formal introduction to the concepts of what are the similarities and distinction between the personal learning network (PLN) and personal learning environment (PLE).

Prior to this course, the only real distinction I had seen regarding personal learning was differentiating the notion of a networks from communities. Having attended a presentation by Bronwyn Stuckey earlier this summer, however, gave me a much deeper grasp of what qualifies as a community, specifically a community of practice, which has a slightly higher threshold for qualification. In this sense the concept of the personal learning environment (PLE) was a new variation to me.

The material has definitely been informative. Reading the recap of Alec Couros’ 2008 course was a fascinating, in-depth look a course that essentially became a long running event. Having previously failed at participating in the last two connectivism open courses, it was comforting to see a structured reflection on what happened during the run of the course. Since a MOOC can seem so chaotic and overwhelming, especially at first, this document serves as a kind of map of expectations for anyone new to the experience. It also provides a great outline of theoretical underpinnings of the open online course.

As I think of the distinctions of the PLN and PLE, I am reminded of my previous experiences with the connectivism courses, brief though they may have been. A PLN strikes me as being the concrete representation of a connectivist learner in action – not necessarily surprising. In fact, while the “N” in PLN stands for “network” could just as easily stand for the word “nodes,” as it is the array of nodes connected in some way that make a network. The connections are made or, maybe a better word, managed by the person in an organic and emergent fashion. Yet, the person is just one node in the network. Thus, the PLN grows and through the nodes, connections, and generated artifacts almost takes on a life of its own, or at least a kind of alter-ego.

Similarly, the last letter associated with a PLE also could be easily substituted. Instead of “environment” I would substitute “ecology,” which I think of as being a subtle but significant distinction. Ecology denotes the relations between the organisms and the environment. In my thinking the organism is, in fact, the PLN or perhaps even PLNs of connected people that exist within the PLE. I perceive the PLE almost like a landscape that allows the PLN to thrive. it is the “space” where the learning and networking takes place, and the space is also organic, growing, and emergent too. This also seems like the “personal” has arguably less currency in the term PLE.

All of this thinking made me feel a certain affinity for Dave Cormier’s Point 2 from his blogpost “5 Points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10.” I was already onto this line of thought as I read his post. Despite reading it earlier than some of the other pieces, the other material I have been investigation only continues to strengthen my conceptualization about this.

Of course, when Rita Kop mentioned that the main difference in the terms is cultural in the mid week recording it makes me wonder whether it is necessary to distinguish the two. Still, it is an interesting question to consider. Either way, the distinction that Stephen Downes made, in the same recording, focused more closely on the pairing of “personal” and “learning” seems most important. The terms network or environment prove secondary to the learner being at the heart of the experience. That maybe the most important aspect to me as a teacher and learner interested in investigating this course.

It also fits with my general goals for participating. My interest is in some of the theoretical and pedagogical approaches to constructing an open course and encouraging my own students to participate in learning that is more akin to the kind that a MOOC engenders. I am hoping to glean some bits that I can incorporate into my own practice at the secondary, high school level to empower students with greater autonomy and self-directed learning.

So the adventure has officially begun, again.

A Path to PLENK2010

Over the last couple of years, I have tried to follow and participate in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, that George Siemens and Stephen Downes lead on the learning theory Connectivism. Yet, ultimately, as my own teaching responsibilities got rolling, I inevitably fell off the pace and ultimately had to abandon my efforts.

Each failure was instructive, however. With CCK08 I was just kind of fascinated by the whole concept of an open course and curious. I never really got off the ground in terms of the course. In retrospect, I am not sure that I was completely ready to understand Connectivism at that moment anyway, being far too consumed by other demands, as well as fascination with my one year-old daughter. I had been keenly interested in some of the things that Dave Cormier had been doing, most notably the Living Archives project. That lead me, in that peculiarly serendipitous web way, to discover Alec Couros’ open course after the fact. Yet, it was around that time that I became more aware of the work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes, which has been a boon to my thinking on technology and education. So CCK08 served as to open my awareness and widen my radar.

By CCK09, I was determined to jump in and participate in earnest. It started well, The first couple of weeks I was deeply engaged and making all of the rookie mistakes of open course experience, trying to follow everything without any possibility of success. I did this despite the emerging understanding that it is impossible to drink from a firehouse. Plus, starting a new school again, with a new course to plan, and a newborn son conspired to once again derail my efforts to participate. However, I had a much better sense of Connectivism, as well as how to more successfully wrestle with the new paradigm of an open course.

Consequently, the new Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge massive open online course seems like a more natural opportunity now. I have a bit more time than I have in the past. I have a bit more understanding of how and what to do to improve my experience with the new paradigm. Also, I have even more interest in the focus of this new venture. Now, if I can stave off the distractions that will keep me from seeing this opportunity to the end.

Learning Evolution & Connectivism Resonance

I have to admit that there is no question that I am learning differently now than I was five or ten years ago. For one, I was able to complete my Master’s degree from a Chicago university, after moving to Boston, by completing three online courses. This was nearly five years ago and that wasn’t even my first foray into online learning. The blossoming of the internet into a faster and easier vehicle for communication has changed much of how everyone learns. Have a question, search for an answer. Depending on the question, the answer may be a fraction of a second away from appearing – fraction of a second! This now mundane fact of life still manages to astound me. The deepest well of resources in the history of mankind, for many, is literally in the palm of hand. Immediacy of that kind has stunningly powerful consequences for both life and learning.

I have always been a fairly voracious reader. However, the volume I read has increased exponentially over the last ten years. I still love books. My house is filled with them. However, I recently lamented about how few I have read cover to cover recently. I still read some books that way but the way I read has changed, which is why I now love books even more when they are available in some digital form. When this is the case, they become more than books, more than the sum of their parts because the parts are so much more available, pliable, usable.  In fact, my very notion of what a book is has morphed into something that is more aligned with the abstract notion of a text, something readable.

My learning has grown even more personal since the time I was a student. Of course some of this is a function of maturity, but the availability and accessibility of indulging my research interests is a kind of fuel for learning. Better still is the immediacy of available information. Much of this has made for a far more immersed in information experience, the kind that I craved as a student but is now so much more available, can go deeper and broader. Also, with greater volumes of digital content and search recall is not quite as labor intensive as it once was. I now embrace the messiness of learning with much greater relish as a result of the technology innovations.

Another way my learning has changed relates well to connectivism, in that the number and quality of available connections has increased substantially. If I am investigating something I have greater unfiltered access to sources of information than ever before. So, I can attempt to contact someone with the expertise I am seeking with greater ease and probably a better chance of success. The technology has facilitated connections with data sources that simply were not nearly as readily available in the past. In fact, I would submit that the technology encourages contact with these data sources. This might be one of the first resonances I see with the learning theory.

Additionally, the relation to brain function and neuroscience has my interest peaked in terms of resonance. It seems to me, that regardless of whether or not the theory holds up as a legitimate one worthy of academic research and life , it does offer a valid framework through which to view learning. For my purposes this is enough. It may be a theory for the now, but from what I can tell that is all that is reasonable. As perceptions and knowledge change with new discoveries this theory may become more brittle, but that is proving all too common and doesn’t necessarily invalidate it. For one, I am still stuggling with where there is room for developing knowledge and understanding independently or in isolation. So even my own understanding of connectivism is evolving but I certainly recognize it possibly offers some serious insights.