Tag Archives: learningtheory

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.

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Sorting Initial Impressions of Connectivism

As I learn more about connectivism, I find it to be a remarkably comforting knowledge and learning theory. My first impression is that it is a theory that fills in a lot of gaps present in its predecessors, as well as building on them and extending them with new, insights. I am still working a lot of this out, but her is my initial take.

In truth, the world in which we now live is a different place than it once was. If we accept the premise that since the rise of digital networks, in particular the mainstream arrival of the internet, something fundamentally has shifted, perhaps subtly but significantly, connectivism starts to look very appealing. The problem is that this new reality has grown so complex so quickly that it is exceedingly difficult to parse and isolate what specifically is new and different, if that is even possible or reasonably achievable. Where connectivism begins to get traction for me is that it is an adaptive process, which seems to be precisely the right kind of notion for deepening our understanding of this new and different reality. Moreover, there is an organic aspect of the theory, in the development of connections and networks both individually and collectively, that touches on an area that strikes me as phenomenological, to a degree, deeply experiential, even  ephemeral, but ultimately, innately human. This is think is where there is great distinction from all theories rooted in a quasi-mechanical worldview.

The premise that the act of learning is in the formation of one or more connections is very difficult to negate for me. The more I have begun reading about brain function and neuroscience recently, areas that inform connectivism, persuades me that this theory has greater merit. It seems to me that an individual’s capacity to seed and tend a greater and deeper volume of connections, even blending seemingly disparate concepts or items, is directly related to their knowledge of their reality. In conncetivism knowledge is literally the connection, which is fluid and emergent, blooming in unexpected ways, opening the possibility of even more connections, potentially even capable of propagating itself. Thus, a node flourishes as a result of the density and variety of the network to which it is connected. I am thinking of an aged tree’s complexly dense and tangled root system. Perhaps the network extends to to the immediate ecosystem and beyond. Simply on an anecdotal level, this theory has a ring of truth to me, making it even more compelling. Yet, there is still a lot more to investigate before drawing firm conclusions.

Investigating Connectivism

Having casually followed the work of George Siemens for well over a year now, I jumped at the chance to enroll in the second run of the open course Connectivism & Connective Knowledge, co-taught with Stephen Downes, someone who resurfaced on my radar last spring when I was working on the NetGenEd Project. Unfortunately, I missed the start of last year’s inaugural effort and regretted it all year. So, I was glad that they were repeating the experience.

The whole idea of an open course with global participants fascinates me. While the course is based at University of Manitoba, and there are a small group of students participating for credit, there are hundreds of people just tagging along for the shared experience and the learning. It makes me wonder how rich any class would be with this kind of open participation of for-credit and not-for-credit students?

In beginning my review of the week one’s material, my excitement is growing. It has all the makings of a powerfully, transformative learning experience. Based on the notion that all learning is social and networked, Siemens and Downes plan to lead the course in a freshly conceived role of network mediators. Understanding that they each are simply single nodes in a sprawling, living network of co-learners, Siemens states an initial challenge in the introductory video.

“In our particular, technological era we can let go of a lot of the assumptions we have held to date with regard teaching and learning. We can have rich learning experiences that don’t take place in the forums that we tell you go to.”

What strikes me about this comment is that it is an authentic realization of the nobody-is-smarter-than everybody ethos, which is one that I hold dear. I also love the premise that if conversations are made a priority context is established by contributions and interactions with others and the material, another introductory gem.

One of the first items of the class was to post an introduction, which I did. However, I am not sure that I addressed the questions that was posed about what needs to happen for me to consider the course a success. On some level it is already a success.

Logging into the intial Elluminate session, I was pleasantly surprised that there were so many familiar names in the room. Instantly I recognized the likes of Dennis Richards, someone I have been following on Twitter since the New Medial Literacies Conference, last spring. Unfortunately, I missed the chance to meet him in person at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities this summer. Additionally, Dave Cormier, of EdTechTalk fame among other insanely great projects, was heckling in the chat room of the session playfully. Sadly, it sounds like he may not be quite as involved as he was last time. It is hard to remember, but I think I learned of the course originally from following his blog. I imagine a few other usual suspects will appear at some point during week one.

I just hope that I really have the chance to invest and prioritize the kind of time and reflection needed to make the experience a deeply powerful one. I always seem to have too many things happening at once. Anyway, I thrilled to be involved.