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Connectivism Considered

We derive our competence from forming connections…the learner’s challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.
Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

CONSIDER THIS: FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GULF opened by the Web, virtually all of the structures that management identifies as being the business itself seems to be bizarre artifacts of earlier times, like wearing a powdered wig and codpiece to the company picnic…The gulf the Web opens is, ironically, that of connection…The Web, in short, has led every wired person in your organization to expect direct connections not only to information but also to the truth spoken in human voices.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, 116

In a recent posting titled Connections and Comparisons: The Wealth of Blogs I stated that “Pursued conscientiously and self-consciously blogging and blog reading almost by default leads participants into the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of the cognitive domain: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.”  This, I knew, was a perspective that was hardly original to me, and in some of the limited spare time I have had since that posting I have been tripping along the various threads that might weave together a cohesive theory of networked learning and its implications for mission-driven organizations.

It’s hard to travel down this particular road without bumping into Stephen Downes, who has written extensively about online learning, content syndication, and new media.  While re-reading his E-learning 2.0 article (which I strongly recommend to anyone who has not read it. See also his recent presentation on the topic.) Downes’s reference to George Siemens’s Connectivism jumped out at me, ultimately leading to the first of the opening quotes above.

While I can’t quite decide if a new “ism” is really necessary to encompass Siemens’s view (in many ways connectivism feels to me more like a difference in degree than a difference in kind from social constructivism on the one hand and knowledge management on the other, but this is an area in which I am admittedly a dilettante at best), his ongoing insights into how learning happens in a networked world, and the role of the “the individual formerly known as teacher” are highly valuable. In a post on his Connectivism Blog earlier this week, for instance, Siemens references Clarence Fisher’s notion of the teacher as network administrator and adds to it the concept of the teacher as curator:

The joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be. An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she’s behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures.

I am certain I will be mining Siemens’s insights for some time to come, but at least a couple of different thoughts occur to me in the near term. First, I have been following some of the postings of Rosetta Thurman, Michele Martin, and others about the potential role of blogging and other social media tools in professional development. Martin comments in a recent post “I’ve learned more in the last year of blogging than I think I did in the 5 years prior to that.” I agree wholeheartedly that blogging is a powerful tool—and a powerful process—through which individuals may pursue their own learning. The challenge for organizations, of course, is that most of them stand outside of this process at present with little insight into what type of learning is occurring or how to measure it. If the metaphor of the curator applies to the teacher, the metaphor of the museum may need to be applied to the organization. I have no idea how museums gauge their effectiveness as institutions of learning, but I am beginning to think I may need to find out.

My second thought is that organizations must recognize and embrace both the inward and the outward facing implications of connectivism. It is this thought that prompted me to quote The Cluetrain Manifesto above. (Downes also mentions this work in his E-Learning 2.0 article.)  A largely unfettered ability to connect—to information, and ultimately to the truth—has significant implications for staff and for the stakeholders they serve. “Markets are conversations,” reads the first thesis of the Manifesto, and conversations are, of course, all about connecting—whether these connections are intended to drive revenue, raise funds, or change the world. Increasingly the lines between learning and the “making of markets” blurs. Organizations that are not open to this dynamic, not only as a part of their professional development effort, but as an integral part of their strategy may find themselves stuck at the station as the Cluetrain departs.

Jeff

Books referenced in this posting:

About the Author Jeff Cobb

I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.

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1 comment
Kelly Christopherson says

The more we use the tools of Web2.0, the greater our connectivism will become as we integrate and begin to blur boundaries that now exist – like classes in a school – could be students in many schools. The opportunity to move beyond where we currently sit. Both Clarence and George challenge us to think in ways that shift our perspective of the current plane of view. As we develop PLN and see the power in these, we can begin to foreshadow the possibilities of students developing PLN for themselves. Great ideas!

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