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SUPPORTING CONNECTIVISM (for it)

Online Teaching and Connectivism

There has been a tremendous amount of research done on how students learn. With the development of the internet and the rise of online classes, a new learning theory has emerged called Connectivism. The idea behind Connectivism is that students learn in a much different way than they have in the past. Their world is connected at a rapid pace and information is acquired through the net. They may not have to process every thing wholly as in the past because information is constantly changing and mophing on a daily basis minute to minute. To find out more about Connectivism, visit this link to a Wiki on Learning Theory at the University of Georgia:
http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Connectivism

From this Wiki, I was able to find out the main principles of Connectivism, as defined by Siemens. I think it is important to break it down, because like any other learning theory; it can be hard to grasp and apply.

Principles of Connectivism

Based on the above definition, Siemens posits the following principles of connectivism:
  • Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

A key point that is made by Siemens that needs to be examined by any online instructor and is vital to this learning theory is stated here:
Decision-making itself is a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision (Siemens, 2005, para. 24).

So, as you can see Siemens identifies that students must be connected in order to learn. What does that mean for online teachers and those that look at this as being a learning theory? The answer is to use Web 2.0 technologies to connect our students to the instructor and fellow students as well as developing research that expands their knowledge. Here is a visual example of how students learn according to Connectivism theory.
connectivism.jpg
I would argue that Connectivsm should be taken seriously as a learning theory. I believe that students can learn and share ideas and that this leads to a better overall learning environment. As the model above shows, there are many different ways to process information, and as instructors we need to capture every available tool to help our students succeed and learn. The example given in the University of Georgia Wiki on Connectivsm that shows how "Bobby" makes his decision to restore a car is a great example of how our students use information and technology to learn today. Siemens is really pushing the idea of how we acquire knowledge forward and matching it to today's technology.

Connectivism: a pedagogical view or a learning theory?

Bijdrage van Plon Verhagen of the University of Twente argues in his piece "Connectivism: a new learning theory?" that Connectivism is not a learning theory, but is rather a pedagogical view. Verhagen states that Siemens theories are more represented at the curriculum level, rather than at the instructional level (Verhagen, 2006, para. 5). He also states that the "...level of the curriculum is concerned with what is learned and why" (Verhagen, 2006, para.5). I think Verhagen misses the point of Connectivism. Siemens is clearly talking about how students build upon the information they already have by connecting to others. And, share that information with a wider audience through those connections and beyond. This is information gathering, assimilation, synthesis and construction of new knowledge based on the multi-directional sharing of knowledge and opinion. This new knowledge is then shared by others to those outside of the original group. Siemens isn't really concerned about 'what' is learned or 'why' it is learned (pedagogical view), he is rather outlining how the learning takes place (learning theory). This Connectivist view can be applied to many types of topics.

An example of Connectivism

In my job as a Special Education Technology Specialist, I am in meetings and work groups with Teacher/Librarians, Information Technology Specialists, Technology Integrationists, Educational Services Consultants (curriculum specialists), Special Education Consultants (curriculum specialists in special education), Speech Language Pathologists, Educational Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Teachers, Paraeducators and Administrators. My personal knowledge base is impacted by every meeting that I am in with these folks. What I 'know' changes as a result of my interaction with specialists in other fields. Sometimes I am actively seeking information and looking to shape my knowledge. At other times my learning is 'accidental', yet has a huge impact on my thought process around a topic or my knowledge base within an area. I turn around as part of my job of supporting others and pass that knowledge on to them, either directly or through a behavior of mine that has changed (some of whom give me feedback, which may alter what I think I know).

The "Ecology of Learning" graphic that is above could be modified by replacing the current titles at each of the nodes with the job labels I gave in the previous paragraph. If that were done, one could see my 'learning network' within my workplace. Note that just as I am impacted by each of the others in my group, each of them, if they allow it, would be impacted by the rest of the group. A key piece of Connectivism is we (the learners) have to be receptive to the input of others. I would posit that in a Connectivist model we are all learners, whether we are the student or the instructor.

I don't think that Connectivism, as a learning style, is new. I think that Siemens has recognized, and articulated, a learning pattern that has been around for centuries. Our knowledge is constantly being shaped by others. The phrase, "It takes a village", reflects on the importance of community in the shaping of a child. Community in this sense is the learning network in which the child is raised: parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors, teachers and church, random interactions and others. The origins of the concept of "It takes a village" reportedly has origins in several, centuries-old, African proverbs (Wikipedia: goo.gl/daZd7 ). I believe a point that Connectivism recognizes is our current ability to easily make connections to others, and to additional content. We now have the ability to easily extend far beyond our immediate community. Technological advances have made our learning network much more important, and it looks to have a much greater impact on individual and group knowledge bases far into the future. Our village is now global.

What is the impact of this discussion?

Whether or not Connectivism qualifies as a bonafide independent learning theory, at this point, is still up for grabs. I don't think this argument has reached a conclusion. What Connectivism does do, and it does it well, is describe a way of accessing and distributing knowledge that fits well with the technology we have around us today. It is a great argument for using the tools we have been exposed to in this class. The tools needed to build and experience collaborative online environments. These are the tools that we, as educators, will use in future classes that we develop or teach. Connectivism helps us understand the importance of providing exposure to and training in the use of these tools. In order for Connectivism to work, students of any age need to become familiar with and feel competent in the use of Web 2.0 tools. (Kop, 2011)

Does Connectivism qualify as a "Learning Theory"? I don't care. What it has done is to help me understand a way of learning that I am already experiencing and which our students will be experiencing in the future. That is why understanding Connectivism is important.



Kop, Rita. "The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experiences during a massive open online course." The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Special Issue-Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning 12.3 (2011). Retrieved from: http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=18150443&lang=en