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September, 2005

Connecting with Connectivism

Last week I wrote about bringing on an education revolution. A few connections away from that post was an essay titled Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens, which I finally got around to reading this afternoon. In the essay Siemens clearly sets up why it's time for a new learning theory, explaining that "Over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. Learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes, should be reflective of underlying social environments." I would even take this a step further and say that it's not only reorganized all these things, but it's also changed how cognitive we are of this organization. It's allowed us to be aware of our awareness, metacognitive if you will. As I've mentioned in the past, this perfect picture of networking we call the internet gives us unparalleled peeks into how our networked brain operates.

With all that said, Siemens presents the principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests 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.
  • Decision-making is itself 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.

Before we continue, think for a minute about just how those principles are from the ones currently subscribed to in traditional education.

. . .

Time's up and if you said a lot different you were correct. These are all the ways the internet changes our world. One trend Siemens mentions earlier that has led to his theory is that " Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)." That's a skill that was not all that important before the internet when there were so few knowledge bases, however, with the mass distribution we see online knowing where to find something can be just as important as actually knowing it. We're [especially young people] using computers as a bionic brain, why should we remember it if we know right where to find it online?

With that said, how could we really expect a school system that hasn't dealt with the invention of the calculator to deal with the internet in any timely fashion?

It's all kind of sad when you think about it that way, but theories like Siemens begin to give us some hope that at least there are some minds thinking about the problem. This is really about a paradigm shift, as my mom wrote in the comments to last week's entry, "So what we are really talking about here is the redefinition of the teacher/student relationship. Undoing that truly ancient paradigm is huge; the revolution may need to be nuclear." She's right, and so is George Siemens, this is about changing the very theory of what learning is, and in turn gaining a clearer understanding of how we interact with our 21st century world. Siemens writes:

The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed.

The shift to individuals at the center of their media/learning universe is something I've dubbed idiocentricity, in a post from last year, I explain:

[Idiocentricity] is what makes the internet such a powerful medium, and what makes blogs and other social software such a great addition to the web's landscape. We have now begun to shift away from messages being broadcast to us by traditional media, instead opting for the route of the internet. This allows us to sit at the center of our media universe and pick and choose what we receive. We are no longer held hostage by the television schedule, rather, we can just tune into an aggregator and receive all the news or entertainment that we've decided we want.

But with that freedom comes great responsibility (and this is where a lot of the skill/learning starts to come in):

When we want to know something, we no longer look it up in the encyclopedia, instead we Google it, which gives us any number of answers ranked in order of how many other people thought those answers were good enough to link to. From there, we have to choose what information is reliable and what information is not and make a final decision on the answer to our original question. Answers hardly ever come from one source anymore. Now, thanks to search engines, we put together our own answers and explanations, we own the final product, it is an amalgamation of any number of sources. Rather than the traditional top-down mediation of old media, broadcasters decide what is and is not news, we are able to make the final decisions and create our own stories. Thanks to blogs, not only is more information being reported on than ever before, but also now everyone has a chance to add the debate by publishing their own opinions. It is a truly democratic medium.

In an entry titled "It's not what it is, it's what it enables" on Siemens' Connectivism blog he explains connectivism like this:

"The concept centers on a person’s ability to create his or her own personal learning network. Rather than learning only through courses, we learn by creating and forming connections to information and people. The sources we select are dynamic. When they change, our whole network gets smarter."

This is huge. This is different. I don't exactly have answers on how to implement it, but it seems like we need to start somewhere. Young educators being taught in colleges should understand this stuff. It's important. It's different. Who's in?

September 28, 2005
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.