Monday, October 6, 2008

CCK08: A Unifying Theory of Learning

Writing is such a ‘School 1.0’ tool, yet as a vehicle for communicating information from one person to another, it continues to stand the test of time. In providing evidence of my understanding of connectivism, these characters on the page are as much reflective of the idea of connectivism, as they are a coalescent artifact that demonstrates my current understanding.

In order for my thoughts to hit this hypertext page, a vast amount of information has had to move between and within a great number of distinct networks. Documents shared within the course have been in audio, text and video formats. Those bits have been transferred around the world by hyperlinks where they’ve been taken up by course participants. Learners have then attempted to process the connections among these ideas and to reflect their individual understandings back to the others, and in so doing have led others to incorporate this new information into their own processes of understanding. And now, we’re attempting to pause in summarizing what we’ve observed from all of these connectivist transfers. In a very real way, all of these transfers of information are changing the way in which each of us perceives the content of this course. Extrapolating, one can conclude that such interactions have a significant impact upon the ways all types of learners see the world.

As important as the interactions are, the networking within the course has not been always been natural; it has often been a forced relationship. Connecting to the ideas of others, has been an expectation that has led many to seek personal links that they might not otherwise make. Forging networks with people whose only obvious similarities are the inclination to participate in this course; and doing so in what is for some a foreign learning environment, has at times created a ‘disconnect’ from the connectivist potential of this course. In the struggle to make meaning from all that has been shared, many have failed to recognize the importance of those classmate connections.

Nonetheless, a far greater disconnect exists within the school system today. With so many resources in education, set in place measure the learning done by students, isn’t it about time that we reach some consensus on the question “What does it mean, to learn?”?

With so many theories struggling to hold the attention of classroom teachers, I see connectivism as a unifying lens through which to observe the process of learning. Rather than being a new theory or previously unknown phenomenon, connectivism identifies the mechanism by which information moves within any learning system. Whether students are learning from methods and strategies whose roots are in constructivism, or collaborative learning, or project-based learning, or from models of inquiry, said learning is amplified through the network channels harnessed by teacher and student alike. Whether using evolving technologies to enhance and expand networks, or relying on past practices that engage students in individual or group learning, connectivism can be used to explain how ideas and skills are shared among participants.

With most attempts to measure learning, relying on a limited selection of performances, usually by the individual, and usually in writing, the revised recognition of learning as the movement of ideas among nodes in networks, provides opportunities for competing learning strategies, to find common ground in the use of a wider variety of learning exhibitions. As a connector itself, the theory of connectivism can offer support to other theories that ask learners and teachers to engage rich performances to demonstrate their understanding.

Although I’m not convinced that connectivism helps to explain the generation of spontaneous ideas, I hold out hope that creativity can also be addressed within learning networks. As much as I find myself re-considering the words I’ve used to show my current understanding of what connectivism is, I suspect that this traditional authoring task is very familiar and comfortable territory for course participants. In a world where relatively few teachers provide students open creative opportunities to show what they know, I find myself looking forward to the more open culminating task for the CCK08 course.

Photo Credit: Felipe Morin, and Jonathan Jones

Note: In lieu of referencing course readings (and the writing of my peers), I decided to draw inspiration from the 'biggest idea' and to use this task as a forum to summarize my current thinking.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rodd,
I definitely agree with you.
I really can´t measure the amount of time spent READING materials in my computer since the CCKo8 course began.Whenever I have free time I find myself reading and trying to understand the maps drawn by participants. I guess this is what we were told to do.I am at southernmost tip of the southern hemisphere in Buenos Aires Argentina. My field is Education, our culture is different from the Canadian in which many of the perticipants are immersed. So what with culture capsules, unknown background reading shared by the participants,technical explanations and vocabulary I´m not familiar with, learning doesn´t seem to emerge easily.I should say the voices I hear and read are coming from experts, the same people I would have read in the past if I had wanted to understand this process.In my humble opinion learning emerges exactly from the same place it did in the past: reading, understanding, chewing and talking with my friends; the only ones I can share ideas with for I haven.t been able to communicate with anybody so far.

Unknown said...

Re: "With so many theories struggling to hold the attention of classroom teachers, I see connectivism as a unifying lens through which to observe the process of learning. Rather than being a new theory or previously unknown phenomenon, connectivism identifies the mechanism by which information moves within any learning system."

I don't see that you can unfairly privilege Connectivism as a "unifying lens" when it is just another theory, a new theory, and an extremist theory that is quite complex, and requires a great deal of "suspension of disbelief" to apprehend -- much less use.

Just because it has the word "connection" related to it doesn't mean it is true, or a useful lens. All theories have connections. Everybody is on the Internet, even without any theory to enable them to use it.

There is nothing to say that the "mechanism" is really identifying anything as you say. The professors claim knowledge is "(no)thing", they claim it is not stored or forward, they claim that it is emergent and therefore a function of the network (collectivism), etc. That's not necessarily an accurate or true portrayal of how knowledge "moves".

lin armstrong said...

CCK08dunno about theory or not accademic distinctions but connectivism is very dynamic and could be used as a lever to move English tutors who claim they are technophobes and dont want the deamon technology to take away their power in the classrooms. i have launched a new module based on using connectivism ,the students are not listening to 3-4 hours of lectures ,task to assess learning ,lectures sandwiches,they have been given a country to explore by e mailing teachers in that country. Because of my experiences on this course -I have never used this before- they have set up blogs and joined wikis. This has taught the shared curriculum better and much quicker than using moodle so i believe the idea of the open ways of networks not groups are best for the cohort. They are enthusiastic ,exhillorated excited and learning

Rodd Lucier said...

Hello 'Anonymous',

There is still time to make connections across borders in discussion of a number of topics tangential to connectivism. Just wondering which of my Buenos Aires colleagues might be interested in opening a more personal discussion via Skype, iChat, Adobe ConnectNow, or another rich communication tool.

Rodd Lucier said...

It sounds like your students are benefitting directly from your participation in this course. When teachers are engaged in learning themselves, they usually have the opportunity to choose what they will be learning about; and they often have the opporunity to interact with like-interested peers.

Opportunities for 'choice' and 'voice' are often available on a limited basis for students... I suspect that your use of blogs and wikis is generating much buzz because your students are given some autonomy to connect with one another both in sharing knowledge and in expanding their learning networks.

Rodd Lucier said...

Prokofy, Welcome to my 'second life'...

As a 'unifying lens', the theory of connectivism is not contradicting the practices or underlying theories that have been guiding classroom practices for many decades. Instead, I see the potential of connectivism to explain how learning can be evidenced in the links among people and ideas within a learning situation... regardless of the teaching/learning strategies employed.

With 'thinking' being pretty much invisible, we can best recognize learning through visible actions/evidence, each of which can be traced back to specific experiences, resources or people.