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Connectivism Blog

Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age.

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May 2006 Archives

May 25, 2006

Neural networks - micro image of what happens on societal levels

Yesterday, I delivered a presentation to EDUCAUSE...the focus "Know where: Learning in a complex adaptive age".

One of the points I made during the presentation centered on extending the occurrence within our minds (i.e. how our minds form networks and understandings). From what we currently understand about neurology, our brain stores different elements in different parts of the brain. As an example, when I walk through a garden, the smells, sites, sensations, and experiences are stored in different parts of my brain. No one area of my mind stores the entire experience. Instead, the brain, through a process of binding (which is still not very well understood), pulls together the various experiences, couples them with emotions and reactions and creates a "whole" of the experience. The steady flow of data is not processed like a computer...but rather matched and analyzed (or perhaps not even analyzed - more like integrated) for meaning.

This process is very much like what we do with learning on a macro level in our daily lives. We take the many different elements that we encounter and explore them for meaning in the process of creating a whole (we bind the numerous individual elements into a comprehensive (though transitory) representation of what the world looks like). When we are learning in a formal environment, we follow the same routine. New data and information is presented, contextually represented, and integrated with existing networks of understanding. When concepts in conflict with existing viewpoints are presented, we hold them in balance until one concept sufficiently out-weighs the other (I addressed this notion - in contrast with cognitive dissonance - in my article Learning as Network Creation). The entire process is one of extracting (or assigning) meaning based on distributed elements. The creation of meaning is in itself (this gets a bit weird) a node on the network that holds the existing nodes that comprise the "meaning" (meaning is a representation of the network at a particular time…as new nodes (people or content) are added to the network, the meaning changes). Or as I've said before, I am a node on my own network. Meaning-derivation (binding a whole from small pieces) is a rich ongoing process, influenced by the endless stream of activity, news, information, and knowledge.

May 26, 2006

Connectivism Whitepaper

I recently posted a whitepaper on elearnspace that I was requested to present for Google 2006 Training Summit. The paper is titled: Learning in Synch with Life: New Models, New Processes (.pdf).

I have received valuable feedback from individuals on the listserv as well as other bloggers.

Mark Berthelemy comments that the "implementation is probably going to be the most important - but also needs the most work." Stephen Downes suggests that: "the last section of the paper ('Implementation') could have been dropped with no loss." (I had a nice follow up email with Stephen last night where I lamented the fact that posting documents online results in weaknesses of thinking being exposed quickly :)).Karyn Romeis comments: "So now we know what we should be doing, we know why we should be doing it, we know when we should be doing it (now). The next step is the how. How are we going to persuade (s)he-who-signs-the-cheque to let us get on and do it?"

In response to Stephen's comment, Mark (Berthelemy?) hits the key point: "I'm afraid I disagree with your comment that the Implementation section could have been dropped. Yes, it's the weakest part of the paper. But, now that the theory has been worked on over the last couple of years, we really need to get down to thinking about how it's worked out in practice. How do we encourage organisations (and I'm thinking in a work context) to enable a good environment for individuals to learn and connect, and not just develop learning programmes?"

I've spent the last year talking connectivism (and really stating and restating the basic premise in different ways...Will captures my main message nicely: "knowledge resides in the network, and that to be truly educated these days, we need to know how to leverage that knowledge when we need it. And that we all get smarter as we link to one another and become a part of the conversations that are going on.").

I've moved slowly toward implementation (I've suggested the use of an ecology to account for various diverse elements of the learning process), and I've been involved in discussions and consulting arrangements with a variety of organizations. As Karyn mentioned in her post, we know the nature of the change, we know what needs to be done...but we don't know the "how".

In a private email, an individual asked me how I communicate the need to change to organizations. In response, I stated that the need to change is already understood. We see the changes reflected in TV, newspapers, MySpace, iTunes, etc. Information is flowing through different channels than in the past. NBC (among others) is relying on iTunes to sell TV programs...Al Gore is distributing his documentary on global warming through MySpace. It's a changed world. We sense it, we know it, and we can feel it. Convincing others that we need to change learning is not really our task - media and life are doing that for us.

I attended a presented at EDUCAUSE by Mathew Szulik (CEO, Redhat) and he made a statement that should cause educators to pause and think: When we get your students, we have to re-educate them in our own university in order to prepare them for the work they need to do. Most importantly, he wasn't talking only about job skills (which is only one objective of education). He was talking about learners understanding of global issues, collaboration, other cultures, etc. Simply put, we are not graduating learners capable of functioning in today's business and information climate (and, by extension, today's social concerns - i.e. creating "good" citizens).

Creating a compelling vision of the nature of that change is the key task. How do we implement new models of learning? Jay Cross tackles things from a stance of informal learning, Stephen Downes approaches it (partly) from the concept of elearning 2.0, and I approach it from connectivism. We are generally all saying similar things. But how will we move to implementation? How will we transform our learning spaces and structures? What needs to change with our technology? I'll spend time over the next few months trying to dig deeper with the implementation concerns and opportunities. A sense of inevitability exists about these changes...the way out from our current position, however, is still largely undefined. I would love suggestions or comments relating to steps and directions required for implementation…

June 2007

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