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Connectivism Blog

Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age.

Connectivism Archives

February 10, 2005

Intuition in learning

The linear - "there is a right answer" - approach to learning is challenging in a rapidly changing digital ecology. To be effective as a learner (and participant) in this environment, we acquire different skills and attitudes. One of the most critical is tolerance for ambiguity. It's important to be able to hold two apparently contrasting viewpoints in suspense while waiting more information. Accepting the "fuzziness" of the moment can be frustrating.

There is often a "right answer", but that answer is right only to the degree that it adequately represents the underlying information foundation. Once this foundation changes, the answer itself loses some relevance. Being able to recognize that "it's right for today", but not necessarily for tomorrow, is important.

In constructing (by constructing I'm referring to a combination of personal meaning making and connecting various fields of information (i.e. nodes in our personal network)) meaning, we often have a vague sense of "something is missing". When we encounter a network node that illuminates existing understanding, we intuitively recognize its place and value within our existing knowledge structure.

February 14, 2005


How important is unlearning? I'm not even sure that unlearning is the right word to use, but the notion of revisiting and reforming our assumptions is increasingly important. And frustrating. Becoming willing to accept ambiguity in our assumptions requires a core revision on our perception of what it means to know something. Once we know something, we assume that it's true indefinitely. David P. Ausebel's theory of subsumption assumes that we continue to revise and rebuild our knowledge structures as new information becomes available. Unlearning is different. Unlearning requires that we regularly tear down our thought schemas and rebuild them based on new information. Our schemas fit into two separate categories - our beliefs and our technical knowledge. Revising belief schemas is slow. When I'm suggesting we tear down and rebuild schemas, I'm referring to those that are technical in nature. I imagine it would be impossible to continually rebuild our belief schema. Personally, I don't believe I've significantly altered my own belief schema more than once or twice in my lifetime. My technical schema (which is probably largely filtered through beliefs) is a different story. I find I'm changing it significantly. Frequently.
John Seely Brown also has some thoughts on unlearning: "Now the problem is that an awful lot of the learning that we need to do is obviously building up this body of knowledge, but even more so the unlearning that we need to do has to do with challenging the tacit. The problem is that most of what we need to do lies in the tacit, most of us can’t easily get a grip on."

March 3, 2005

When foundations change

This is a great example of the dangers of not accounting for fundamental shifts in the domain on which a corporation functions. The author's concluding comments are worth consideration: "I would argue that Microsoft used to know how to ship software, but the world has changed... The companies that "know how to ship software" are the ones to watch. They have embraced the network, deeply understand the concept of "software as a service", and know how to deliver incredible value to their customers efficiently and quickly."

Understanding, such as is required by Microsoft, cannot be gained through formal education. It can't be gained through utilizing solutions that have worked in the past. When we fail to stay connected to sources that provide feedback on our core foundation, we risk losing relevance. Microsoft's blunder, inferred by the author, is that it has failed to recognize larger, global changes. The same threat exists in our personal lives and in our corporations. The recording industry failed to understand how its end user was changing (evidenced by the success of Napster). The motion picture industry is making a similar error. As is traditional media (TV, newspapers). I'm afraid many higher education institutions are also failing to recognize the changed learner. We are still delivering learning to learners that no longer exist based on a model that is no longer valid.

March 4, 2005

Learning - actuated knowledge?

"Connectivism" Interesting, Not Sure It's a Learning Theory suggests that learning is a verb, not a noun. The author feels that clarity of terms is important (knowledge and learning in particular). I agree. Information is the "raw" concept that is personalized (or processed) to create knowledge. Knowledge is translated to learning when we actually do something. Knowledge that doesn't lead to a change in thought and action has limited value. Perhaps this is why corporate trainers are drawn to Kirkpatrick's four levels of training effectiveness - the highest level focuses on results.

Marcy Driscoll defines learning as a "persisting change in performance or performance potential". I don't know how accurate that is in the context of what we need to do today. Perhaps we need to rethink the term "learning". So much of what I need to do today, I don't possess within myself at the point of need (I find many of my answers via other bloggers, Google, communities, my own personal digital knowledge base, etc.). For me, a change in performance potential is often only temporary - the core conditions change. What is needed is a change in performance right now. This fits with the definition of "learning as actionable knowledge" - i.e. I find it when I need it. Am I missing something?

Learning (in today's era) isn't something that we necessarily possess. A few generations ago, fixing a tractor required knowing how to fix a tractor. Today, most of our challenges aren't physical in nature - they are knowledge based. This requires core skills of the field, augmented with knowing where to go to get the information needed for the task. Things are too complex. Effective workers (especially knowledge workers) need to create a personal network that enables access to answers when needed. Knowing how to do something now requires knowing where to go in order to do something. Learning isn't always possessed at the time of need.

How does the concept that learning is actuated knowledge relate to the notion that learning can reside in non-human appliances? In a connectivist sense, if knowledge can be used to "do something", then it can be classified as learning. I don't have to possess personal mastery in order to benefit from it. If I use a software tool, and I need help, I can use the in-program help. Knowing how to use the help tool requires that I don't have to know the contents of the help file. When I need assistance, I simply go to where I know I'll most likely receive my answers. Repetition of the same challenges may result in learning committed to memory...but knowing where to go is the real learning challenge. Learning in this manner can reside in objects in the sense that they ("the answer") are used for application.

March 10, 2005

The Network is the Learning

Learning is usually viewed as something that happens to a person. A person learns how to solve a physics problem, how to skate, or how to communicate. The assumption is that we are fairly autonomous beings, and that we can acquire within ourselves what we need to know to do the things we want to do. This model works well in areas where one can know everything within a field of knowledge. The model breaks apart as complexity and abundance of knowledge increases. For many, this is a very real problem today. It feels that we simply can't stay on top of our own fields. Forget trying to stay aware of occurrences in other fields. How do we learn in such an environment? Abundance=dysfunctionality in a silo learning model. "Superman's Learning Theory" - the notion that I can know in myself what I need to know - is obsolete today.

Why? Designing elearning is a simple example. No one person can be subject matter expert, instructional designer, media specialist, and graphic designer. It takes a combination of specialized skills (connected specialization). Take that concept to more complex fields like medicine, astronomy, physics, or launching a space shuttle. It immediately becomes obvious that we need to create a network to hold the points of knowledge. The network is the learning. The aggregation of network nodes is the learning structure. If any critical nodes are removed from a learning network, the entire organism loses effectiveness. Learning is evolutionary. Learning is not an event or end goal. Learning is a process. Our personal network is continually being augmented and enhanced by new nodes and connections.

I'm very confident that this is the model that we need to use for successful learning in today's environment. We can't stand alone on our own knowledge. We have to aggregate with other nodes (people, content, knowledge) in order to meet the challenges of a complex information climate. Unfortunately, education (K-12, higher and corporate) are built on the model that we can fit what is important into one person's head. The network becomes valuable once we combine and connect separate nodes of knowledge.

One of the original points I assigned to connectivism was that "learning exists in diversity of opinions". The ability to formulate a network that provides diverse assessments of a problem (with potential solutions) requires multiplicity. A network can have seemingly contradictory points of information (something that is false today may be true tomorrow as the underlying foundations change). Exploring diverse opinions enables greater likelihood of making healthy decisions. Who knows, perhaps conservatives and liberals can recognize points of value in each other...:).

June 13, 2005

Do we really need learning objectives?

I'm trying to wrap my head around how learning objectives became the de facto approach to learning design (in particular in elearning). Almost all training and learning design begins with a "learning objective" - a clear, concise statement of what the learner will be able to do after exploring the content. Most resources for developing learning objectives include a lengthy list of appropriate verbs useful in crafting the objective. These verbs, coupled with specific criterion, conditions, and standards, are central to writing "good" objectives.

Is there another way? Do we have the wrong view of designing? Instructional designers assume that learning will occur in a course-based format. Yet our learning occurs in a rich environment of diverse experiences - email, conversations, communities, workshops, tutorials, seminars, etc. If instructional designers remain focused on the narrow subset of designing for courses, they will quickly usher themselves into irrelevance.

Our entire learning system is still largely based on the schema that the learner is an empty container that we as educators fill. We talk about dynamic, learner-centered instruction. Often those words deny the reality that our institutions are primarily set up to "fill learners". The very process of writing objectives states that we know what learners need to know. This may be true in some instances, but in most cases, I believe that learning objectives should be more of a dialogue than a statement of fact. Learners should be able to input their own needs and interest (or personal objectives) into the process. A learner's motivations and objectives for learning are important. In many cases, they are more important than what the instructor feels they should know.

Highly structured information transmission is more suited for pre-determined objectives (in particular when introducing learners to the basic language and concepts of a field...or any point when learners do not have a well developed base of knowledge for making new connections). Our education system is starting to see less and less of these types of learners. Instead, we are seeing learners entering second or third careers who are often tech savvy, highly motivated, and aware of their own learning needs. Isn't it time that we consider updating our design methodologies? Our learners have changed. Why haven't we?

July 8, 2005

Participatory Journalism

In previous work, I've stated that one of the central aspects of connectivism is the acknowledgement that learning resides within a network (not only in people as part of the network). As any node within the network grows or increases in value, the entire learning network increases in efficiency and relevance (relevance being defined as how well the network is able to respond and react to changes within the environment in which it functions). I've addressed networks in Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks.

Viewing learning as a network alters much of how we have experienced information in the last century. Mass media and education, for example, have been largely designed on a one-way flow model. The newspaper publishes, we consume. The teacher instructs, we learn. The news is broadcast, we listen. An alternative to this one-way model has been developing momentum over the last few years. Simple, social, end-user control tools (blogs, wikis, podcasting, vlogging) are affording new methods of information connection and back-flow to the original source. Back-flow is more common in media and advertising than in education...but academics are beginning to see increased desire from learners to engage, not only consume, learning materials and concepts.

Towards Participatory Storytelling in Journalism and Advertising offers some insight into the changing model of consuming and interacting with information: "Most of this literature is still based on the often unspoken assumption that media work — whether in journalism or advertising, and to some extent game design — is essentially premised upon (a monopoly on) storytelling by media professionals for (selected) audiences. We have to consider the different futures of professional storytelling in journalism, advertising and marketing communications existing next to — in a more or less symbiotic relationship with — participatory, collaborative and connectivity–based notions of media work."

July 20, 2005

The value of diversity in learning

When I first posited the theory of connectivism, I listed 8 broad principles:

  • 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.

    Over the last few weeks I been interviewed several times on the subject, and find that people seem to fall into two categories: 1) almost instinctive agreement with the changing dynamics of learning and the need for a more relevant theory, and 2) polite silence, masking a sense of "what the heck does he mean?".

    Over the next few posts, I'll try and provide a bit more information on each of the 8 principles of connectivism, in an effort to communicate why learning needs to be conceptualized in a meaningful way based on needs of learners and organizations today.

    Principle #1: Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
    In eras past, the content of a particular subject could be largely mastered by one person. For example, a physician could learn and understand the greater portion of her/his field. Much of what happened within a field was communicated and shared through the education system, then augmented by publications like journals or magazines, and the occasional seminar/conference. New discoveries or concepts were "processed" through this organized structure. Fringe ideas were often pushed to the sidelines, while small progressions were incorporated. Essentially, one person or one group of people could control information flow - they decided what was heard and what was silenced.

    Over the last several decades this process stopped working. Suddenly people started thinking in "systems" terms (i.e. how does this event influence and impact factors beyond our limited conception). Inter-disciplinary dialogue increased - physicists started dialoguing with sociologists (well, in some cases) and similarities in mathematical views of networks and social views were discovered. An interesting thought emerged - perhaps it's all connected.

    Three significant things happened - knowledge growth increased, dialogue across various fields increased, and (more recently) collaboration and communication tools allowed anyone to broadcast their views and work (outside of industry journals and conferences).

    The increased complexity of working in our generation means that no one person can be completely knowledgeable within a field. An accurate picture (or learning) exists in inclusion of conflicting, contradictory, and unique perspectives. One solution does not fit every situation.

    By nature, I'm not prone to high levels of competition and conflict. If anything, I move naturally toward cooperation. For this reason, I find it quite frustrating watching politics. A large part of the political game seems to be the process of not seeing the whole picture. The attempt is to create the world (and frame the debate) in the limited construct that supports party lines. Isolationist views result in deepening differences. To truly grasp the whole picture (reality) requires an acknowledgement of the diverse ways of seeing and framing a situation. Ultimately, a direction needs to be taken, but at least considering other perspectives seems to imbue the process with less antagonism.
  • July 29, 2005

    Connectivism/learning listserv

    The world really doesn't need an extra listserv. However, in spite of my numerous rants on the worth of wikis, blogs, RSS, etc, I've decided to set up a listserv to foster discussion around learning and network theories. You can register for the listserv here. I find that RSS/blogs still only appeals to a small (subsection) of society. Much valuable knowledge exchange still happens via email. When I initially set up the connectivism site, I felt that the blog, discussion forum, and wiki would provide a forum for dialogue. The activity has been limited. While this might be a function of limited interest in the notion of connectivism, I feel that use of a more convention tool for dialogue (i.e. email/listserv) might spur discussion and create connections between members of the community. Please let me know your thoughts/suggestions.

    August 4, 2005

    Linking back to original knowledge source

    Learning is not a static activity. Unfortunately, the way most learning is designed in the formal school systems contradicts this view. Courses have a set start/end time, leaving the impression that once they are completed, the learner has learned. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Learning designers are in a difficult spot. Any learning they design today is subject to the constant advances and alterations within a field. In many cases, this means that by the time the course is designed, parts of it may already be obsolete. More challenging is how to keep the course relevant and current beyond the first offering. The half-life of knowledge is a tremendous stress inducer for designers and learners.

    Regardless of how challenging the design process is for the designer, the greater concerns center around the learner. As a learner, I need a way to have a connection back to the original knowledge source. Knowledge reflexivity is simply a means of ensuring that as the original knowledge source changes, we have a connection which ensures we remain current. The way most education is designed today makes this very impractical (imagine a designer emailing each learner who has taken a course informing them of a core knowledge change). The issue stems from the left over remnants of learning design from a society and era of greater stability. But reality has changed for learners. If I take a course, I should have some level of reflexivity for some period of time.

    How can knowledge reflexivity be designed into existing learning processes? Probably the easiest method is some type of variation of RSS. Those who follow blogs (and use an aggregator) will understand that RSS is simply a means of staying aware of changes in blogs (or any other information source). Rather than requiring a learner to continually access a resource to determine if it has changed, an aggregator automatically performs the function. It's a time saving process, but more importantly, ensures that the learner remains current and aware on a particular subject.

    August 8, 2005

    When technology manages the complexity...can we become reflective?

    We do many tasks which would best be handled by computers. Systematic, lower level information tasks should be automated so that we can focus our efforts on the more advanced functions of the human brain - socializing, pattern recognition, and extracting meaning.

    Google (or pick any other intelligent search engine) is a great example of this. Google applies it's algorithms to the information on the web...and as end users, suddenly our ability to locate needed information becomes much simpler. A task that used to take days, weeks, or longer, can now often be researched and the large aspects of the field framed within a few hours (or less). Or consider an application like Bloglines which allows users to aggregate different information sources into a central platform. Tasks which previously required hours can now be completed in minutes (unless you suffer from "RRS-itis" - which is a psychological conditional that seeks to subscribe to additional web feeds for every minutes saved by using an aggregator:)).

    What do we do with the time saved? We produce more; more learning, more knowledge, more integration, more everything. We take the time saved and work harder in other areas. This approach sucks. Apparently Pascal once stated that "all of man's problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone". In a learning sense, we have a similar challenge. It seems that we will utilize virtually any tool of distraction to prevent a "quieting of our minds". Save a few minutes by using Google, spend more time searching other resources. Save time by having technology manage part of our information, immediately set out to read even more.

    Learning has a reflective component. I'm convinced that most people are smarter than they think. They'll trust a bad idea they read in a book sooner than a good idea they arrive at through reasoning and reflection. Our restlessness is a challenge to learning. We rarely slow down enough to begin to use our advanced thinking skills. Instead we skim the surface of knowledge, learning to distrust our own intuition and cognition.

    This is why I find blogs and wikis to be very valuable learning and knowledge tools. When a learner sits down and blogs, she/he is engaging in a reflective process. Nebulous thoughts and feelings are put to words. External ideas are scrutinized. The natural capacity of harmonizing our emotions and thoughts with ideas and concepts is evoked. A small cognitive and emotional oasis in the desert of busynes. And, I imagine more learning occurs in only a few minutes here than hours any where else...

    August 10, 2005

    Learning as Network-Creation

    I've grappled with the inefficiences of what learning is and how it occurs on this blog in the past. Over the last year, my thoughts of learning have been significantly influenced by the study of networks. I've written an article to address this concept: Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. Essentially, the act of learning involves creating personal networks (nodes and connections). Each node in a network is influenced by principles of flow, connectivity, weak links, etc. I was surprised at how a network-creation view of learning provides insight into learning and knowing in today's information environments.

    September 7, 2005

    On writing a book (or not)

    When I first posted my original document on connectivism, I received a fair bit of interest in exploring the concept with publishers. In particular, a senior editor from Pfeiffer contacted me to develop the concept into a book. I responded with a proposal, which went through the publishing grind. I received an email last week expressing the view that connectivism as a concept wouldn't be of interest within the corporate market...and as a result, they weren't interested in publishing.

    Other than a mildly bruised ego, I found the publishing process quite interesting. Nothing happens quickly in the industry. Had the book been approved, the release date would have run into 2007. Things move too quickly for a book on technology and learning to remain current 1 1/2 years after initial writing.

    I'm a bit unsure of next steps. Publishing a book is often (erroneously, I think) perceived as a sign of confirmation of the value of a concept. I'm sure most authors don't generate revenue from a book in keeping with the time invested. What do I do now? Write the text as e-books? Continue as a sequence of articles? Write it in a wiki? Thoughts and comments are appreciated.

    September 21, 2005

    Teaching Connectivism

    Teaching Connectivism: "My personal knowledge is really a network of correspondences and connections. I learn by interacting with a huge network of individuals and learning objects (some are available online, some offline)."

    September 26, 2005

    It's not what it is, it's what it enables

    Let me state the obvious: the real value of blogs and wikis is not the tool itself. It's what the tool enables. Sadly, many advocates overlook this simple fact.

    To continue the over-simplification, it's the equivalent of viewing a hammer as only a means to hit nails. Obviously that is the task at its most basic. But what does it mean? In the case of the hammer, it means we can build a doghouse, a bookshelf, or a house. Until we look past the task and functionality of a tool - to what the tool enables - we largely miss the beauty of why it's so useful.

    Over the last several years, my most frustrating, repetitive experience, has been talking about blogs (wikis are even worse). Typically, people are stuck on what blogs do, not what they enable. Most common response: "Oh, they're like an online diary". Um, ok. But let's get past that. What do they enable learners to do? They enable learners to connect, to dialogue. "Yeah, but who has the time - who would actually do that? Many of my learners aren't comfortable posting their thoughts online." We are all communicators. We'll communicate when we feel a) we have something to say, b) when we have a tool with which to say it, and c) we have a person(s) with whom to dialogue. I've repeated this particularly conversation so often, I feel like Bill Murray in Ground Hog's Day...apparently I still haven't perfected the speech - I'm still going through the motions.

    My speech on connectivism is just as rough. Here's how it goes:
    Person: That's an interesting name, what does it mean?
    Me: Well, basically, connectivism is an attempt to try and explain how learning happens in a digital era. We are using different tools in a different knowledge climate than existed at the turn of the century when most learning theories were conceived.
    Person: So, how does it work?
    Me: 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.
    Person: Oh, so it's like constructivism.
    Me (deep, pained breath (I should record this part of the conversation)): Actually, constructivism is based one of three dominant epistemological assumptions stating that knowledge is constructed by the learner (the other two being: 1) objectivism - knowledge is objective and knowable through experience, and 2) pragmatism - knowledge is negotiated through experience and thinking). Rapidly evolving knowledge (such as we encounter today) places too much strain on the learner under these models. Instead we need to offload many tasks onto a network - so that we play the role of an aggregator. We are continually connecting...but we are not always constructing. In this regard, constructivism is quite unlike connectivism (though in fairness, they share some attributes).
    Person: What does that mean to courses or education the way it is today?
    Me: If implemented, connectivism should change much of how we educate learners - both in public and corporate education. Courses, programs, and knowledge fields are re-shaped to permit learners to form connections based on interest and need.
    Person: Hmm...I don't think that would work. Learners need direction and guidance. It's too “loosey goosey”.
    Me: It appears that way, but the designer includes required competencies in the creation of the learning ecology. Instead of designing courses, we need to design learning environments.
    blah, blah, blah. On it goes. We never really get to what connectivism means in a learner climate...we typically stay stuck on what it is...

    October 3, 2005

    Content to Connection

    I'm beginning to encounter more articles, concepts, thinkers who see a world similar to the one I see. Connections, connections, connections. For educators, a networked world - versus a world of silos - creates, as Will Richardson states, a very different world. How we design content, how we organize courses, how we engage all changes.

    A few resources exploring similar themes:

    Dave Pollard explores "next generation KM" and arrives at the same conclusion I have with connectivism: the move from collection (courses) to connection (networks).

    David Weinberger also sees the value of connections: "We don't need perfect knowledge in an age of knowledge abundance. We just need pretty good knowledge, and that's something we don't need perfect gatekeepers for. To the gatekeepers what looks like chaos and the degradation of learning to Netizens looks like an exponential increase in intelligence...Links, not containers: A page is what it points to."

    It's the relationship: "All KM-enlightened people know that it's not about document management, but few understand that it's not about people either. What it's about is social relationships. Good social tools manage feeds and links, not content."

    October 5, 2005

    Intent of Content

    In response to a recent post, corrie raised some questions about the value of connections: " But connections connect things-of-value. Without those things, the connections are useless."

    Stephen Downes replied, stating "But what we remember, what is significant, is the relation between the things. Why? Because our perception of the thing changes. We see it in different light, from different angles, in different contexts." Essentially stating that content changes. If we are connected to content - we will continue to grow and a result, the connection is the point of value.

    This discussion opens a question that was re-enforced while attending the Beyond Boundaries conference today. The keynote presenter mentioned developments in online education - MIT OCW, connexions etc. The focus was heavily on the content aspect of education. I'm not ant-content. A learning network consists of nodes (content) and links (connections). The network is useless without both.

    In the history of human knowledge we have generally favored content - because creating connections was high-cost (1 instructor 30 students). Content was much easier - scrolls, books (go printing press), libraries, etc. Time and space, however, limited the capacity of (and opportunity for) connection forming. Essentially, the content/connections debate is lopsided. Our perception of content is too prominent in the learning process. In fact, when most people talk learning, they think of content - book, course, program, audio, and video.

    The internet and it's child - elearning - changes that. Suddenly connections are possible. With anyone. Almost anytime. Developing collaborative technologies are continuing to extend our potential to connect to content and people. But in the process, it also alters content. Content development pace increases. What is the impact? We need to continually reference back to content, due to rapid changes. But this is a big challenge - our tools and approaches aren't very friendly towards quickly changing content - we still have to "go to" a website to see if it has changed. RSS changes that...and many newer "web 2.0" tools fill out the connection-based landscape. Essentially, learning networks are correcting the existing deficiency of connections (in relation to content). In part, connections need to take a prominent role - because connections permit the formation of new content (i.e. content is sub-servant to connections).

    With that stated, what then is the value of content? Or connections? At best, they should lead learners to reflection and interaction. Learning is not content consumption. Learning happens during some process of interaction and reflection. Content, then, can be a lead into learning...or it can be a by-product of the learning process. In the end, in our world today, we MUST focus on creating connections first (when I speak to learning designers, the first focus in design (after profiling learners) is to seek or create content. Why? What about content makes people think that it's learning (or even the start of learning)?).

    Connections, on the other hand, are a more direct lead into learning, simply because connections are more vibrant than content. By this, I mean that connections are more social and action-oriented than content. Blogs are a great example. When I read Stephen's, Maish's or Will's blog...I take their content...reflect on it, and incorporate it into my own thinking and blogging. While I value their content, the greatest value is the RSS feeds that connect me to their content (or in Stephen's case - his daily email as well).

    Transfer this thinking to corporate environments, what's more important - what is currently known (existing content/knowledge) or our capacity to continue to know more (connections)? Social, collaborative tools - blogs, wikis, groupware, listervs, live/online meetings, mindmaps - all provide individuals with the capacity to continue to know more. Connection-forming tools will always create content, but their value lies in our ability to reflect on, dialogue about, and internalize content in order to learn. Put another way, content is knowledge frozen at a certain time (i.e. a magazine article), whereas a connection is a pipeline to continue to flow new knowledge.

    October 21, 2005

    Connectivism and web 2.0

    I delivered a presentation at University of Manitoba yesterday on Connectivism and Web 2.0. I've recorded the audio in, criticism, reactions, etc. are appreciated.

    November 9, 2005

    Adaptability - Learning as we Teach

    Adaptive learning is a fascinating concept. In theory, the environment in which we function learns from our activity (strengths/weaknesses, test results, interactions). After the environment "knows us" as learners, it adapts to respond to our actions. Instead of one-way, same content for all, the system provides personalized content reflective of our true learning needs. It's a great concept...and one that I imagine we will see soon. Currently, it's prohibitive. Few organizations (and likely not public education) can afford an implementation of this level. The task of creating an intelligent agent capable of reacting to learner competence and providing personalized content/instruction/interaction, is simply too expensive for anyone but select research institutions and corporations.

    It appears that we will have to wait before technology provides the adaptable learning experience we crave as educators. Adaptability is something that we as educators can readily provide to our learners through simple, social tools currently available. It's unfortunate that our current approach to curriculum design (in both K-12 and higher education sectors) is structured to eliminate personalization. Obviously a teacher in the classroom has the ability to take existing content (i.e. text book or curriculum) and present it in light of current events or recent developments. But this isn't the same as personalizing to each learner. It's simply updating the curriculum. Personalization requires adapting curriculum to each individual learner...adaptability is a dance between learner, educator, and content. Adaptation/personalization is time-intensive - a teacher in K-12 with 25-30 learners will be unable to provide the level of attention required by each learner. Curriculum and time are antagonists to my own idealism of education and learning.

    If technology is not able to provide affordable adaptability, and educators are constrained by design and time, what is the option? I see a very simple solution - social technologies like blogs, wikis, and RSS. Hold the skepticism for a bit. I'm an idealist...but not utopian. I don't think blogs will fix all that ails education today. Blogs, like wikis, have many limitations (but that's another post). They do, however, enable a personal experience for learners. They do allow educators to adapt to a greater degree than most classroom environments. Consider a class with 30 learners - all bloggging. An RSS feed aggregates their combined voices. As the teacher, I am able to see how they are/aren't "getting the content". Their knowledge needs will most certainly not be fully met by the work of the instructional designer. As I hear the aggregate voices of learners, I will recognize large-scale knowledge gaps...and be able to fill them by providing supplementary resources. Instead of a canned course on Macbeth, I'm able to provide a course that adapts to learners needs based on how I see them interacting and learning.

    Additional value is provided in the ability for learners to teach each other. Reading the opinions of 30 classmates is a far richer learning ecology than hearing the opinion of one teacher. The learner is the teacher is the learner.

    This is obviously a very simple way to add some adaptability into a course, but at least it's a start. We need to start having this important discussion. We have many resources available that can create a richer learning experience. We don't need to rely on learning management systems as our primary learning tool. We can start the learning experience by focusing on connections first and content second. Our most limiting challenge is our existing views of learning. I think I'm going to make a New Year's resolution to spend 2006 being discontent with existing approaches to learning...and to stop accepting notions of learning that have little to do with the instructors and even less to do with learners. We can do better. We have the tools for change. Do we have the vision?

    I would love to hear your thoughts on how you are creating a more personalized learning environment...and how you're creating adaptive learning.

    November 20, 2005

    Connectivism - Wiki Presentation

    I just finished delivery a presentation to Australia on connectivism and the role of networked learning. I've created a supporting wiki summarizing the talk: Connectivism Wiki

    November 24, 2005

    Matching tools to tasks

    Seven years ago, I started work with elearning. Initially, it consisted of a software program that managed student marks and organized content. The internet was still in its infancy. Most technologies were simply used as an extension of what was done in the classroom (marks were entered online and then transferred into the official "marking sheet" - paper-based...content in the software platform was sequentially organized - much like a textbook or binder).

    As WebCT and Blackboard entered the stage, new functionality was added to elearning tools. Grade books, discussion forums, and chat tools provided the first generation of interactive tools. The greatest value of the LMS was the integration it provided between various tools (all of the tools were available in various shades already - but most teachers lacked the skill to integrate them technologically). The concern, evident immediately - but overlooked due to convenience, was the software vendor's control of integration. The vendor decided what went into the tool, and this control has driven the last seven years of teaching with technology. It's a shame.

    Teaching and learning with technology could be much more than is revealed in current trends. In some ways, technology can cure some of the short comings of classrooms - scalability, costs, distance, time, interactivity, etc. As long as we want to duplicate classrooms online, the value of technology will be stunted. I've sat in meetings where the focus rested on "how we can make best use of this tool", rather than "what do we need for our learners". Vendors were more focused on promoting the features of their tools, and many administrators and executives (lacking a technology background) accepted the forecasts of vendors and consultants. In the process, we've done a disservice to learning. Anytime we subject a learner to a structured, limited, locked-in tool (even the content of the learning process stays locked in the system - inaccessible by the students (who created much of the content) themselves). LMS' work for certain types of learning - but they do not, in their current conception, work for all types of learning.

    The key issue rests in the mismatch between tool and process. Most people who have spent time in the field of teaching and learning will readily admit that learning is not a clear, structured, uni-directional process. Learning is, as I've often stated, messy and chaotic. If our main function as educators and trainers is to foster learning, then we have a terrible match with current technology tools. As a simple analogy, if our main goal is to travel somewhere fast (our intended function/process) and we opt to walk (even when a vehicle is available), we are being foolish. In this situation, we (and no one else) feel the impact of our actions. However, in implementing technology (blended, F2F, online), others are impacted by our poor choices. In this case, our poor choices consist of giving vendors control of learning - due to their control of tool integration, not allowing students continual access to content they helped to create, and not matching tools with intended function.

    I'm somewhat pleased with current developments - though I fear they are to fragile (and to unlike the language of board room tables - i.e. metrics, ROI) to be lauded as alternatives to LMS'. These tools are unique in that they give the integration control to the educators and learners. Integration happens through open APIs (for software integration) and RSS for content integration/aggregation. Those who are used to LMS find this process confusing - "What, I can't control what they do?" "How do I know they are learning if I can't track their activities?" "It's too loosey goosey". If you want to control learning (if that's actually possible), by all means, use an LMS. If you want to foster learning, rethink the tools you're using. Do the tools work in the manner in which people learn? Who has control of the tools? Who benefits most from implementation of the tools (administrators, educators, learners)? What are the metrics of success (ROI, learning)? Do the tools represent how the learners will be functioning in "real life"?

    November 28, 2005

    Connections and Content - currency

    In recent posts (here and here), I discussed the importance of connections over content (i.e. the pipe is more important than what is in the pipe). In a network sense, an element/node (content) that is not connected to a network is unnoticed. As others stated in the comments section of my post, a connection needs content as well. Obviously, content and connections are interdependent. I still maintain, however, that connections should have supremacy in the relationship (which means learning designers need to create ecologies (rather than courses) where rich connections can occur).

    Connections have greatest value when they generate a certain type of content for the learner. It's not content in general that learners want. They want content that is current, relevant, and contextually appropriate. Connections are the devices that enable this to occur. Consider an employee who is working on site and needs to access a product manual (current, relevant). The contextually appropriate format (cell phone, laptop, PDA) makes the content more useful. Contrast this with traditional learning. A textbook (or classroom) rarely meets the criteria of current/relevant/contextually appropriate. Classrooms teach in advance of need (which is useful in forming mindsets, but not too effective for skill transfer), and textbooks present content in a static "point in time" manner. Neither are accessible at the point of need.

    Put another way (slight paraphrasing of a conversation I had with Stephen Downes) - content and connections serve interoperable roles - content can become a connection, a connection can become content. The real challenge that concerns educators is how to assist learners in creating a network that will ensure their continued learning and growth.

    Will Richardson has introduced the concept of connective writing ("'s a type of writing that is inspired by reading and is therefore a response to an idea or a set of ideas or conversations. It is writing that synthesizes those ideas and remixes them in some way to make them our own and is published to potentially wide audiences."). The notion that our writing/literacy skills are driven by a need for dialogue and conversation is the heart of connective writing (and providing content that is relevant, current, and contextually appropriate).

    It's also worth considering what happens when we create connections between content - we create a network or aggregation of different ideas...which adds meaning (pattern recognition) to the individual voices. Connections change content. Content is imbued with new meaning when situated in a network (or is it more accurate to say that the network acquires new meaning when new content is added? - either perspective validates the importance of creating connections over content). When the network is sufficiently large to account for diverse perspectives, it achieves a certain level of meaning that is reflective of the combined force of individual elements.

    Perhaps my view of the situation is simplistic: I can't shake the idea that our relationship to content has to change when content creation accelerates. We can no longer consume all relevant content items. The capacity to stay current is more important than any individual content element.

    Currency of information is the function of a network - and educators need to teach the skills on network-making. The network, in a sense, becomes a separate cognitive element - it processes, filters, evaluates, and validates new information. If content has a short lifespan (as new information is acquired), then it would logically extend that our education system should not be about content in particular - it should specifically be about current content. And current content is a function of a connectivist approach to learning, where we create networks of information and knowledge to assist in replacing outdating content with current content. We off-load many cognitive capabilities onto the network (so that our focus as learners shifts from information processing to pattern recognition).

    Update: Just read this statement: "People don't want a network, but they DEMAND the benefits a great network delivers." While this statement applies to cell phones, I think it translates very nicely to learning. We don't build a network (or content) for no reason. We build it to get the results/benefits a good learning networks offers.

    January 4, 2006


    Power is an underlying thread that extends through all of life. We've all heard statements that "money is power" or "sex is power". I don't have a strong opinion on the accuracy of those two statements, but I do believe that the real power issues of our era center around ideologies. Our ideologies are then expressed in how we create our institutions and organizations. What we believe, and the accompanying meaning of that belief, are central to the educational process.

    The following are the key ideology-driven power constructs that will shape our world over the next several decades:

  • Corporations. Corporations have one ulterior motive: generate value for shareholders. Country lines and patriotism are secondary to achievement of corporate vision. In our developing global environments, corporations hold tremendous power.
  • Belief-based organizations (religious, atheistic). Religious structures have long held an important role in society. The attainment of "higher ideals" has shaped and driven society for centuries. The loss of public power (i.e. governing people, law and punishment) has resulted in spiritual groups developing a quiet, often behind-the-scenes, power in the lives of their adherents. This quiet power is then reflected in how members of a group function within corporations, institutions, and government.
  • Countries/governments. I'm not sure how this power structure will fair in a global era. Already we are seeing countries sacrifice some autonomy to be a part of larger multi-country trade and currency groups (EU, NAFTA are examples...and UN is a more global example, though countries don't necessarily sacrifice autonomy to be a part of UN).
  • "The people". This power structure has gained substantial capacity to influence corporations and governments (China and Iran may not be the best examples) with the advent of internet and communication technologies. Smart mobs and the "new superpower", are examples of informal, often rapid, organization of people around promoting/preserving an ideal, or righting an injustice. While a far cry from Marxist "power to the people" approach, this power structure works within to influence other structures (instead of trying to replace or duplicate them). “The people” wield their influence based on the nature of the power structure they are trying to influence (corporations with dollars, countries with votes, churches with reputation).
  • Education. Education is the odd element in this power list. Education influences each structure listed above, as it is the process by which other power systems achieve and propagate their aims. In an ideological sense, I believe education, when coupled with appropriate power structure, is the only way we are able to truly change the world (for the better). In a sense, education is the balancing, accountability, critical thinking element of power.

    I'm not trying to present any of these power structures as negative - just simply acknowledging that they exist and each carries a certain approach, element, or implication for society.
  • January 10, 2006

    Enough with 2.0

    I've decided to repent. The phrase 2.0 used in relation to learning no longer sits well with me. I've blogged about web/learning/elearning 2.0 (at least 20 references on my elearnspace blog search)...I've delivered presentations (Connectivism and Web 2.0)...but I'm at the point where I don't feel comfortable using the term "learning 2.0". I mourn my discomfort in this podcast (8 minutes).

    I'm concerned because I don't think learning has changed. The act of learning (how our brain stores, recognizes, and retrieves knowledge) is fairly stable. Our external environment is not. As a result, over the last 30 years, many situations have developed in society that challenge established approaches to learning. Static is replaced with dynamic. Content is replaced (or at least augmented) with connections to ensure that people stay current. My whole intent with connectivism is to present the need to design a new approach and view of learning - one that is not hamstrung by classrooms, but is a thread that runs through the entire fabric of life. Learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart.

    Maybe a bit of my concern is the machete work of language. Technologists use language as a means of beating newcomers into a state of confusion. Our field has more "insider speak" than any other (including medicine). It takes a newcomer years just to understand the language (forget actually joining the dialogue!). We use language as a barrier to newcomers. We should use it as a means to welcome others into the space to dialogue, share, and grow together. We are already at learning 2.0...and 85% of instructors and managers are still not at elearning. Do we really need more new words in our field? What does the phrase 2.0 add that is not added through concepts that are more readily understood (I say this to myself - I've 2.0'd many concepts as well).

    Current talk and hype about learning 2.0 blurs the line between what has changed and what has not. We don't have a new version of learning (i.e the act of learning itself). We do, however, have a new climate in which different approaches need to be taken to foster learning. Our old systems don't work today. But the problem isn't that we need to rethink the act of learning (30 years doesn't result in much "evolution of the human brain"). I think it's possible to get to focused on language (and trying to derive associated meaning) that the potential of an industry is dulled.

    While I'm complaining - I would also like to highlight the severe deficiency in our vision in regards to our potential. We are not good keepers of our industry. We are designing courses, blogging, running wikis, and reading RSS. We think that's where the learning is...that we are doing our learners a service by taking these approaches. But it's more. Much more. Our myopic vision does a disservice to our field. As learning designers, it's about designing for life. Learning is all around - TV, newspapers, internet, conversations, etc. We can't get away from learning. Yet we toil away in front of our computers, designing for this narrow space called "learning". I think the learning specialist of tomorrow (as early as five years) will hold many positions not traditional to our field. The concepts of learning and technology will penetrate (actually, they have already, people are slow to acknowledge it) into every area of our corporation, organizations, and schools. Those who understand the new space of constant learning will play a key role in helping organizations and people achieve their potential (and the idealist in me says, “to make a better world”). We simply think too small. We think we are trimming the hedges, when we have the potential to alter the entire landscape – to alter the very make up of the soil in which the hedges grow.

    Am I splitting hairs with this argument? How can we portray that we are at a new place in regards to method of learning, but still in the same place in regards to the act of learning? How can we grow our scope, our image, our conception of learning and learning design (especially when we break from courses and classrooms).

    January 23, 2006

    Separating knowledge from the learner

    I'm going to make what will sound like an absurd suggestion: future learning endeavors need to separate knowledge from learners. Here's my rationale:

    Over the last three years, XML has grown substantially in use for data organization. HTML tied together content and presentation (i.e. the data and presentation were treated largely as one entity). When a company decided a new website was required, both data and presentation had to be created. XML separates data and presentation. Data can be managed in one document, and the presentation handled by CSS. It allows a designer to alter a web page simply by writing a new style sheet.

    In a learning sense, we have treated the learner and the content as one entity. We fill the learner with content and release them into the corporate world. As their content runs low, they attend evening/continuing education classes in order to "refill". This model works fairly well when the half-life of knowledge (how long it takes for knowledge to lose relevance) is long. In today's world, knowledge is short - it survives only a short period of time before it is outdated. Most individuals need to spend an enormous amount of time in continuing education classes to stay current. It's not good for business, and it's not good for employee's sanity.

    We need to separate the learner from the knowledge they hold. It's not really as absurd as it sounds. Consider the tools and processes we currently use for learning. Courses are static, textbooks are written years before actual use, classrooms are available at set times, etc. The underlying assumption of corporate training and higher education centers on the notion that the world hasn't really changed.

    But it has. Employees can't stay current by taking a course periodically. Content distribution models (books and courses) can't keep pace with information and knowledge growth. Problems are becoming so complex that they cannot be contained in the mind of one individual - problems are held in a distributed manner across networks, with each node holding a part of the entire puzzle.

    How do we separate the learner from the knowledge? By focusing not on the content they need to know (content changes constantly and requires continual updating), but on the connections to nodes which continually filter and update content. Instead of buying a book on elearning, subscribe to Stephen's site, Maish's or Jay's blog (or elearnspace :)). Read a few wikipedia articles (and contribute), join discussion forums, a list serv, follow tags on technorati or, attend a virtual conference, take a few get the idea. When we stop seeing knowledge as an entity that is possessed within a person and start to cast it as a function of elements distributed across a system, we notice a dramatic impact on the education process: the educator becomes a supporter (not the center), the content is not as critical as the connections, learners find value in their aggregated perspectives, learners become content creators, and learning is continuous, exploratory and sustained (not controlled or filtered by only one agent).

    February 16, 2006

    Connectivism: Rethinking Learning

    I've posted a copy of a presentation I delivered to IOC yesterday on "rethinking learning". Comments, as always, are appreciated.

    February 23, 2006

    Learning: the journey or the desitination?

    "The good is the enemy of the best" - no idea who said it...but when it comes to learning, it presents a needed perspective. At times, the pursuit of what we seek is actually antagonistic to the real opportunity before us. Education is a great example - what most learners really want is a better job, increased sense of competence, greater understanding of the world, or increased capacity to positively influence society. These I'll term as "the best". "The good", however, arises when we enter courses and programs. Instead of focusing on learning as a fluid, transitive state (a learning hobo :)), we desire to "know" have the right achieve high grades. We appear to be very uncomfortable with the journey of learning, constantly degrading it to secondary status in relation to the destination of learning.

    Why is not knowing perceived as a stressful state? Can we blame our education system? Have we been taught that "knowing" is more valuable than "attempting to know"? Or that the destination of having learned something (i.e. a degree) is more important than the process or act of learning?

    I'm teaching a series of courses currently that bring this to the forefront in my thinking. Very bright, capable learners, lament uncertainty and ambiguity. As one learner recently stated: "just tell me what I need to know - I don't want to make the connections myself". I'm unsure whether the issue is our education system (learners are used to being containers to be filled with knowledge), the mindset of learners themselves (discomfort with the transitory, ambiguous elements of learning), or with my own instructional approach. Regardless of the underlying causes, the expression of the problem centers on learners not valuing chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. The desire for cognitive (or emotional) equilibrium is at odds with the reality of learning today.

    This is not to say that design is not important. I think design is critical to effective learning. The question is "what are we designing?" Are we designing teaching? Or are we trying to design the learning? In a perfect world, we would design the ecology in which learning occurs, and use the teaching process as one in which we move learners toward key, required levels of understanding. The learner, however, would have full control to move well beyond the concepts "taught" (and for that matter, the instructor should also be seen as a learner - active engagement in an ecology results in all elements growing). Learners can still pursue self-selected objectives...but many fields, organizations, and businesses do have certain required levels of achievement, skill, beliefs, and thinking skills. Learning, in organizational contexts, often requires a target. An ecology, as an open, free-range space, can be appropriately designed to move learners toward that target - but it's important that educators understand that growth will occur far beyond the target (in ways that can't be predicted - the complexity of learning enables this rich, user-defined experience. In a sense, we can say "you should learn this"...but we aren't saying "you can't learn that". Learning is often more like an open door that leads to new fields of exploration than it is like a bulls eye target).

    Rather than being excited that we can participate in the rich, diverse world of differing perspectives and opinions, we pull back because "we don't know". This will develop into a significant problem. How do we teach learners to accept (and dare I say, value) not knowing. I've spent many evenings assisting my children with homework - many tears have been shed (on their part, not mine :)) because they "did not know". Perhaps it is in our nature to want to banish the uncomfortable feelings with not knowing something. We like clear, black and white, always true answers. Often these answers exist (at least, I think so! Stephen and I had a long discussion recently on objectivity and subjectivity - my view is that what we often describe as subjectivity is simply our interpretation of an objective element - I can have subjective views of gravity (for example, diving off of a diving board versus falling out of a tree)). In many situations the answers don't exist...or they exist, but the context changes so rapidly that we need to continually evaluate what we know and how it applies to what is happening around us. School should be a safe place that allows a learner to step outside of the destination view of learning and embrace the journey view. It's ok to not know. It's heathy to accept confusion as part of the learning process. Often, for myself at least, I learn the most when I'm in the greatest level of confusion. It is at this point that I'm actively trying to create connections between varying viewpoints and perspectives. I'm thinking critically of new information, I'm seeking to build a neural network that represents the physical/conceptual elements I'm encountering...while contrasting those elements with previous experiences and established conceptions.

    I should state as well that I draw a distinction between not knowing and being ignorant. Not knowing, while on a journey, is entirely different from being ignorant and not caring. To not know, yet continue to acquire new understandings and accept ongoing uncertainty, places the learner in an ecology or on a journey. To be ignorant places an individual on the side of the road with no desire to walk the journey. Ultimately, I think we would do a great service to learners in our society if we provided metaphors of learning that encourage experimentation, failure, and ongoing effort. To do less is to raise the good above the best.

    February 24, 2006

    Connectivism Taxonomy

    I would really appreciate critical comments (well, feedback in general) on this posting. A taxonomy, as I intend to use it, is basically a classification scheme demarcating the nuances of a process or concept. If I had more time (and discipline!), I imagine instead of a taxonomy, I should create a networked view of how these elements interact. That's a future task. For now, here is a connectivism taxonomy - a staged view of how learners encounter and explore learning in a networked/ecological manner (the taxonomy begins with the basic and moves to the more complex):

  • Awareness and receptivity - at this level learners acquire basic skills for handling information abundance, have access to resources and tools (internet, blogs, wikis, aggregators)
  • Connection-forming - at this level learners begin to use tools and understanding acquired during level 1 to create and form a personal network. Learners are active in the learning ecology/space in terms of consuming or acquiring new resources and tools. Selection (information filtering) skills are important. Affective/emotive factors play a prominent role in deciding which resources to add to the personal learning network
  • Contribution and involvement - at this level learners are fairly comfortable within their self-created network (though instructors or teachers may continue to guide and direct their access to particularly valuable resources toward intended educational competencies or outcomes). The learner begins to actively contribute to the network/ecology - essentially, becoming a 'visible node'. The learner's active contribution and involvement allows other nodes on the network to acknowledge his/her resources,contributions, and ideas - creating reciprocal relationships and shared understandings (or, if wikis or social bookmarking is used, collaboratively-created understanding). The learner should also be capable of choosing the right tool for the right learning task. For example, the learner may opt to take a course, attend a conference, solicit a mentor, or subscribe to blog feeds - all based on what the learner needs to know, do, or believe. Selecting the right element within the learning ecology is valuable in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process.
  • Pattern recognition - at this level the learner is "network aware" and competent. As a dynamic participant in the ecology, the learner has moved from passive content consumption to active contribution. Time in the network has resulted in the learner developing an increased sense of what is happening in the network/ecology as a whole. Having mastered the basics of being a participant, the learner is now capable to recognize emerging patterns and trends. Experience within the network has resulted in the learner understanding the nuances of the space (online or physical). The longer the learner spends in the learning space, the more adept she/he will become at recognizing new patterns or "changing winds" of information and knowledge
  • Meaning-making - at this level the learner is capable of understanding meaning. What do the emerging patterns mean? What do changes and shifts in trends mean? How should the learner, adjust, adapt, and respond? Meaning-making is the foundation of action and reformation of view points, perspectives, and opinions.
  • Praxis - at this level, the learner is actively involved in tweaking, building, and recreating their own learning network. Metacognition (thinking about thinking) plays a prominent role as the learner evaluates which elements in the network serve useful purposes and which elements need to be eliminated. The learner is also focused on active reflection of the shape of the ecology itself. The learner may engage in attempts to transform the ecology beyond his/her own network. Praxis, as a cyclical process of reflection, experimentation, and action, allows the learner to critically evaluate the tools, processes, and elements of an ecology or network.

    Connectivism, as a learning theory, doesn't need to be confined only to online spaces. I use terms like blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking simply as a means of communicating the value of social online tools. A learner in a physical classroom may well follow a similar process (or taxonomy listed above) of creating their own personal network (though to truly take advantage of the capacity for rapid network-creation or connection-forming, the web is without parallel...the web itself was built on the notion of connection-forming. Learners in a physical space should strive to enrich their own network with online tools and resources). The main intent of network creation is to enable learners to continue to stay current in the face of rapidly developing knowledge. The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe (simply because content changes rapidly). Or, as I've stated before, "know where" is more important than "know how" and "know what".

    Ultimately, whether online, face to face, or blended, the learning environment needs to be democratic and diverse. The instructor can provide guided access to new information (and will probably provide some type of evaluation and assessment against desired outcomes or competencies)...or in a training sense, the employee may have a particular target or competence to achieve, so external guidance (particularly at the awareness, connection levels) is important. A critical concept to keep in mind: the network and ecology must both be dynamic and capable of evolving, adapting, and responding to external change. The praxis level ensures that the personal learning network is relevant and current.
  • March 6, 2006

    It doesn't come pre-packaged anymore...

    While preparing for a presentation I'm delivering later this week, I was struck (again) by how significantly things have changed due to the internet's affordance of connectivity.

    I don't use textbooks in my courses. I use a combination of my own writings, augmented with websites, and supported through dialogue and learner to learner interaction. My intent is to provide learners a diverse set of voices. A textbook is most often a one-sided view of the knowledge of a particular space (and, in certain fields, they can be dated by the time they are published). I don't view content as something that learners need to consume in order to learn. As I've stated before...learning is like opening a door, not filling a container. Content is something that is created in the process of learning, not only in advance of learning.

    In previous posts, I've stated my preference of connections over content. However, it's impossible to ignore the valuable role that content has in the learning process. Content is a core of society. Content is the codification of our knowledge, our art, our vision, our dreams, and our aspirations. As little as five years ago, content came pre-packaged. You could get your content fix in the form of a textbook, a CD, a newscast, a newspaper, or a classroom. Not any more. I think the subtlety of the transition leaves many unable to see its depth.

    We can now acquire our information in any manner that we desire. Learning, seen as content consumption, doesn't fit this model anymore. Learners piece together (connect) various content and conversation elements to create an integrated (though at time contradictory) network of issues and concerns. Our learning and information acquisition is a mashup. We take pieces, add pieces, dialogue, reframe, rethink, connect, and ultimately, we end up with some type of pattern (meme?) that symbolizes what's happening "out there" and what it means to us. And it changes daily. Instead of a CD with the songs of only one artist, we have iPods with a full range of music, video, audio files/books, images, etc. Our classrooms, instead of the pre-packaged views of an instructor or designers should include similar diverse elements.

    It's easy to make predictions when trends are substantially developed...and this is so obvious that many know it intuitively: Learning is no longer pre-packaged. Tomorrow's courses and learning experiences will be structured with different tools (bye-bye LMS' as we know them today)...and learning itself will be perceived more as an activity that occurs in networks and ecologies, not hierarchical, pre-organized structures. The central filtering agent is no longer the teacher or institution. It’s the learner. Think about what that means to our education system as we know it today. It changes everything.

    Re-reading this post, I recognize that I really haven't said anything new...but it just strikes me that as educators, we are not grasping (or prepared for) the depth of the change that is occurring under our feet. If it's happened (breaking apart the center) in every other industry - movies, music, software, business - what makes us think that our educational structures are immune? And what does it mean to us? What should we be doing now to prepare our institutions? Ourselves? Our learners?

    March 10, 2006

    Learning Ecologies

    I had the pleasure today of delivering a presentation on connectivism and learning ecologies to a group of museum professionals (Canadian Heritage Information Network) in Ottawa. I’ll post a link to the presentation soon.

    Roundtable discussions revealed a current state of grappling with technology as a means of extending learning and knowledge presentation that mirrors what’s happening in other fields. Education, business, politics, media – everyone is trying to figure out “what has changed”. And what does that change mean?

    I see several substantial points of change that are reframing our society and processes of functioning:
  • The rise of the individual
  • The increased capacity for connections and connectivity
  • The breaking apart of content
  • The creation of user-controlled spaces

    The roundtable discussions were excellent. An appropriate mix of cynicism, optimism, and attitude of experimentation provided a great climate for candid dialogue. A general concern appeared to be the desire to get people to use virtual museum resources.

    I think this is the wrong question. People don’t want to visit your content. They want to pull your content into their sites, programs, or applications. This is a profound change, largely not understood by educators. We are still fixated on the notion of learning content, and we think we are making great concessions when we give learners control over content (and start to see them as co-creators). That misses the essence of the change: learners want control of their space. They want to create the ecology in which they function and learn. Today, it’s about pulling content from numerous sites and allowing the individual to repurpose it in the format they prefer (allowing them to create/recognize patterns). Much like the music industry had to learn that people don’t want to pay for a whole album when all they want is one song, content providers (education, museums, and libraries) need to see the end user doesn’t want the entire experience – they want only the pieces they want. We need to stop thinking that learners will come to us for learning content – our learning content should come to them in their environment.

    What does this actually look like? Well, it means that our education platforms should be designed to allow for learners to pull our content into their space. We need to make content open and available to be accessed so that exploration and dialogue can happen on the learner’s blogs, wikis, or personal eportfolios. It’s not about us, it’s about them. The dialogue and learning will happen on their time, in their space, on their device. We must create the ecology that allows for maximum innovation, so that the greatest number of recombinations are possible.

    During the session, I was asked to provide an example of an online learning ecology. (I was asked later, “do you actually do this stuff, or do you just think about it”?). One of the most obvious learning ecologies is the internet itself. It’s a wonderful example of a space where we can learn from experts, informally, formally, in communities, etc. The structure of the internet provides many valuable lessons that should inform how we create our learning spaces. I will post more in the near future on effective learning ecologies. A quick final note – ecologies don’t exist only online. Our learning model should include face-to-face components

    Off topic: One challenge I often encounter in trying to communicate the value of connectivism and learning ecologies is how to communicate the implications of choice. When we take one approach, we are leaving many other factors unattended, but impacted. When we pursue blogs, we are making choices that change things. But that choice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Other parts of our organization will also need to change. It’s important to be aware of what we are leaving behind in our choices…and that one view (“blogs are good”) does not lead to universal application (“blogs should be used for everything”). This one-dimensional view is lazy thinking. Each tool for the appropriate task. So, when I advocate for social technologies (or informal learning), I am not saying that structured courses are irrelevant. Intent and task need to be tightly linked.
  • March 31, 2006

    Propositions on learning today

    I'm trying to define the core changes in society and technology that impact learning. I've compiled ten propositions, and would life to hear areas that you feel I'm missing (or where I'm flat out wrong).

    I'm bringing two basic assumptions to this list - 1) learning is a process, not an event 2) learning intention drives learning approach.

    My (evolving list of) learning propositions:

  • Increased complexity=increased decentralization
  • Increased information amount=decreased capacity to internalize
  • Accelerated pace of information development=decreased linearity
  • Increased pace, information amount, and complexity=increased ambiguity
  • Increased ambiguity=increased need for diversity
  • Increased diversity=increased need for openness
  • New tools/technology and openness=new affordances and transformations
  • New affordances=democratization
  • Democratization=destabilization of silo power structures and two-way flow (conversation, knowledge, and information)
  • Two-way flow=equality among participants of a space

  • April 5, 2006

    Learning, assessment, outcomes, ecologies

    I enjoy instructing instructors. Any long term change in our formal learning institutions will be bottom up - as educators change and experiment with new ways to maximize the learner's experience and value. Recently, I instructed a course on "testing, evaluation, and assessment". Some learners responded quite favorably to my approach, others felt I was downright cruel. The traditional view of education (teach and test) is strongly rooted in our schools/colleges. New methods of instructions are often seen with distrust.

    One of the most disconcerting mindsets I encounter is that learning should be a clear, objective-driven process…and that confusion is a bad sign. We can still move learners toward clear, concise outcomes/competencies - even though the journey to this destination is at times confusing and ambiguous. Testing (or traditional assessment) is a powerful holdover from command and control world views. I don't think we can substantially change our educational institutions until we take a long, hard look at how we evaluate and assess our students.

    I perceive learning as a network formation process. We are not always actively constructing our learning, but we are always creating and loosening connections (even when we are constructing learning, it only becomes truly meaningful when we connect it to existing elements). Part of the experience is to evaluate and recognize patterns. In many courses, content is structured to provide progressive linear explore to new concepts and ideas. While academically effective, few aspects of life work in such a coherent fashion. Even when we design learning in a linear model, learners seek information that they find relevant (or what they think they may encounter in a test). We need to encourage learners to accept confusion and ambiguity as part of the learning process. From my experience, most learners recoil from confusion as a barrier to learning. I personally believe it is a door to learning.

    Every instructor has his/her own philosophy. I believe that the learners are the ones who should adjust the content to their needs. I don't see learners as containers to be filled. I trust learner’s ability to define what is important to them (the notion if information foraging). I trust that they will know what is needed to meet the requirements of their learning problem or opportunity. When the teacher is the king/queen of the classroom space, they control what happens, what gets adjusted, how much is "taught", etc. When the learner is the centre of the space, the learner determines what gets reviewed, how much to read, and how to adjust. This "free" approach still occurs within the boundaries of assessment and evaluation (i.e. we can still move students toward an objective, and measure the degree to which they achieved the intended learning).

    It is worth considering that different types of learning exist, and that the concept of learner-controlled exploratory learning will be more applicable in certain domains. By the same account, even when we give learners structured exposure to content, they are still only learning what they value. They may remember certain elements for testing, but long term retention consists of content that they find valuable and useful in their work/life. We are mistaken if we believe that we control learning primarily through content sequencing and arrangement. Design does have an important role in the process, but saying that our course design leads to learning is on level with saying that breathing is a process that we can manage through external influences. Our learning, like breathing, is a constant. It’s who we are. Learning can be guided, but by no means managed. Designers need to understand this key element. Good design, if not relevant, focused, holistic, motivational, etc. won’t necessarily result in better learning. The task of design is to move people toward intended targets. The learning will happen regardless of poor/good design. The key difference is whether the learner makes the connections (i.e. learns) that comprise the field of knowledge that is deemed relevant or necessary for that field.

    Learners should be free to choose and learn based on their interests, but needs to express their efforts against clear evaluation criteria. Part of my intent is to eliminate the false constructs of courses (jumping through hoops provided by an instructor) and linking learning to real life. This ambiguity can be frustrating to learners, but I believe it results in deeper, more focused thinking. As I’ve stated in other posts, our goal should be to create the ecology in which learning happens, not the learning itself.

    As a learner, I often learn (jump through hoops) in order to get a grade. Part of my journey has been finding ways to not focus on the grade and focus instead on the learning that I experience. I don't remember my grades in the various courses when I was a student, but I do remember the concepts and applications. One of the reasons I try to avoid "high stakes testing" (and use a portfolio process instead) is to ensure that I'm not evaluating a learner's ability to handle stress, but their personal philosophy of evaluation, and their ability to write test questions and pursue authentic evaluation approaches. A concept map, which is simply a learner’s representation of how pieces fit, provides a sense of how the learner has "connected the dots". I think our evaluation and testing should not be the focus - the focus is learning, and too often, the evaluation and testing process becomes what learners are focused on - we, as educators, have to assist in shifting learner’s perspective on evaluation.

    Evaluation is part of the teaching and learning process. A good grade is certainly desirable, but if our teaching/learning processes have been well thought out, learners who are competent should know they will do well. By the time a learner is finished a “courses”, she should know where she is in terms of grades. As an instructor, I should provide continual feedback against which a learner can sharpen and measure his/her own thinking. The evaluation outcome should not be a surprise to the learner. Unfortunately, we make the grades the focus (instead of the learning), and our learners think that the reason they are taking our courses is to get a certain grade. In reality, the focus of evaluation is to ensure that a learner has a framework upon which she/he can build and function within a field or within society as a whole. The grade, while mandated, is really one of the least valuable parts of the entire learning process.

    Not every learning experience is one where we acquire new knowledge. Sometimes we unlearn, or learn how “not to do” something. I guess I see it as real life - in life, we don't have clear, concise objectives or evaluation points. We learn and find new ways to recognize the patterns or highlight our own needs. Learning is secondary to the task we want to achieve/accomplish.

    Our schools are at fault in not meeting the needs of learners. We mislead learners into thinking that life provides clear problems with clear solutions. It doesn't. Life, in my eyes, provides us with the type of situations we should provide learners in courses - some data/information, some time for reflection, discussion, dialogue, and ultimately, the formation of a personal opinion or view that is not simply a regurgitation of the instructor's view. This process of "fuzzy learning" - where we don't have a clear outcome, but the learning happens through the act of solving the problem – is central to learning that does not have clear boundaries. Learning a particular task (where “best practices” or standards have been created) may be well-suited to formal, structured, sequential education. More and more of our work habits don’t fit into this category. Our education systems ask that we construct these problems into outcomes/objectives, and attach evaluation to each. Fine. We can do that. But it is my hope that educators will continue to extend themselves and add real life into the process. We can't change "the institution" over night - but we can be creative and work within the confines while improving the value of the experience for our learners.

    I can understand the discomfort of trying new approaches (especially for educators who are used to more traditional approaches). From my experience, the discomfort is what shocks us out of our current thinking. I have a quote on my wall by Dudley Herchbach (Nobel prize winner): "You have to be confused before you can reach a new level of understanding anything". I imagine some learners will agree with that quote, but many others won't. We are too used to seeing learning as a neat, tidy, 3-6 credit hour experiences."

    April 13, 2006

    Ill-structured process, clear outcome

    Structure (lack of it) is a common concern I encounter when talking about connectivism. A recent discussion on a listserv highlighted the concern: for some, the notion of an exploratory process is against the concept of acquiring specific skills. Their argument rests on the assumption that people learn because we expose them to a clear, structured, static process...i.e. sit in this chair, I'll lecture for one hour (or click through these tutorials on your computer). Structure is equated with intended outcomes.

    Learners learn different things even if they are exposed to the same content. We learn different things from the same event because we bring our emotions, previous experiences, current mental states, beliefs, and assumptions to bear on new information. These elements filter incoming information. When five people read the same book, all of them walk away with a different understanding of what happened, what's important, and how they were impacted emotionally. Common understanding is only achieved through dialogue as each reader shares her/his thoughts/reflections (each perspective is a piece of the whole) (that's something to consider for learning design). A book is a highly structured content presentation object. Everyone experiences it in the same process, yet each individual has a unique experience. It would appear that structured exposure to content is not a prerequisite for learning specific skills (or concepts).

    At the end of most of our learning activities (higher education or corporate) we expect that we will have gained something that made the experience worthwhile. We want a new skill, a new perspective, or greater understanding. Most of us, partly due to long term conditioning in regular education environments, are not comfortable with processes that allow for "free-roaming". We want to know what to do, read, think about, and produce. Lecture, create (assignment, product), assess - these are viewed as cornerstones of learning skills.

    I wonder if we couldn't extend that value of learning slightly if we didn't equate it so strongly with structure. I think we can achieve intended outcomes, even if the learning isn't structured or sequenced in a particular manner. While I lack a particular research example, I have life experiences that support the value of chaotic learning approaches...that still produced specific skills. Learning how to play basketball (or any sport), use a computer, play a video game, drive a car, build relationships, think critically...these are all skills that I acquired in ill-structured ways.

    Clear learning outcomes (i.e. driving a car) are essentially goals that individuals can achieve in what ever manner is most in keeping with a) how they learn, b) what they already know, c) the immediacy of use, d) motivation, e) success as a learner (confidence), and f) the "state of life" (stress, relationships...and all that other personal stuff that influences learning). In a similar manner, we solve most of our work problems in an ill-structured way - we often only have a goal (i.e. "business presence in India"), and we then take numerous approaches (trial and error, expert guidance) in attempting to achieve the goal.

    Skills are not only created in highly structured, sequential learning approaches. Certain types of skills are uniquely suited to formal learning...but for many, that luxury ends after graduation. Most skills are learned through experiences - work or personal. Periodically, the formal opportunity may present itself (when implementing a new accounting system, for example), but generally, the skills needed are acquired in an ill-structured way. Surprisingly, the more clear the goal, the less we need to structure the learning. Learners will do that on their own as the move to goal completion...and I would posit that the results and processes used will often be much more innovative than what is created around the instructional design table. Again, it gets back to designing ecologies versus designing learning.

    April 18, 2006

    Restructuring our Structures

    I've posted a 10 minute podcast - Restructuring our Structures - on the the nature of the change occurring in society, business, and education. Essentially, two changes are driving everything: 1) the breakdown of centralized structures (and move toward network models), and 2) the increased capacity for "quick connectivity" - i.e. the ability to for connections with ease.

    April 21, 2006

    Scientists and Artists: Who should design learning?

    It's generally considered cool to quote Marshall McLuhan. I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend where I presented the notion that learning networks should filter themselves - they should not be pre-filtered the way most of our classrooms and courses are created. Courses are designed by eliminating knowledge elements that the designer feels doesn't belong. As a result, we end up with a focused, often one-perspective, view of a particular field. This structure is generally perceived as being valuable in providing learners with information that they need to master particular tasks or skills. Anyway, somewhere during the conversation we turned to McLuhan. My friend, an artist by trade and passion, shared his reaction to McLuhan (quite different from what I generally encounter). He stated that an artist finds magic everywhere. The entire landscape of existence holds magic and beauty for an artist. McLuhan entered the space of artists and started defining and detailing and casting a sociologist's or scientific perspective on elements. In the process, he "killed" the magic. Approach an artist, for example, and ask, "how many birds do you think there are?". She'll reply, "I don't know, lots I guess"...and begin to talk color and beauty. Approach a scientist (my friend's analogy, I recognize that it's a generalization), and she'll start shooting and counting them in an effort to classify types and number.

    While this example is perhaps a bit extreme, it does bring to the forefront the challenges that we face as educators and designers of educational environments. I've been following a discussion in a listserv that is attempting to parse the nuances of designing learning materials (and surprise - the methods are scientific, outcomes-based). The first question asked, when discussing learning approaches, design methodologies, and theories, is "what's the evidence?". Evidence in this case is almost always defined empirically (i.e. scientifically). "What is the return on investment (ROI)?" Where’s the magic and beauty?

    I feel it's important to understand (and be able to measure - though I would like to extend measurement beyond simple dollars) the impact of training and learning. Unfortunately, the "scientists of learning" have the dominant voice in the learning space. The artists aren't being heard.

    If the scientists role is one of determining best approaches to instruction (through empirical research, qualitative and quantitative analysis), what is the role of the artist in the learning space? I believe the artist is the individual who sees the magic in learning. He/she may not know exactly why something worked well, but can see (and dare I say, feel?) that the learners are changing, growing, and developing. The artist of learning sees beauty in the dialogue, in the interaction, in the connections formed between what is known and what is becoming known. The artist sees (and accepts) the beauty of uncertainty, and values learning as both a process and a product. In creating a learning environment, the artist splashes the magic of learning across the entire canvas of life. Tools are used like paint brushes to create the desired painting of learning. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, courses (yes, even an LMS), conversations, communities of practice - these elements are all seen as pieces in the learning experience and ecology.

    I would like to see our learning design include the voices of both the scientist and the artist. Neither is necessarily better than the other. In some cases, a business may require the metrics and method of a clear defined, scientific model. In other cases (especially when pursuing innovation and creativity) they may desire the beauty of learning created by the artist. Both, held in balance and for the appropriate task, are needed for the benefit of the learning, the organization, and the instructor.

    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 5, 2006

    The emperor has no clothes, but the air temperature is still good...

    I’m constructing this post from memory based on recent museums I’ve attended in Austria (I’m here for a panel at Microlearning 2006). I tried searching wikipedia, but was not able to find significant information beyond standard biography.

    Kaiser Maximilian was a king/emperor in the late 1400’s/early 1500’s (Innsbruck was his home base). He has been referred to as “the last knight” – an indication of the substantial change occurring during his rule. The armies of previous centuries (armed knights, hand to hand combat) were giving way to the development of a cannons and explosives. Maximilian was able to overtake enemies due to his early recognition of fundamental change. Nations unable to sense and adapt to the core changes in how war was conducted were quickly conquered. The capacity for war of these defeated nations was as significant as ever (at least as I understand it). The key change was in the technology and method through which war was conducted. The environment had changed. Some nations didn’t adapt. Failure was the outcome.

    What does this have to do with learning? I believe we are at a similar cross-road. We are moving to the age of the “last teachers” (classically viewed as dispensers of information and knowledge). We are at a point where the entire space of education has been changed. The previous “hand-to-hand combat” of learning has transitioned to group-based, collaborative (wisdom of the crowds), self-organizing, end-user in control, adaptive, sometimes chaotic, and systems views of learning.

    I’m tired of writing this (perhaps not as tired as some are of reading it), but our educational structures don’t seem to understand what’s going on. I take some comfort from Will’s recent post: "If nothing else, the last two days here speaking to and with the superintendents from about 50 districts and the staff developers… made it clear that these people either get it or want to get it and will do whatever it takes to move the schools in a new direction." Overall, I’m not convinced that this is the norm (though I can hope that it is the start).

    Most frustrating for me, is that all indications (statistics in particular) support world-wide growth in formal education. A degree is a must in most fields. China, India, and other developing countries are investing significantly in their education systems. In US and Canada, trends indicate that enrolment is on the increase (as are costs). So, why am I (and people like Will Richardson and Stephen Downes) standing up and saying “the emperor has no clothes”? It appears that the system is very healthy, if gauged by enrolment.

    The risk centers on the relevance of education. I’m sure the countries surrounding Austria in early 1500’s felt quite good about their knights – they were competent, protective armor was increasing in quality, and better swords were being made. It’s all good. Then Maximilian’s army arrives with a canon. Things changed fast. The problem is not that the existing system wasn’t healthy. The problem is the lack of recognition and reaction to foundational changes in the environment.

    In terms of education, or existing system is healthy from an enrolment stand point. But it’s very unhealthy from a relevance standpoint. We have created our structures for stability and for one-way flow. We need to create our structures for adaptability and for maximum flexibility (i.e. responsiveness to core environment changes). This transition requires a reworking of how we organize our instructions, the types of tools we use, how we foster dialogue, how we engage each other etc. It changes everything. Instead of planning, we experiment (see Meyer and Davis’ “It’s Alive). Instead of hierarchy, we create networks. Instead of static spaces of information exchange, we foster ecologies.

    As stated in the title of this post, the emperor has no clothes, but the air temperature is still good…

    June 6, 2006

    Networks - Revisiting Objective/Subjective...

    Read this post at your own risk - I revisit the open wound of objective/subjective...

    Words and concepts (knowledge and knowing, meaning and wisdom) are not static in their conception in the minds of individuals. The does not directly lead to notions of an abstract (or worse, subjective) nature of the entities or concepts considered. Instead, it states that the capacity of comprehension is relative in the minds of the individuals only. Most thinkers mistake the subjective nature of interpretation and instead, reflect the inadequacy of interpretation in aligning with the “what is” aspect of objective entities. I’ll define “what is” as the element, notion, concept, or occurrence that possesses objective attributes external of what I/we may think of it…and out thinking is only relevant to the degree that it aligns with the nature of the objective entity. Many interactions with objective elements result in subjective entities (which do not in themselves possess “what is” attributes) - my feelings looking at a situation may be different from yours…subjectivity happens on this level.

    When we deal with issues like learning (or teaching), we are attempting to move individuals toward some type of target or goal. Perhaps we wish to foster creative/critical thinking. Or the steps in operating a forklift, or flambéing an entrée. Whether the task is physical, mental, metaphysical or emotional, we have an intended target to which we desire our learners to aspire or achieve. In a similar sense, we generally have certain values to which we would assign “objective status”: tolerance, value and dignity of all people, honesty, etc. These elements become subjective only when applied by an individual in light of personal thoughts/considerations (i.e. an individual’s view of honesty may change when they find the wallet of a very wealthy person - which still retains the objective nature of the element (honesty), but becomes subjective in the application). The question that then follows is “what is the value of an objective element if it becomes subjective in application? The simple answer relates to it’s capacity to form connections in a network (a concept I’ll discuss a bit latter in this post).

    Learners don’t enter our learning spaces devoid of logic or experience. They enter with a plethora of understandings that can be nurtured, connected, or de-constructed through the learning. To amplify the challenge of learning, learners bring emotions, learning approaches, preferences, and beliefs based on previous experiences or information acquired indirectly through reading or comments from others. The complexity of the learner and the learning process results in many defining it as an unknowable concept, and instead state that the process is subjective.

    I will be direct (okay, rude) in stating that seeing the world as subjective is inadequate in today’s society. Complexity requires simplicity…or as some would say, simplicity is the ultimate complexity (simplicity involves removing the elements that aren’t directly relevant (and in Einstein’s logic – no more than only those). While that may sound insane, I believe our tendency to misappropriate comprehension and misapply logic based on the derivative of an element, not the core element, is the source of substantial confusion. Calling something subjective says “okay, thinking about this hurts…I’ll abandon thought and appeal to the objective ideal of subjectivity…in this manner, I don’t have to see the broad rich array of the painting, and instead can focus on simply the element I choose to perceive as valuable.”. In this manner, the thinker is largely saying, “the concept of objective elements possesses too many implications; I am more comfortable choosing only one objective concept (namely subjectivity) and use that to minimize the mental anguish of seeing elements as objective and then tackling the hard task of capturing the meaning of objectivity”.

    If I’m part of a group that witnesses an accident, I will describe it in a certain manner (based partly on what I saw, what’s going on in my head at the time (i.e. the existing flow of thought and the manner in which the accident disrupts my thought flow and how quickly I am able to juxtapose the shape of the new occurrences external to myself and exit my thought flow), and where I’m standing). Each individual who views the accident has a different version of what happened. This is called perspective and, while often confused with, it has no relation to subjectivity in this instance. In essence the “what is” is the combined views of all of our insights (though in certain instances, as in node connections in network-formation, the by-product created is itself subjective by being comprised of individual objective nodes. We are now getting into the complexity of exploring an event through our senses versus an element itself…and thus we enter the logic loop of is it an actual event if we cannot explore it via our senses…etc. That is a discussion for another day). The accident happened; it was someone’s fault (or the weather perhaps). An investigation may not turn up all of the reasons (or adequately create the reality “that is/was”. Some certainly feel this is the case with the JFK assassination.

    Why do I care if elements are objective or subjective? Why do I keep referring to this simple, yet age-old philosophical discussion? In order to move to a networked view of learning, we need to see learning nodes (people, software, concepts, or ideas) as possessing some consistent state (note, I didn’t say static) that has less malleability than is typically ascribed to subjective entities. Connections, and neuroscience support this strongly, are enabled when certain nodes connect with others based on the unique attributes of each node (i.e. each node “is” something that is not directly influenced by the attempted connection – in fact the connection can only happen because the node “is”…and meaning is derived from the connection (or recombination) of certain key nodes).

    If something can’t possess “what is” attributes, then it cannot be of value in the process of connection forming. A node can form connections based mainly on its intrinsic (objective) attributes. The related by product of connecting several different nodes may create an entirely different entity. The combined objective elements of each node amplify and create something new. But the core attributes of each node do not change. They retain their “what is” attributes. In the same sense, a node may play different roles in the formation of different networks. Again, the capacity of a node to favor key attributes in certain relationships is not an indication of subjectivity, but rather an expression of its ability to adapt and play varying roles as an indication of its holistic makeup. If a node were subjective, in a network sense, it would cease to have substantial meaning and value. To muddy the waters even more: the recombination (and thereby creation of different networks that mean different things to different people) of (objective) nodes is the basis for subjectivity. A network cannot provide subjective interpretation unless it first possesses objectivity (i.e. the “what is” state).

    June 21, 2006

    Constructivism vs. Connectivism

    Constructivism, as a model of learning, holds the duality of much promise, and much frustration. On the one hand, it breaks from the structured models of learning that dominated the first half of the last century, giving voice to the "softer" elements of learning (educators often understand this intuitively - we see the lack of direct connection between what we lecture about and what our students actually learn). On the other hand, constructivism has not been well-defined. It can essentially mean anything to anyone. It's an idea without boundaries, a philosophy without root. This vague definition results in everything being labeled as constructivism (see these six paradigms). If anything, my experience with constructivism places it more in the domain of a teaching philosophy, and less in the domain of a theory (consider these attributes of constructivism).

    Any discipline that is largely self-directed and informal will draw critics...lack of structure and the ability to "managed" outcomes is frustrating to pragmatics. Jeremy links to Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching (.pdf). While I have issues with constructivism, I don't think the concept of self-directed (or minimally-guided) learning is a function of only constructivism (a behaviourist could say that the students failures in solving a problem, resulted in different approaches until the right problem solving behaviour was exhibited). The article does present an interesting example of limited differences between problem-based learning (PBL) and lecture learning for medical students - essentially concluding that PBL resulted in higher grades, but they ordered more tests (indicating that the lack of theoretical construct resulted in minimal ability to make decisions based on nuanced factors).

    The article's main contention is that constructivism is at odds with what we currently understand about "human cognitive architecture"...and approaches its argument based on cognitive load - the notion that our minds can only manage limited information, and learners without a base of established knowledge have difficulty understanding key elements due to extra stress on our working memory.

    The numerous factors that impact learning is overwhelming - I'm almost at the stage of throwing up my hands and saying the real challenge lies in defining context, need, and intent of learning. Most often when we are debating about learning theories, we are really debating how we've framed the questions and the context of learning. As always, monochromatic views of learning fail. Each tool for the task (or the context).

    On to my concerns with constructivism: Several individuals have provided excellent guidance in suggesting that I don't try and position connectivism as a replacement for established learning theories (i.e. constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism). I'm generally supportive of integral thinking, and agree with a matrix posted by Derek Wenmoth on online learning (including a continuum of learning theories).

    Constructivism, for me, fails on two levels: 1) it is not capable of functioning in rapid knowledge growth environments, as it doesn't account for learning that happens in networks and 2) constructivism is a "sometimes" learning habit (we are always connecting, but we only construct in certain situations).

    Constructivism, as with other learning theories, assumes that learning happens in our head. In fairness, various flavours of constructivism acknowledge the importance of the social context in which the learning happens, and that learners learn from each other. The act of learning itself is still perceived to be in the head of the individual. Most learning needs today are becoming too complex to be addressed in "our heads". We need to rely on a network of people (and increasingly, technology) to store, access, and retrieve knowledge and motivate its use. The network itself becomes the learning. This is critical today; the rapid development of knowledge means that we need to find new ways of learning and staying current. We cannot increase our capacity for learning ad infinitum. We must begin to conceive learning as socially networked and enhanced by technology (it’s a symbiosis of people and technology that forms our learning networks). We need to acknowledge our learning context not only as an enabler of learning, but as a participant of the learning itself.

    Constructivism is complex. Let your mind wander a bit: My learning is a function of previous life experience, the people around me, the actual environment in which I function, my previous learning experiences (both emotional and cognitive), the nature of group relationships (socially-based), etc. When new information enters the space, I (according to constructivism) construct knowledge of its meaning/relevance against the backdrop of the above mentioned factors. But I can't simply construct - because, to use the molecule metaphor of learning objects (or microcontent), many of the elements that comprise the base of my knowledge come previously constructed (by a discipline, the teacher, the article, etc.). For example, the elements that comprise a new idea come "chunked". I don't construct that entire concept or idea. Instead, I connect it with existing knowledge. If anything, the learning suggested by constructivism is actually in the deconstruction of these packaged elements into smaller pieces of knowledge. A simple example: if someone teaches me the skills of critical thinking, I will largely acquire the elements in "pre-constructed" formats. I will acknowledge that I need to question and validate knowledge sources for authenticity (a concept which can take a lifetime to integrate into practice and habits, and even then I'll still make mistakes). I don't construct anything to make use of this at a basic level. I simply adopt it and try and interrogate new information. My actual learning happens when I deconstruct the knowledge itself (getting deeper into the full meaning of the notion of "validating"). We don't always construct. We are often much more passive in our learning. We read an article and we link it to our existing understanding. We subscribe to a newsletter (or magazine)...we attend certain conferences...we dialogue with certain people/communities. In the end, much of our learning is a connection-forming process (the conduit, not content, is what is king) where we add new elements that augment our capacity to know more. We rely on Google, libraries, friends, social bookmarks/tags, etc. to serve as our personal learning network (we store the knowledge external to ourselves). When we need something, we go to our network (know-where is more important than know-how or know-what)...or we expand our network. In the end, the constant act of connecting in order to stay current is a much more reflective model of learning than constructivism.

    June 26, 2006

    Skypecast - invite to attend

    I'm hosting a skypecast this week: Changing Nature of Knowledge (time of the skypecast is listed). If you're interested in attending, leave a comment, or simply throw me an email ( It will be a very informal session/discussion. Not much of a preset agenda - simply an opportunity for people to share their views of how knowledge is changing.

    August 14, 2006

    If you're bored, I'd love your comments on a book draft

    I have completed a rough draft of my new book "Knowing Knowledge". I would love some neutral/honest feedback. If you are interested, please email me at: . The draft version is not ready for public posting :).

    August 24, 2006

    How things change...

    I often talk about how fast knowledge changes. Research, cross-industry collaborations, and technology are driving knowledge development at the fastest pace in the history of humanity. ASTD and others have suggested that our global knowledge doubles every 18 months (some say it's much faster). Berkley's How much information study shows remarkable increases in information between 2001 and 2003 (I'm not going to get into the information/knowledge distinction - it's a waste of my young life).

    Susan Spero brought an interesting discussion to my attention a few weeks ago - namely "is Pluto a planet". Most of us have grown up knowing there were nine planets. Now there are only eight (or twelve...or whatever). Different types of knowledge change more rapidly (consider technology over gardening). Yet even the most stable knowledge sources change as new information, theories, and views emerge.

    We have designed education to promote certainty (i.e. a state of knowing)...we now need to design education to be adaptable (i.e. a process of knowing).

    June 12, 2007

    It's not about tools. It's about change.

    Since I've started blogging and playing around with social technologies, most of my connections and contacts have been made within the educational or technology field. I connect with individuals who are aware of blogs (or might even be bloggers) and what's called web 2.0...and more recently expressed as Personal Learning Environments. When I step outside of this fairly insular network, I need to operate on an entirely different set of assumptions and language. Have you tried sitting down with a colleague and talking about using Pageflakes to aggregate distributed/fragmented conversations through RSS? How about telling them that the best way to stay informed about emerging technology and trends is to use "live" search engines like Technorati or Icerocket? Use Google alerts to stay informed on a subject of interest? Use Trailfire to share browsing habits/history/commentary? StumpleUpon to comment on websites? Social bookmarking with Tags? Folksonomies? Creative Commons? Let's not even get into digg or social news sites and user recommendations and ratings. Oh wait, I know, how about we tell them how to create and edit a podcast with Audacity? Better yet, the value of collaborative work with wikis...or more precisely, with Coventi. Or lets really let loose and tell them how easy it is to mashup data with Pipes? Or how to dress their avatar in Second Life? And, for good measure, let's share with them how all of this relates to Vygotsky, Papert, or Piaget. Wow, what fun we can have with family and friends!

    It is worth noting that those of us in the educational technology space draw on terms and concepts straddling numerous disciplines - psychology, learning theory, technology, and social trends (Freire/Illich-type power issues with a smattering of democracy and undertone of power and opression thrown in) - each generally viewed to be fairly incomprehensible, but when carefully blended, is absolutely alien to the daily thinking habits of most people.

    If your experiences mirror my own, chances are you have only a few colleagues within your organization where you can have a conversation of this nature. Most of your "intellectual colleagues" are probably part of a social network you have created through blogs or other social technologies. So, here we are - more optimistic than educators have been in a long time, feeling that many of the tools we have at our disposal represent the beginnings of a true revolution in education (though we are periodically rebuked by those "who have seen it all before" and are happy to remind us that the same conversation was happening with radio, TV, and whatever else). Our experience confirms the tremendous values of connecting with others, forming networks, sharing and reusing content, collaborating, building together, fostering a crescendo dialogue threatening at any moment to break from our secluded networks into the broader consciousness of society. We already see these spikes of our dialogue moving into conferences, education reports, and university curriculum. But the victories feel a bit hollow. Teachers are talking blogs. We want them to talk educational reform. Administrators are talking about "learner-centric". We want them to talk policy, faculty contact hours, preparation time, and open networks. It seems, in our edublog network, that transition and uncertainty have set in. Now the talk is on Personal Learning Environments (on a personal note, I'm becoming as impatient with this term as I was with Learning Management Systems six or seven years ago). We are at a point of transition - will our tools be absorbed by education systems, and then become part of the problem? Or do our tools result in real change?

    I personally would like to see change. At deep levels. How we design curriculum. How we teach. How we assess. Our classrooms (break down the four walls...). But the language of our discipline will continue to render our activities impotent. Will the change come only from conference-tour academics that adopt current trends and present them without passion for change to an audience seeking to hear what's new in tools, but not what's new in process, knowledge exchange or society? I'm concerned that the current tone of talk about read/write web tools in the conference circuit is one of shoring up an approach to teaching and learning that is fundamentally at odds with how people learn and interact.

    Or put another way - we are seeking a window dressing solution when it is the house that needs to be renovated. If we present blogs and wikis as ways to improve education, our aspirations are noble. If we present them as ways to fundamentally alter the system to align it with the knowledge needs of the next generation, then we are fighting for real change. Sure, people like Andrew Keen (erroneous though he may be) suggest it is all hype. And it is. Or, at least the tools are.

    It's the change underlying these tools that I'm trying to emphasize. Forget blogs...think open dialogue. Forget wikis...think collaboration. Forget podcasts...think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation...think personal networks. Forget any of the tools...and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated.

    But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon. Parents understand the importance of preparing their children for tomorrow's world. They might not understand RSS, mashups, and blogs. Society understands the importance of a skilled workforce, of critical and creative thinkers. They may not understand wikis, podcasts, or user-created video or collaboratively written software. Unfortunately, where our aim should be about change, our sights are set on tools. And we wonder why we're not hitting the mark we desire. Perhaps our vision for change is still unsettled. What would success look like if we achieved it? What would classrooms look like? How would learning occur? We require a vision for change. It's reflected occasionally in classroom 2.0 or enterprise 2.0 projects. But the tool, not change centric, theme still arises. We may think we are talking about change, but our audience hears hype and complex jargon.

    What is your vision for change?

    February 4, 2008

    Learning and Knowing in Networks

    I'm currently presenting a paper to ITForum on Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing Roles for Educators and Designers (.pdf). From the abstract: "Current developments with technology and social software are significantly altering: (a) how learners access information and knowledge, and (b) how learners dialogue with the instructor and each other. Both of these domains (access and interaction) have previously been largely under the control of the teacher or instructor. Classroom walls are increasingly permeable. Google Scholar, Scopus, and open access journals offer increased access to academic resources; an extension to more informal approaches such as regular internet search and Wikipedia. Social software (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, instant messaging, Skype, Ning) provide opportunities for learners to create, dialogue about, and disseminate information. But what becomes of the teacher? How do the practices of the educator change in networked environments, where information is readily accessible? How do we design learning when learners may adopt multiple paths and approaches to content and curriculum? How can we achieve centralized learning aims in decentralized environments?"

    Feedback/reactions/comments are appreciated.

    February 28, 2008

    Connectivism Positions

    I've been somewhat peripherally following this discussion on connectivism:

    A stand for connectivism:
    "Contrary to criticisms against this theory, information and knowledge do not only lie in human brains, but in electronic networks that are constantly moving and being shaped."

    A stand against connectivism: "If any part of the theory were relevant it would be the recognition of the potential of networking and connecting, but these are ways of learning, the pedagogy. Otherwise, the theory does not describe how we learn, how we make the connections inside of ourselves nor does it describe what we learn."

    If the discussion was being conducted with blogs or an open discussion forum, it would be a bit easier to provide comments (none seem to be linked from the wiki)...or to provide links to others who have provided extensive commentary on networked learning in general. Perhaps of greatest value with concepts of networked learning is, as I've stated previously, that it has evolved through many contributors - developed, if you will, in the same manner many of us have been stating learning occurs.

    September 2008

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