Are there failures in Connectivist approach towards learning? I would say NO!

Ignatia’s post got me thinking about the significance of MOOC disasters.  Debbie’s post with the three take aways helped in formulating the following questions and assumptions:

I have one question: What takes precedence in instructional design? Design of performance outcome first from an instructional perspective or a learning perspective (i.e. from the learners’ point of view)?

Most of traditional course design assumes a linear instructional/learning pathway, a mastery learning by drills and practice, to acquire all the knowledge that is decided by the instructor.  To what extent is this effective and efficient in an online course such as MOOC?

course design screen-shot-2012-02-12-at-9-39-01-pm

May be for prescriptive knowledge, yes, and duplication of knowledge by the learners, sure! But when we want to explore why these types of MOOC fail, the problem seems to lie with the interface between what the instructor want and design and what the learners actually want or design.

If I were the learner of the course, I would have designed it for me to learn, straight away, though this assumes that I have the experience and network or mentors/professors that I could work with.  Do you wait for the course or instructional designers to design your learning, or should you design your learning? Is that the question, under a connectivist learning paradigm?  There is no failure in connectivist learning, only if we fail to connect altogether, or we don’t want to connect. Isn’t it right?

Learning in an online environment is ubiquitous and is no longer bounded by the traditional four walls,  MOOCs, or single network or community.  It is far more reaching, when one is adopting a connectivist approach towards learning.  Unfortunately, it seems that many of us are still struggling with the pedagogy, the pros and cons with all the different approaches, models of learning – in trying to convince each others that one model is better than the other, or that the online is as good as the other offline learning.

Children nowadays are learning with mobiles, likely everyday, without worrying about whether they have used the right design, technology or pedagogy.  It may be true that sometimes the learning may be too disruptive to their formal education, and so this does not fit into educator’s model of linear learning, and thus follow instructions by the instructors.  Are adults following similar approaches, especially when there are so many ways of learning, via technology and social networks that they could learn with and learn from?

What we may be trying to do with formal courses is to direct learners back to formal models of education and learning.  On one hand, there may be a desire to organise education in a linear pathway, so they may be able to achieve all the learning outcomes that we desire them to learn.  It seems this sort of paradigm is adopted by the xMOOCs, and the educational philosophy is: learn through me, with me, and you would become competent.  Whether this is similar to our traditional lecture format of mass education is still moot, especially when these sort of education is immersed in an open online education and learning environment.

On the other hand, if we are to really transform our education, and make it really customised and adaptive, then we need to strip off the industrialist model of education, where massification of education with lectures, on a didactic mode with “drill, test, drill, test and test”  are replaced by adaptive facilitation of learning via networks and COPs, and personal learning networks, coupled with professional learning communities which are open and democratic in nature.

Test and examinations may still be good ways for learning, and accreditation, that is undeniable.  However, it is important to realise that testing without real understanding of the subject matters could be an illusion about real learning, and the higher order or deep learning that we wish and aspire to.  This has been highlighted by so many professors and educators that we need to keep reminding ourselves on the importance of deep learning, not just rote learning, shallow learning, and testing.

It is not just about learning certain learning outcomes that make learning effective at this digital age, it is about resilience, and preparing ourselves, our professors and learners for the world of the future.

6 thoughts on “Are there failures in Connectivist approach towards learning? I would say NO!

  1. Here is my response to Benjamin Stewart’s post Well said, and I agree with many of your points, especially on those relating to teaching and facilitating online or even classroom learning. I adopt most of the strategies you mentioned, as I am teaching in a formal (though closed) classroom based learning, augmented by MOODLE and certain reference to social media (in recent years). This is mandatory in a static and prescriptive curriculum based education (like the current xMOOCs). I have both praises and reservations in its use to “transform” education, especially when it comes to Higher Education. What does it mean to transform education? There may be stages or phases of transformation, where openness and democracy are practised, in both instruction, teaching and design of learning, and open learning by the learners. This is where learning theories – behaviorism, cognitiism, social constructivism, and connectivism come into test, when openness may be challenged in these education platforms (xMOOCs), due to the commercialization of education, where education is treated as a commodity for monetization, but the content are not allowed to be openly shared. Would such learning theories fail, especially when education is treated solely as a business, and not those focused on the learners’ needs and wants? I totally agree with you on where connections may not equate to learning. This is exactly what has happened with that xMOOCs, where a uni-directional approach of connection is applied. This would also happen to many other MOOCs (both x and c MOOCs) where learners might vote on their feet when they don’t see relevance to their learning. My observation is: learning in Higher Education often relates to complex and abstract concepts, principles and theories, especially in human and philosophy studies and those advanced courses – in Science, Engineering and Computer Science, AI, programming. These courses might require instruction by professors, and I think the prescriptive course design is relevant. My argument is that we really need to adopt an adaptive learning model which ensures the learners are resilient when learning through those courses – xMOOCs. If there are things going wrong with the design or delivery of MOOCs, it seems natural to “criticize” the designer, organiser or facilitators of such learning. However, in an open online course such as MOOCs, there is no charge for the course, and it is based on voluntary participation. Learners should think about how they could adapt to such learning environment too, as there is simply no perfect learning platform that is satisfying for everyone. It is totally different from the full online course delivered in the institutions where learners are paying for the course, and the professors are totally accountable and responsible for the creation and support of a learning environment. This is also why formal and informal learning may be perceived and valued differently, from a pedagogical perspective.

  2. You have asked an excellent question, “What takes precedence in instructional design? Design of performance outcome first from an instructional perspective or a learning perspective (i.e. from the learners’ point of view)?” that puts into words (better than I could ) what I have been mulling over the past few days.

    It is true, that an instructional design model (for example the Dick, Carey and Carey model as your diagram shows), works on the premise that learning objectives or outcomes are established upfront, and the instructional strategy which follows is based upon the these objectives, which by the way as you said, are set by the instructor [not the student]. This formal, linear model works for a traditional course, one that is for-credit in the traditional sense, yet I agree, it is not applicable for a constructivist MOOC, or a cMOOC as coined by Stephen Downes. In these MOOCs the learner establishes his or her own goals, he or she establishes a learning strategy accordingly, taking advantage of the resources provided. This is what I am doing in the e-Learning and Digital Cultures course with Coursera,

    Where does that leave us as educators and instructional designers? Aaha! It means, as you said – we need to begin by examining what we can do to truly transform education, if that means shedding the ‘traditional’ industrial type models built for education of the past so be it. Much to consider. Thanks for this thought provoking post! Debbie

  3. Pingback: How Does Collaborative Learning Work in Closed Online Courses vs. MOOCs? | online learning insights

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