Connectivism and PLN

Peter Sloep said in Google + “Where I definitely do disagree with her is that PLNs are founded in the theory of Connectivism. Connectivism still has to prove its worth as a learning theory and I would not want to have the useful notion of a PLN depend on the fate of Connectivism as a theory. That said, PLNs are all about social learning, as is Connectivism, so the two are definitely connected.”

Are PLNs founded in the theory of Connectivism?  Connectivism is based on the notion that learning is the result of connections of nodes in networks – as the capacity to build, construct and navigate across networks (including social and personal learning networks, and the neuronetworks).

In this connection, PLNs relate to Connectivism but it is more than the social learning, mainly because it covers the neuro, conceptual (cognitive & across different domains) and social level.  I understand that when Connectivism was first postulated in George’s paper, there seemed to be a stronger focus on social learning, which then led to a debate whether it is just a re-coining of social constructivism with technology as basis of  connections and mediation.

I have shared the similarities and differences between Connectivism and Constructivism (and Social Constructivism) in my posts. Stephen has proposed the elements of diversity, autonomy, openness and interactivity and connectivity as properties of networks, which seem also focus more on the social learning.  However, these social learning would need to relate back to the learner at the three levels, in particular the perception and interpretation of learning based on individual’s experience, in order to make sense (i.e. the sensemaking).

It seems that most of the evidences collected in research relates to the social learning, at a collective level, rather than the individual learning, based on the those tacit and explicit knowledge developed as a result of “connections” at a neural and conceptual level (and these are very hard to be evidenced and quantified, but could be revealed through more narratives and discourse analysis and checking of the connections using brain scanning).


Personal Learning Environment and MOOCs

In response to a post here, Peter Sloep comments on Google +

Peer learning makes a lot of sense but as one of the tools in the box only. We’ve done work on this, see the PhD thesis by Peter van Rosmalen, back in 2008 already: See also a paper by me: There are pedagogical issues but the really hard part is developing the supportive technology that works at the level of large networks.

Thanks Peter for the precious sharing.  I have browsed through the papers, and there are many points worthy of deep reflection, especially in the peer learning and PLE/PLN. The development of supportive technology that works at the level of large networks, as Peter said could be a challenge, especially if such technology is overly rigid.

Take MOOCs as examples of technology platform, should one consider distributed platforms/social media, or a hub (VLE/VLM) for MOOCs?

Should MOOC shift its pedagogical to be more adaptive (or more connective and engaging) or should it stay with a prescriptive design (emphasising on one standardised model only – especially in mastery learning and common examination or quizzes)?

Are learners involved in the design of curriculum or instruction?

How would PLE/PLN developed by participants support MOOCs?

My sharing of cMOOCs

More sharing on xMOOCs in part 2.

PLE, Do it Yourself Learning and Education and the assumptions behind

What does PLE mean? Here in Dave’s post: does the PLE make sense in connectivist context?

Dave says:

 connectivism where “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity”.  There is a desire, it seems, to return to what “I” have and what “I” know pulling things out of their connective space. It makes sense to make the attempt, certainly. The vast majority of what we call education is premised on the idea of knowledge being something that can be owned, that you can give and receive. What, I wonder, does knowledge co-created look like when it is taken back and possessed by an individual? This seems like a critical context shift that removes knowledge (and learning) from its connective state and returns it to something countable.(as opposed to knowledge and the learning thereof being non-counting nouns).

Is learning an individualistic activity under Connectivism?  I would argue that it is both an individualistic and social activity that are interconnected since we were born.  What happened in the past was that we seemed to have focussed on certain aspect (cognitive development) over the others (social development) and vice versa, but then as technology has become ubiquitous, we soon found that cognitive and social development are in fact two sides of the same coin, where technology provides the affordance (the periphery of the coin as linking the 2 faces) and has in one way or the other becomes part of our tools to connect with instantiation.  So knowledge and learning is in fact part of our living cycle of life-long learning.

We might however, need to forgo the concept of thinking knowledge as the only “countable” personal possession that would give us the “power” to solve problems alone.  Rather, it is the connectedness or connectivity that is associated with the learning that would allow us to exercise the power – the power of autonomy, power of choice of connections – on when, where, who, how, what and why.  This connectivity and autonomy, when coupled with openness, diversity would then be expanded to form an emergent learning system (Complex Adaptive System on a personal level) that is embeded in the PLE/PLN, when we interact with actors, nodes and resources on the networks, web and internet.  That’s also what and how I have interpreted as Connectivism.

Here is Stephen’s post on What is Connectivism where he highlights:

Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectionist’. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism.

In connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not ‘constructed’ through some sort of intentional action. And ‘meaning’ is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems. Such systems are epiphenomena of (some) networks, and not descriptive of or essential to these networks.

Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.

In Stephen’s terms, Connectivism differs significantly from the typical notion of transfer or making of knowledge, and it is more relating to growth and development.  I think this is manifested with the PLE/PLN that seems to be at the heart of Connectivism.

Pat shared his views on PLE.  How about some of the latest trends in PLE as highlighted in this PLE Conference 2011?  The PLE conference 2011 provides updates with videos and articles.  Here share your experience is an interesting video on Vimeo summarizing the essence of PLE Share.

How does PLE relate to Do it yourself (DIY)? Learners can now download free courses and videos from all over the educational sites. Anya prepared an Edupunks guide.  Stephen responded with his review on the guide.

Stephen remarked:

That’s why it is so disappointing to read this:

In the case of DIY education, it means getting the knowledge you need at the time you need it, with enough guidance so you don’t get lost, but without unnecessary restrictions. DIY doesn’t mean that you do it all alone. It means that the resources are in your hands and you’re driving the process. (p.3)

Education isn’t about ‘getting the knowledge’…. It’s about becoming something – whether that something is a painter, carpenter, computer programmer or physicist. And becoming something is so much more than getting the ‘big buckets of benefits’ from educational institutions.

Yes, I shared Stephen’s points in that education is more related to aspiring to one’s potential through continuous self-development, in becoming something, and I would add that: it should add value to both the individuals and the community.  To this end, DIY education could be interpreted differently from the formal education that we are referring to, where formal education is normally provided by the public or private provider, or even by home schoolers, and informal education is provided by our parents, friends, or peers, (i.e. education by others) .  So learning could be personally or socially situated and appropriated, under the umbrella term of formal education or informal learning, within a landscape of practice.

Etienne Wenger has explained here on walking on the landscape of practice, and how he sees one locating oneself in such landscape.

How about this sort of education where learners and educators are connected to others on a global basis?  Thanks to Stephen here for the link.

That is similar to the concept of connected classroom applied in action: Connected Classroom in action 

If you could afford the fees, then this Floating University – a massive online University could be another way to go.

Lisa Lane shares her experience and views on MOOC, with a SMOOC, where she highlighted the challenges with the design and setup.

How do I see all these on MOOC? I have shared my views on design and delivery of MOOC and MOOC here. What I think is critical to success needs to be based on questioning the assumptions made in MOOC, followed by an inquiry on what online learning means from both the educators and learners point of views, like what Lisa Lane and Jim Groom have done.  Surely, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier’s efforts in pioneering in MOOC have been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of MOOC in this Change MOOC.

So, for me, it is the combination of personal learning coupled with social learning, together with the teacher presence, social presence and cognitive presence (both individually and collectively) that would make learning meaningful and valuable.

I reckon once the learners have acquired the learning skills (metacognitive skills), then it would be better to encourage and support them to exercise their autonomous learning through the development of PLE/PLN.

There are still challenges ahead with the adoption of technology in higher education as highlighted in Ignatia post

But what did surprise me was that although mobile devices are all around us, and we use it in many cases for contextualized, informal learning, most of the educational institutes don’t yet have a clear guideline for these new learning devices. Which immediately suggests to me that the content resources will probably also not be designed taken into consideration mobile learning affordances. Or web-based affordances at that. For although courses are mentioned in the report, the quality of these online courses, and whether these courses are designed following online contemporary needs (peer interaction, scaffolding, designed for reconfiguration depending on the device which accesses the content…) is unclear.

I think the use of technology in the classroom environment is still hindered by the pedagogy adopted – and the assumption that formal education and informal learning (with the use of mobile devices) could be fused to exploit the learning affordance.

How do we know if the online learning is effective or not?  We are now turning to Learning Analytics.

Learning analytics has been around for sometime, and here is an interesting post by Wgreller.  “One common assumption I noted is the belief that all students are ambitious and only aim for top grades and the best learning experience. Being a father and having seen a few student generations, I contest this assumption.”

Not all students are motivated in the same way when it comes to managing their learning, as shared in this post on PLEs and PLNs.

I resonate with the author’s views here too, and I have suggested the application of Assumption Theory in my post – that there are lots of assumptions made in the theory and pedagogy, that may need to be questioned, contested, debated, and re-tested under different context and networks/groups of learners.  What are our assumptions in adopting learning analytics? Is it a tool for the educators/administrators for monitoring and control purpose? Or for intervention when educators/administrators noted outliers and inactivity in the learners within or outside the networks? What are the assumptions held by actual learners who are under the “lens” of learning analytics? What reactions and issues would they have when it comes to their privacy and personal security?  What assumptions have been made on those self-directed or paced learners who might just be visitors to the web and internet?  Would these learners have left traces on the networks?  Is inactivity in connections over networks equated to inactive learning?  How about those learners who prefer to learn through reading of books, artifacts, watching TVs, videos, doing physical activities and playing educational games, or socializing with other groups and individuals face to face, without much traces on the virtual or digital networks?  How do we know whether these learners’ connectedness is well enough if their learning is outside the “radar” of the learning analytics?

Erik Duval, a professor in the research unit on human-computer interaction, at the computer science department of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven shared in this post:

you have to be careful what you measure: an optimal Body Mass Index (BMI) is not the same as perfect health. In fact, this is more problematic even in learning or research, where it seems to me that there is less consensus on what are relevant criteria… Do higher assessment scores always indicate better learning? Are papers with higher numbers of citations always more relevant? Are researchers with a higher h-index always better researchers?

Learning analytics is an important tool for us to consider, though it needs to be exercised with caution, due to the many assumptions we might have made.

In conclusion, PLE, PLN, Do it yourself and online education via various means like MOOC have their own merits and limitations, and it would be important to question the assumptions behind each model of education and learning, in order to match the needs and expectations of BOTH educators and learners.

Learning in a landscape of practice or networks of practice is both challenging and rewarding, though, each promise comes also with basic questions: Is this sort of learning valued by the learners?  Is it an effective way of learning? How? and Why?  Research and continuous exploration through experimentation and application would likely provide the answer to the question of: What is knowledge? What is learning? And how does it occur at this digital age.

Photo: From Networked Learning Conference 2012